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Gang culture entrenched in Bermuda, says MP

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Michael Dunkley: Gangs are a cancer in the community:

Legislators highlighted yesterday how social and economic circumstances played a part in leading young people into gang activity.

MPs made passionate pleas for residents to do what they could to help tackle the scourge, when they debated the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2022, which was passed in the House of Assembly.

The legislation, presented by Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform, will mean that temporary provisions introduced in 2012 – and extended repeatedly since – will become permanent.

Those measures made it a crime to instruct someone "to participate in unlawful gang activity“ and increased penalties for offences that featured unlawful gang activity.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Ms Simmons said that from January 10, 2012 to January 30 this year, there were 186 confirmed firearms incidents, all linked to gang-related activity.

She told the House that parliamentary debate in 2012 had focused on “shared hope that future generations of young people could be spared” from being enticed into gang activity.

Members heard that it was thought then the provisions would not be needed some ten years later.

But Ms Simmons added that collective action, including policy and legislation, must be taken to protect peace and order on the island.

Michael Dunkley, the shadow minister of National Security, Health and Seniors, said the One Bermuda Alliance was broadly supportive of the legislation, describing it as another tool in the fight against gang violence.

He said the gang lifestyle had become “entrenched” in Bermuda, which would make it more difficult to cut out.

“Every tool we have to fight this cancer in our community is to the benefit of what we have to do,” he said.

Mr Dunkley said there were a number of factors that had contributed to gang activity, including the breakdown of the family unit and high youth unemployment.

He said he was “gutted” by the fatal shooting that took place in Flatts in his constituency early yesterday morning and urged everyone in the community to take action.

“Show some courage and speak about these issues in your family, with people you trust, and let’s try to make a difference to those who are going in the wrong direction,” Mr Dunkley said.

Jamahl Simmons, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, said gang activity was inevitable where there was economic disparity and work must be done to help those who were left behind by “Bermuda Inc”.

“There are victims of the economic systems that we brag and boast about,” he said.

Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, said the legislation was important, but lay at one side of a broader range of measures to address antisocial behaviour.

“At one end of the spectrum is the social services, church, schools, social clubs,” he said. “At the other end of the spectrum is where enforcement comes.”

Mr Weeks, referencing the Flatts murder, later added: “If we are going to save Bermuda and save our young men we cannot allow what happened this morning to become normal.”

Wayne Caines, a PLP backbencher and a former minister of national security, said the fatal shooting sparked a sense of “shock and horror” that had become all too familiar.

He said the community needed to address multi-generational trauma, and role models and community involvement were needed.

“Our country, our people, tonight have to understand that we must do things differently,” he said. “We have to get to the epicentre of this crisis, and that is going to take work.”

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Published July 02, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated July 02, 2022 at 7:48 am)

Gang culture entrenched in Bermuda, says MP

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