We need ‘courage’ to steer youth from gangs

Young people need to know there is a way out of gang violence, according to social activists.

In the wake of a series of stabbings around the island, Gina Spence said the community needs to be educated about the causes of gang violence and what help is available.

And Desmond Crockwell, editor of anti-violence Visionz magazine, added efforts had to be made to change the minds of young people who might have bad intentions.

Mr Crockwell said: “Those who care about them must have the courage to come together and step to them with the options and support we know they need.

“Evil didn’t start with this generation, so we must change the mentality and the behaviour will change.”

They were speaking after Jeff Baron, the shadow Minister of National Security, said a rise in stabbing incidents was due to a crackdown on firearms.

Mr Baron explained: “The more successful the disruption by intelligence-led law enforcement is on firearms, the more offenders will revert to other weapons and ways of offending.

“In this case, it’s a return of edged-weapons being used and carried, particularly when group tensions are escalated.”

Mr Crockwell, however, said that each incident should be looked at separately rather than as part of a trend.

He added: “Just a few weeks ago there were a few shootings, and reported shootings back-to-back, so to say there are rumours of ‘less guns or ammunition’ can be premature.”

But he said: “I think the ones with bad intentions possibly could be more aware that many in the community may be on a heightened alert, and the use of guns may be getting a bit too risky.”

Mr Crockwell added there had been no reported incidents of violence since August 12, when YouthVision hosted an anti-violence forum and more anti-violence initiatives had been announced. Ms Spence said she was concerned by both the young age of the victims and the public nature of recent crimes.

She added: “What we are seeing today is younger victims and perpetrators.

“We are also seeing these crimes more frequently in public places like wakes, parties and businesses in broad daylight.

“This is reason for great concern ­­— any innocent person or bystander could get caught in the crossfire.”

Raymond Butterfield, 28, was fatally stabbed on East Broadway in March, while Jahkoby Smith, 21, died after being stabbed at a wake at the West End Sailboat Club in June.

A second man also suffered stab wounds in the sailboat club brawl. A series of non-fatal stabbings have also been reported over the summer.

A 25-year-old man was stabbed in a fight on Front Street in June, and a 40-year-old man suffered what were described as life-threatening stab wounds in a “domestic dispute” on August 1.

A 19-year-old man was stabbed at Sports Locker less than 12 hours later.

And a 32-year-old man was seriously injured after an alleged stabbing in Ambiance Lounge.

Ms Spence said: “If you look at the penalty or charges for a bladed weapon verses a violent act using a gun the charge is far less. Also, knives are easier to get and conceal and also cost less money. They are also easier to get rid of.”

She added that knife crime was a problem 12 years ago but that community work and harsher penalties had a positive impact.

“We wrote to the legislature requesting an amnesty to help get the bladed weapons off the streets.

“We held a community outreach event at Parsons Road playground to educate people on what was happening in our communities.

“During the community outreach programme we had young men sharing their experiences about the culture and educating parents and the community about what was emerging.

“Our charity was very instrumental in advocating for community and public safety. We also met with the department of prosecutions to share our concerns.

“Shortly after the government reviewed bladed weapon laws and put laws in place that had an impact.

“We started to see a decrease in use of bladed weapons being used.”

But Ms Spence said public education on gang culture was also key to addressing the problem.

She said that people needed to be aware of early warning signs of involvement in crime and what to do about it, as well as where to get help.

Ms Spence added it was also important that people knew how to protect themselves and others if violent incidents happened in public places.

She said: “These are the hard questions that need to be asked and answered.

“Gang prevention and education is key for the entire community as it affects all of us. I would like to see a grassroots campaign using social media and performing arts to get the message out especially to youth.

“We at Gina Spence Productions used to host a travelling road show that went from parish to parish using drama, song and dance to educate and empower the community on social issues. I would love to see this idea launched again. It was very successful and had great impact.”

She said she was keen to speak to anyone interested in partnering with her charity as no one person or organisation can solve the problem on its own.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of National Security said that dealing with knife crime and other violent offences was a police responsibility — not the Ministry’s.

She added: “As a reminder, the Ministry ‘facilitates the delivery of the policing strategy of the Bermuda Police Service’.

“That said, the Ministry is committed to working with the Bermuda Police Service regarding policies to address crime and antisocial behaviour.”

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