Column: Tackle Underlying Causes To Halt Trend

June 14, 2016

[Opinion column written by Rolfe Commissiong]

A little more than a year-and-a-half ago, a reporter asked me and other political and community leaders whether the abatement, or lull, in gun violence in Bermuda then signaled that that horrific trend had come to its long overdue end.

I essentially said no. Realizing then that one season does not a year make, and that it was a cyclical phenomenon and has been that way for the past decade-and-a-half or more.

As we contemplate another wanton and callous shooting, this time in the Middletown Road area, which I represent in Parliament, the reality is that until the One Bermuda Alliance government, or a future Progressive Labour Party government, for that matter, and Bermudians in general accept that we have a continuing multigenerational issue with our young and not-so-young black men, we will never be prepared to fix the problem.

Some weeks ago, it was Curving Avenue and Southampton. And more recently another life of promise was taken in the person of young Patrick Dill. This time the victim was spared, but just barely, as he recuperates in the hospital.

Until we are prepared to tackle the underlying causes rather than being fixated on the symptoms, we will never halt this trend at all. Let us stop being in denial.

Maybe we need to stop indulging in self-righteous, middle-class moralising with respect to this issue and view it as an issue were the socioeconomic and racial realities in Bermuda meet head-on with disastrous consequences for us all.

Rolfe Commissiong Bermuda June 14 2016

These types of outcomes are not new to Bermuda; nor are they unique to this generation of black men, as I know all too well. I watched an earlier generation, many of whom fought for progressive change on the streets of Bermuda during the 1960s; succumb to heroin addiction during the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, too many were dying as a result of having contracted Aids.

No one talks about this now, but close to 200 young black men had died by the late 1990s. Some families lost two sons. I know other families who lost three sons to the scourge of the disease. All because they shared needles while injecting a drug that allowed them to medicate themselves from Bermuda’s reality. But, again, that was a symptom, not a cause of the underlying challenge that Bermuda has always presented to too many working-class and middle-class black men in this country.

I know because I have been there. I am from that community and I am old enough to remember. I am haunted by them now when I see their mothers or siblings, as I did only a few days ago. I listened intently as she related how her son had a chance to meet Muhammad Ali during one of his visits here. She spoke as if the boy was still here — and in her heart, he was. Some of those who died were my relatives.

I often wonder how many of these young men who are out there now seeking comfort and a false security in gang life, or the drug trade itself, are the children and grandchildren of those men.

That is why I strongly advocated on behalf of getting a study done over six years ago to get to some of the aforementioned, underlying causes that were in so deadly a way informing these outcomes as it relates to our young black men.

The professor Ronald Mincy led a study from Columbia University that was commissioned by Dr Ewart Brown. It was not designed to be the be-all and end-all, but it was then and remains now an invaluable resource in assisting us. It profoundly broadens our understanding of what is afflicting this society in this regard and sets the table for us to have the right kind of conversation on this issue, as opposed to the moralising that I alluded to earlier.

After all, we will never prosecute or incarcerate ourselves out of this mess, and we could do a lot worse by ignoring it. The question is, do we value young black life enough in Bermuda to accept the challenge? I continue to hope that the answer is yes.

- Rolfe Commissiong


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Comments (12)

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  1. San George says:

    Hopelessness is what breeds it. Bad leadership perpetuates hopelessness.
    Quo Fata Ferunt.

  2. Jeremy Deacon says:

    It is long past the time, in my opinion, to write articles like these. (I wonder what the ratio of words to murders are – 100,000 to 1?) and it is time to offer practical solutions.
    If the Mincy report suggested a way forward, highlight that here – and go on to say that you are organizing a meeting with the Minister, the Police Commissioner etc to try and put a structure/a plan in place to help.
    Spell out the steps to be taken and how everybody can actually play a part.
    It is actions not words that are needed.

    • IslandTeacher says:

      So true Jeremy. We need practical solutions.

  3. watching says:

    well stated by Mr Commissiong.

  4. Build a Better Bermuda says:

    Well stated, but still leaves lacking is the how we deal with this… ultimately government can’t really do too much as the best solution lies with a stronger communal tactic. That, and the fact the government is woefully under equipped to be able to tackle the magnitude this problem represents. Even with a strong comunual solution, we will not fully succeed in tackling this problem, as Mr. Commissiong has pointed out, this has been allowed to cascade into a multi generational issue and the only real solution lies first and foremost within the family structure… a family structure that is recognized even by the Mincy that is in such a state of multigenerational state of decay, that these later generations now have little to no example of what a strong familial support system is supposed to look like. On top of this is the embedding of the multigenerational infusion of toxic masculinity, a false ideology of what makes a man. How do we tackle is, the first is to rescue the next generation, do what we can to get them the support and infuse in them the ideals of tolerance through clubs, after school safe places, help them with implement things like homework, somewhere these children can go to see what positive support can do, to break the cycle. Beyond that I no other real ideas other than to say that if we really want to fix this, we must first accept that it is going to take generations again, then we must also accept that we can’t really truly fix it, as it pains to realize that there is now generations lost, because the only way to save them is for them to save themselves, and not all are interested in that.

  5. Joe says:

    Let’s start with a YES YES vote

  6. bluwater says:

    Kids model the adults around them…..

  7. Triangle Drifter says:

    The number of comments demonstrate how little people care of what Rolfe has to say.

  8. Truth is killin' me... says:

    Children are like sponges. From birth to early childhood they are soaking everything in that is around them and their environment. They will only be a product of their environment. If their parents are doing a pack then they will unfortunately be led down the same path. Morals need to be instilled from birth and the whole island in general could be doing a hell of a lot better than this!

  9. aceboy says:

    More attempts to shove responsibility on those who aren’t actually responsible and basically a plea to find an economic solution. It won’t work. These kids need to learn responsibility and need disciple.