Ganging up on gangs

It’s an open secret that gangs exist in Barbados. So yesterday’s revelations at the National Consultation on Crime and Violence were not new or shocking, but a damning wake-up call.

That gangs are becoming more complex and sophisticated is discomforting.

Far worse, the warning from a criminal justice expert that the ‘Don’ culture prevalent in Jamaica’s garrison communities was beginning to take root here.

Whether or not we want to admit it, Barbados is changing and, sadly, not for the better. Our country is losing its grip on traditional values, particularly a requisite respect for the rule of law that must be upheld by any successful society.

The evidence was unveiled in a recent gang study presented at the consultation by Senior Research Officer at the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit Kim Ramsay.

The research shows that the gang culture in Barbados was deep and entrenched and it included people from all classes of society.

Said Ramsay: “We want to make it clear that gangs do exist in Barbados and always have.

“These men run these gangs as businesses where they engage in firearm and drug smuggling. The man on the block is not the only person who is involved in the gangs.”

Ramsay, supported by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, also pointed out that more women were identifying themselves as gang members and were in fact playing a role in criminal activity.

“They act as couriers, they carry the weapons and drugs, they act as lookouts, as bait by utilizing sex and feminine prowess, and they are used as recruiters. Some are the masterminds and managers, as women are more educated.”

The loud message from the data is that Barbados must change course quickly and intervention and prevention are urgently needed to arrest the problem.

Therefore, pronouncements by the AG of harsh penalties for gangs would have met the approval of most.

Among the measures, new anti-gang legislation which allows for the sentencing of gang leaders and members to lengthy jail terms of 20 years or more.

Those who would seek to lead our vulnerable youth down a path to a life of crime and violence should pay dearly.

In this respect, Brathwaite’s comments that gang leaders “Are not heroes. They belong behind bars and that is why we want to give specific legislation to deal with them”, was on point.

However, authorities must take every precaution to ensure that in their identification of gang leaders and members, citizens who may just be liming on the block in groups are not rounded up and unfairly charged.

Law enforcement tools need to be used in a targeted way and directed at gang leaders and members who commit violent crimes.

The main emphasis needs to be on effective prevention programmes that change the behaviour of our youth – getting them involved in community programmes that essentially keep them out of gangs.

The root causes of gangs are many, running the gamut from corrupt officials, the breakdown in traditional families to single mother households, an education system that leaves the non-academic student behind with too many leaving school without any skills, and poor examples from adults.

These factors, and more, provide ready traps for many of our youth. Gangs reportedly offer acceptance and security, provide an identity and a quick, though illegal way to get all the material goods that attract the young – the latest cell phones and other gadgets, brand name clothes and shoes and a big ride.

Therefore, a young man who cannot get a good job or acceptance in the home joins the gang. He is introduced to guns and drugs, life changes and he becomes a hot shot with swagger.

And this is where we need our authorities to intervene – not merely with punitive action.

Some of our communities, particularly where housing areas abound, have been ignored for too long. There are not enough community centres, recreation spaces and other avenues to harness the energy of youngsters into productive activity.

Ms Ramsay was at pains to point out that the gang study had identified at least one community that has been sidelined for years by successive governments.

She pointed out that this was the scenario which allowed the notorious Jamaica kingpin Christopher Dudus Coke to rule the garrison community of Tivoli Gardens before his incarceration in the US on federal racketeering charges.

Ramsay appealed to authorities not to allow a Dudus to spring up in Barbados because of societal exclusion and neglect.

We desperately need to listen.




2 Responses to Ganging up on gangs

  1. Greengiant October 13, 2017 at 8:51 am

    While I do agree with all said in this editorial, youngster need to be able to lime with their peers, and not get involved in the illegal activity. They need to know that the moment they see a gun turn up on the block it’s time to leave for good. They need to understand to that if they don’t they can get killed in cross fire, or during a hit on the said block. They can also get caught up in a police operation.

    When the war is declared on the blocks by the authorities, those who know they are not involved need to stay clear. The time has come for that decision to be made. So I can’t agree with the editor asking authorities to sift through the block for the innocent, that’s the job of the court. When the police conduct a sweep, it’s exactly that. It means take everything, everybody in the area. Then decisions are made as the investigation proceeds. Editorials are always helpful, but I’m afraid you should have consulted an officer for suggestions to the innocent hanger out prior to writing.

    I grew up on a block myself decades ago, there were no guns on our block, we smoked, cooked, played sports. Some worked, others like me were students, we all wore locks. I had to cut mine to get a job after graduating from college. Even after cutting I was still branded as a Rasta, and back then we were rejected. Due to my social understanding I decided to join the B D F, this association changed my life forever, as I was able to travel, benefited from overseas training, worked for international organizations, and gain experience and qualification in several professional areas (Journalism, Hospitality, Nutrition, Retail, Logistics and Engineering)

    I try to encourage youngsters to choose the military as an option for development, but strangely they would say,”i don’t want nobody shouting or swearing at me, or i don’t want to wear nobody uniform”. Strangely these same youths would work for the block dons, and be treated the worst way, shouted at, disrespected, belittled, shot or shot at. The only future for them in the latter chosen field is Hospital, Cemetery, or Jail. So you see, we need to tell the youths the truth, give them the information without editing, show them the examples with proof, and let them choose. Many times, we adults rob our children by not arming them for life with the tools needed to make informed choices.

  2. Sue Donym October 14, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Pretty good analysis. I want to see the day that we can agree that the single mother household does not necessarily become a problem. Some single parent families are father-only and there are cases where there is no parent, but a single relative in a parenting role. All this to say that while it would appear to be ideal to have two parents at home, some parents have had to make the decision to separate for the betterment of the household when the spousal or partner relationship breaks down to the extent that their interaction is mostly negative or disruptive.
    Far better to have a dedicated, understandind, supportive parent than one or two in a progressively destructive environment.

    I must agree with the editorial writer that we can not be too swift to dismantle community groups when incidents are suspected. Essentialy what this does is to eradicate the new place of security and belonging that a person might have chosen in the absence of having it at home.
    There are times when it is better to excise the offensive element than to discourage all meetings along with any good they might have produced. This is where we encourage youngsters to be wary of and identify threats to the good. We approve of community without expecting them to protect wrongdoers.

    The block gatherings actually create excellent opportunities for the police to interact with groups without appearing to single out and for the message to be consistent. Individuals can make the decision whether this or any block is right for them.

    By the way @Greengiant, you mentioned smoking on your block which I hope you can agree is not necessarily a good thing, but still an example of acceptance by the collective. This is how more insidious habits also take root.
    It’s never too late for us to try to improve our communities.


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