Pastor Delton Fernander…
Reverend Members of the Clergy…
Commissioner Fernander, and Noble Women and Men of the Royal Bahamas Police Force…
Ladies and Gentlemen…
Yesterday was what is traditionally regarded as the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the day which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men to the Baby Jesus.
Along with their gold, frankincense and myrrh, they brought the gift of wisdom, and prayed for peace throughout all the lands.
Today, I had wanted to celebrate this tradition with you: to recognize how your efforts during the past year are starting to bear fruit.
Instead, sadly, rather than celebrate, like all right-thinking people amongst us, I am greatly saddened and deeply shocked by the recent spate of murders in our country.
Only seven days into the New Year, and already the country has recorded eight murders, each victim appearing to have been specificallytargeted for one reason or another.
This is not the gift of peace which yesterday was meant to symbolize.
Yes, crime has been a long-standing issue in our country, but recently, the crime of murder especially, has taken on a horrifyingly new level of brutality and barbarity.
Something has indeed gone very, very wrong in our society.
And it is you, ladies and gentlemen of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, who we turn to most in these trying times.
We ask you to attend the scenes of the crimes, to witness the physical horrors inflicted on human beings, to do so amidst the shock and grief of families and communities, and then to find the perpetrators and potentially put your own lives at risk in apprehending them.
For this, along with all other aspects of policing, we thank you.
For maintaining public order and safety, and for enforcing the law, we thank you.
In the public mind, we associate you most with your efforts to find and catch those responsible for crimes, and bring them before the courts, hopefully to then have them locked away from society.
But this is just one component of a much broader objective.
As a society, is not our goal to fill our prisons with criminals.
Instead, our real goal must be to deter or prevent crimes from being committed in the first place.
This is especially true in cases of murder.
The primary goal must be to prevent loss of life, rather than fill our prisons after those lives have been violently ended.
We know that this is much more easily ‘said’ than ‘done’.
Prevention of any crime is a vexing issue, as there needs to be some indication that a crime is about to be committed before any intervention can be made.
But if someone is being specifically targeted to be killed, if there is a conscious, deliberate, prepared effort, especially by someone acting alone, it is extremely difficult to intervene ahead of time.
Our focus, therefore, must be to intervene early enough in the lives of young men – because it is almost always young men – we must intervene in their lives sufficiently early so that they do not form an intention to kill in the first place.
As is true with the overwhelming majority of people in our country, we must put the idea of killing, outside their moral compass.
So what we can we do?
And more specifically, what are we asking of you?
Well, we know that here in The Bahamas, most murders and other crimes that cause significant harm, are linked to gang-related activities.
We see in the crime statistics the tit-for-tat killings, the targeting of people out on bail for murder, and the cycles of revenge whereby those associated with one victim seek revenge on the presumed perpetrators.
I profoundly disagree with those who say, “just let them shoot each other”.
That is not the kind of country I want to live in, and the instruction from our Christian faith could not be clearer: “Thou shalt not kill”!
Traditional policing still has a critical and vital role to play in our efforts.
And so, during the past two years, we have significantly increased the resources to help you to be more effective.
More officers recruited, more vehicles brought onto the streets, more technological support, more firearms and so on.
We have strengthened control of our borders, along with our partnership with the United States and others in the region, to reduce the flow of illegal trafficking of people and firearms.
Additionally, in recent months, we have begun a strategic initiative to implement a ‘Whole Government Response’ to tackling Gang Crime.
You will hear more about this in the coming weeks.
And so what we need from you is for you to become more engaged with our plans to prevent gang recruitment and youth involvement in crime.
As it is also vitally important that you build trust with the communities you work in, we want you to be mindful to provide a positive policing response to those communities, in order to protect them from crime.
With a higher degree of trust in place, people are more likely to confide in you information which can help to prevent crime.
Our initiative also includes the government’s commitment to bring offenders to justice swiftly, to demonstrate that convicted offenders will be punished, and that committing a crime carries real consequences.
Because we want offenders to be successfully reintegrated into communities after serving their sentence, we are also providing opportunities and pathways to rehabilitation.
For me this issue is not merely a matter of good governance – it is deeply personal.
I have grown up as a young man in The Bahamas.
My sons and now my grandsons, are also growing up as young men in our Bahamas.
When I was in my early teens, had the gangs been as pernicious as they are now, would I have been able to resist them?
Will my grandsons be able to complete their school years without being harassed and terrorised into getting involved with some gang-related activity?
Officers: we need to do all that we can to support our young men.
Research conducted around the world and here in The Bahamas, indicates that there are many factors that lead a young generation to become attracted to a gang lifestyle.
These include lack of opportunity, truancy, parent-child separation, neglect, poverty, community dis-organisation and so on.
But what is so heart-breaking, is to learn that so many of these young people, so many of these young men are just searching for the basics in life.
They’re not looking for great riches.
They’re looking for food and water and shelter.
They’re looking for a feeling of security, a feeling of connectedness, looking for a sense of belonging and friendship.
And so, this is what I ask of you today.
The government can continue to recruit more officers, buy more cars, and deploy the fanciest technology, but we cannot personally and individually engage with the hearts and minds of the young men at risk.
We need each of you – all of you – to play your part.
We can bring a ‘whole government’ approach, but we also need a ‘whole society’ response.
Do what you can, do all that you can, to provide mentorship and friendship to these young people.
Show them that there is another way, a better way.
Yes, you must not neglect your policing duties, but find time and space within those to express more of your humanity.
When you see or engage with a vulnerable child or young person, pause to think how you might help.
We know that gangs are actively recruiting as early as primary school.
What can you to do offer support?
What can you do to intervene?
The mere fact that you are an officer of the law means that you have already achieved enough in life to be able to offer them your life example.
Please also encourage the family and friends of young people at risk, to join you in your efforts.
Oftentimes, even if they don’t know the details, they know that something bad or dangerous is taking place in their home.
They know that their loved ones are not living as they should.
Help these parents and family members to understand that they not being a snitch to confide their worries or fears in an officer, a teacher, a pastor or some other trusted official.
Instead, they are more likely to be saving that young person’s life.
They are even more likely to be helping to save that young person’s future.
After all the losses, all the waste of life, all the misery and fear and pain that is part of the criminal life in gangs, those who still choose to pursue the path of crime: understand that we are at maximum resolve.
While our arms are open for those who seek a better path, our stance against crime is resolute.
We are coming for you.
You cannot win.
We will reclaim our streets, our neighborhoods our homes.
I feel the weight of every crime.
I hear the cries of every tear shed.
I hear the echoes of every plea for a safer nation.
I am deeply moved, not just as your Prime Minister but as a Bahamian, a parent, a neighbour, and a friend.
Safeguarding our nation’s peace remains at the forefront of my mind.
In this spirit, I invite the Christian Council to consider holding a National Day of Prayer to help bring healing and comfort.
Officers: Your theme is perfect for this moment.
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
I invite you to take it seriously.
We are bringing the ‘whole of government’ to disrupt and root out the gangs in our society.
We need you to play your part.