Prime Minister Philip Davis’ Contribution to the Debate on the Anti-Gang Bill (2024) and the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2024

Madam Speaker:

As always, it is an honour to rise in this House on behalf of the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador, whose faith in me to be their voice is something I try to live up to each and every day.

Today, I rise to support the Anti-Gang Bill (2024) and the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2024.

This landmark legislation gives law enforcement and the justice system powerful new tools in the fight against criminal gangs. 

For decades, the Bahamian people have been demanding more direct action against gangs. Each time a gang-related act of violence makes the news – and it happens far too often – the frustration, the fear, and the anger of our people are palpable. 

Today, we are seeking to make it clear that this administration is willing to take on the organized gangs who destroy lives and communities.

As they often say, enough is enough.

We cannot tolerate the cycles of violence and retaliation that leave entire communities in fear.

We cannot tolerate the gangs who have such contempt for the rest of us that they recruit our children, turning lives of promise into lives of peril.

And we cannot lose another generation of our young men. We cannot let the young Bahamian men who could, and should, be our heroes and leaders, become instead victims and perpetrators. 

These are young men whose strength and talents our country needs – but instead, too many are taking paths that lead to incarceration or death.

This administration has created policies focused on offering other choices – paths that lead instead to opportunity and security.

We are also strengthening the alliances and cooperation necessary to impeding the flow of guns and drugs across our borders.

We have tough new bail reforms, and we are working to bring matters to trial faster, to build new courts, and to hire new prosecutors. 

And we are giving law enforcement new tools in their fight against crime and gangs.

The Anti-Gang Bill before us today will bring gang members and those participating in, or supporting, gang activities to justice. 

If you are a gang member…

If you associate with gang members…

If you support gang members in any way in gang-related activities…

You will run afoul of the law, and the full weight of the justice system will be moved against you.

Madam Speaker,

Before I describe how the Anti-Gang bill fits into our larger anti-crime plan, and detail its provisions, I want to emphasize the following:

Gangs succeed when families and communities fail. 

No one should underestimate the power of gang recruiters who show interest in the same young men who are overlooked by everyone else.

And that’s on us, isn’t it? Every time we lose a young person to gang life, it represents failure that we should be honest enough to describe as catastrophic.

Because once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. 

The failure to intervene effectively before a gang recruitment belongs to all of us. We all need to intervene, and intervene successfully.

Successive governments, who have failed to create effective policies.

Parents, too consumed with their own lives, or too damaged or dysfunctional, to provide love and safety.

Neighbors and community leaders, who look the other way instead of stepping up, and offering mentoring or support.

So while it is right for Bahamians to demand that their government do everything possible, if we are to make real and enduring progress against gangs and crime, we need parents to create loving, safe homes, and we will need role models to offer the power of their example. 

Madam Speaker:

We have developed what is essentially a two-part approach to the fight against gangs and crime: on the one hand, we have policies intended to help our young people overcome obstacles and take advantage of new opportunities.

In our schools, we are working hard to solve absenteeism, to make sure our children are back in class and have an opportunity to get caught up. 

At the National Training Agency and BTVI,  we are providing new opportunities for technical skills development at no cost to students and trainees. 

In the National Youth Guard, which is graduating a new cohort next month, and is recruiting for the next cohort, we are empowering youth to make a difference on the frontline of disaster response efforts, while equipping them with in-demand job-ready skills and pairing them with paid internship opportunities. 

For the young people struggling for survival and dignity, we must provide opportunity.

The other part of our approach is tougher – the increase in police presence, the harsher penalties for violating bail, and now, of course, the penalties associated with gang activities that will be introduced through the passage of this Bill.

This multi-pronged approach was reflected in the introduction of the Crackdown 2024 crime reduction plan we launched in January.

Our plan to crack down on crime has five central pillars:

Prevention, which addresses the root causes of crime. This includes community development, education, social services, and economic opportunities.

Policing, which includes strengthening law enforcement with community-oriented policing, enhanced officer training, and new tools and technology. Those of us who were fortunate to attend the Police Force’s Tech Expo last week are aware of the major investments being made in technology to modernize the Force and improve their surveillance and investigative capabilities. We believe that our police force can be an example for the entire region in the effective use of technology.

Prosecution is another pillar of our approach. We are advancing fair and effective criminal justice with swifter legal proceedings and support systems for victims and witnesses.

Punishment is a central pillar, which ensures that criminals are brought to justice and held accountable for their crimes, including harsh penalties for gang and gun-related offenses. And a stronger response to bail violations.

The fifth and final pillar, Rehabilitation, refers to preparing offenders for successful reintegration into society, with vocational training, educational programmes, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and support networks to reduce recidivism.

Our approach is holistic, taking on root causes of crime, prioritizing justice, and giving those who want to walk a positive path the opportunity to do so.

Madam Speaker,

The Anti-Gang Bill (2024) represents a major effort to bring those who actively participate in or support gangs and gang activities in our nation to justice.

Under Clause three, we establish the kind of evidence that may be permissible to prove a person’s involvement in a gang. Here, we have created a comprehensive list, which includes symbols, signs, codes, markings, or clothing. If you enjoy displaying gang paraphernalia, take note of this provision.

In addition, criminal activity linked to a gang, or any evidence that a person has associated with a gang to participate in gang-related activity, is also a permissible form of evidence. Should a person assist, facilitate, conceal, transport, or dispose of the evidence of gang-related activity, they too may find themselves facing charges. In addition, concealing or sharing in the proceeds of gang-related activity will be permissible as evidence, as would be any statement made or information given on behalf of a gang or indicating involvement in a gang-related activity. 

Clause three allows for a wide range of evidence that reasonably demonstrates membership in a gang, allowing prosecutors to draw from a wide range of activities and behaviours by gang members.

This Bill also gives the Supreme Court the ability to declare a group as a gang, in order to facilitate the prosecution of its members and supporters.

This Bill, in clauses 5 and 6, legally defines gang membership and gang activity, which includes a long list of activities related to recruitment, initiation, the commission of offences, acts of intimidation and violence, support, and other activities related to the operations of the gang.

Those who are found guilty may face a fine of up to $100,000 and up to a 25-year prison sentence. If someone is proven to be a gang member who, in commission of gang-related activities, ends up taking life, they will be facing a life sentence.

These are the penalties hundreds of mothers have cried out for over the years as their sons and daughters have fallen victim to gang violence. 

These penalties shall be applied to those convicted of directly participating in gang-related activities. So, for example, we see in clause 7, the criteria for retaliatory action in cases where a person may be attempting to leave the gang, give information to police officers, refuse to comply with orders from a gang leader, among other contexts in which retaliatory action may take place. Participating in retaliatory killings, apart of the charge of murder and related consequences, will now result in a prison sentence of up to twenty years.

Those who are professing to be in a gang or participating in a gang for benefits will face a prison term of up to seven years.

Those who use or are in possession of bullet proof vests, firearms or other weapons for gang-related activities will also face a term of up to 25 years or a fine of up to $100,000.

Recruitment on behalf of a gang will warrant a sentence of up to 20 years, and 25 years when it is a child who is being recruited.

Madam Speaker,

Those are some of the penalties for those who directly and actively participate in gang activities. But this Bill also addresses those who may not be in gangs themselves but support and facilitate gang activities. 

In Clause 8, we see that a person who knowingly counsels, gives instruction to, finances, or provides support to a gang leader, gang member, or gang to facilitate gang activities or the commission of an offence will face a imprisonment for a term of up to twenty-five years.

The same penalty applies to a person who tries to prevent a gang leader or member from leaving the gang –  again, a possible 25-year sentence. 

They often say once you’re in the gang, you’re in for life. Unfortunately for those who think that way, they will be spending a large part of their life behind bars.

Clauses 10 and 11 refer to harbouring a gang member or leader or concealing the identity of a gang leader or member or gang-related activity. Harbouring will warrant a sentence of up to 20 years and concealing can earn the convicted party up to 25 years in Fox Hill.

Disposing of or sharing in gang-related proceeds, providing or obtaining a benefit from a gang, and aiding, abetting, promoting or facilitating gang-related activity all earn terms of 20 years or more.

Tipping off a gang member who is under investigation can earn the guilty party a twenty-year prison term. 

A person who obstructs justice, obstructs a police officer in carrying out their duties, falsified, conceals, or destroys documents related to an investigation, makes false statements or seeks to intimidate others in relation to this Bill will face similar sentences.

These are harsh penalties, but they are here because these are harsh times, Madam Speaker.

I know there are those who, when they see the mother or grandmother or girlfriend in handcuffs may feel a sense of sympathy for their situation, knowing they were not in the gangs themselves. But, it is an unfortunate situation. We are at the point where we cannot allow others to continue to support their loved ones in the commission of crimes without being held accountable.

The toughness of our approach reflects the seriousness of the gang problem in our communities. I ask those who harbour or cloak, aid, and abet gang members to think seriously about their own complicity in perpetuating crime in our communities. You may not have pulled the trigger, but when you support someone who did, you share the same amount of responsibility – and you must be held accountable.

Too much blood has been shed.

We are bringing the hammer down on the gangs, their leaders, members, and supporters. 

I understand the natural inclination to help our loved ones when they are in trouble. But there is a difference between helping and abetting. We can support the good in them without condoning criminality. We can help them to turn their lives around without encouraging them to avoid accountability. It is in the best interest of all involved to learn this distinction and learn it very well.

I hope that the prospect of facing many years in prison is enough for the supporters of gang members to finally understand that our society will no longer tolerate their support of chaos and destruction. We have more than enough positive avenues for someone to turn their life around, supporting them in continuing to participate in crime and violence just turns you into a criminal as well.

The Bahamian people are tired and angry. We can no longer accept a reality in which thousands of young men participate in gangs like it’s cool or somehow makes them tougher. We can no longer accept the cries of those who aid and abet and then play victim when the consequences finally land at their door.

No more excuses.

The Bahamian people deserve to feel safe and secure in their communities. 

The Anti-Gang Bill (2024) is an important step forward in our fight against crime that I believe will be remembered as a turning point in which we began to take serious action against local gangs. 

The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill (2024) accompanying the Anti-Gang Bill today simply deletes and repeals definitions and sections within the Penal Code to make room for the changes brought forward for the Anti-Gang Bill.

Now the way forward toward a safer Bahamas is clearer than ever. 

We want to build a society where everyone has a fair chance as a fulfilling and happy life. But not at the expense of our peace. Not at the expense of our safety. Not at the expense of living in the grip of fear. 

Madam Speaker, Crackdown 2024 is still ongoing.

And I remain optimistic that we can significantly lower crime in the short and long term through our approach to prevention, policing, prosecution, punishment, and rehabilitation. 

We note the statistics – we are trending down, but it is still too high.

As I conclude, I want to say to all the young men who are just struggling for survival and dignity: I know how many challenges you face already.

That’s why I want to make it easier to say no to those first steps in the wrong direction, by penalizing those steps heavily.

If that sounds harsh, consider this: when the consequences for engaging in criminal activity finally arrive – whether in the form of death in the streets or incarceration, that is a penalty that must be faced alone. Once that sentence is pronounced, once that bullet is fired from that gun, no one will do the time or take that bullet for you.

Today, I proudly support the Anti-Gang Bill (2024) as I support it as a critical step forward as we make our communities safer and more prosperous.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.