Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bahamas: These days, school children are contributing to a wave of criminality and brutality that has utterly disrupted our once quiet and tranquil existence

Gangsters in school

Nassau, The Bahamas

Nowadays, as crime spirals out of control and has led to nationwide trepidation as regards the criminal element, a microcosmic look at the issues of violence and miscreant behavior in our schools is representative of what we’re facing in wider society. Indeed, there are those students who are so disrespectful and fierce that they openly engage in frightful, mob-like brawls that leave teachers, students and administrators scrambling for cover and demanding the presence of a school gang unit/police, particularly in those school districts that are alleged to be a gangland.
Of late, I’ve been told—by friends who are police officers and educators alike—that bedlam is being wreaked upon certain educational institutions as unruly, poorly socialized students terrify their classmates and teachers.

            These days, school children are contributing to a wave of criminality and brutality that has utterly disrupted our once quiet and tranquil existence. By all accounts, students use objects—wood, metal poles/pipes, blocks, knives—which were either left behind by contractors or tossed over school walls before security checks or during the weekend/nights. I’ve even heard stories of home invasions involving youngsters who are young enough to be in primary school but small enough to slither through windows that have been pried open to open doors for their accomplices. Where are the truant officers to ensure that the whereabouts of these youngsters who duck school to break into people’s homes (e.g. the cash for gold racket)?
In recent years, there have been several reports of clashes between students when gang-affiliated pupils jump school walls and return with the support of outsiders. Frankly, the MOE should make a concerted effort to raise the parameter walls of certain public schools, perhaps using barbed wire atop the school’s fence as well.
In secondary schools—and some primary schools—on-campus gangs are problematic, with students becoming fiercely territorial and dabbling in drugs. Gangs, which are groups of allied and aberrant individuals, are infamous for their involvement in criminal activity.

            These groupings of errant individuals may loosely hang out together or form a strict organization, with a designated leader, ruling council, a name, identifiers and, with the most structured gangs, bank accounts.
A few years ago, I spoke with Corporal 2552 Darvey Pratt, an authority on local gangs, who was then posted in the Police Force’s Community Relations Unit.
According to him, there are about 46 known gangs in this country, with a combined membership of about 10,000-foot soldiers. He said that although there may be a few populous gangs.
At that time, he said that gangs are usually recognizable by hand signals, colors, caps and, in the case of many local gangs, sports paraphernalia (eg, football and basketball jerseys).
During the 1960s, neighborhood groups such as the Farmyard Boys or the Kemp Road Boys had squabbles but rarely engaged in serious criminal acts.

            By the 1980s, it is said that the era of political sleaze and drug dealing led to the formation of more violent, felonious gangs such as the Syndicate and the Rebellion, with the latter being the former gang of reformed gangster, pastor and motivational speaker Carlos Reid. During the last 20 years, the number of youth gangs has grown.
Gangs are an omnipresent part of inner-city life, where they petrify the community with patent dope-peddling and mafia-style violence, which is sometimes well planned but may result in the deaths of innocent bystanders.

             I was told that these local gangs are extremely sadistic, instigate deadly rivalries and usually carry out unlawful acts in specific zones that they claim as turf. Corporal Pratt told me that some gangsters cannot venture out of there immediate area into any part of Nassau, because they would be immediately killed.

             With approximately 10,000 young Bahamians engaging in anti-social behaviour, Corporal Pratt said that their thrust to become gangsters is brought on by “a search for identity, a lack of education, a want for protection when they travel to other areas of New Providence, poverty and absentee and neglectful parents.” At the time of our interview, he said that single parent homes or homes with uneducated, young parents who lack parental skills and “don’t have much of anything to teach their kids” are those that usually produce gang bangers.

             He said that the students in gangs are usually disruptive nuisances on school campuses, who usually have dismal grade point averages. According to the policeman, poverty-stricken teenagers have no money to purchase what they desire, so they turn to working for a gang leader who will pay them a stipend or buy material possessions for them.
Older, hardened criminals are known to recruit and exploit school age children. Frankly, it is those adolescents who lack self-esteem and are in pursuit of love who are the persons chosen to be hit men subjected to the orders of their leaders.
            Studies on gang violence reveal that new inductees must be beaten by a certain number of other members for at least 10 minutes, and the wannabe gangster cannot resort to any defensive postures during the thumping. Survival of such a cruel affair would prove that an aspirant member is tough and lead to him being accepted. Moreover, the gang leader may send a wannabe member to kill a perceived threat/enemy to earn ‘his stripes’.
Female gang members, who usually belong to spin-offs of male gangs, are initiated in the same way as males and may also be told to have sex with a member or every male in an affiliated gang.
In the 21st century, gangs have evolved into multidimensional consortiums that traffic drugs, deal in firearms/ammunition, threaten police officers, carry out drive-by shootings and contract killings, and engage in extortion, human smuggling, phone tampering, marriage fraud and identity theft.

            According to Pratt, the Raiders gang is ubiquitous throughout New Providence, with segments located in Fox Hill, Kemp Road, Bain Town, Carmichael Road, Pinewood, etc. Although there are a few major groups, he noted that there are numerous splinter gangs throughout the island that are either affiliated with a more established crew or are only associated with schools or a small grouping of hoodlums peddling dope on a street corner.

            Based upon information gleaned from Corporal Pratt and a focus group of students some time ago, I can identify certain New Providence based gangs and their neighborhoods.

            The active gangs and splinter groups terrorizing this island are: the Raiders, Nike Boys (Coconut Grove, Yellow Elder, CC Sweeting), Dukes (Englerston) Corner Boys, 187, the Irish, Gun Hawks, Sharks (Key West Street/Ida Street/CH Reeves), Gun Doggs (Bain Town, Kemp Road), Monster Doggs (Carmichael, Carlton Francis), Pond Boys (Big Pond), War Kings (Englerston), MOB (Bamboo Town/Sunset Park), Deathrow (Carmichael), Gun A** (Sunshine Park), Dirty South (South Beach/St Vincent Road), Cash Money Boys, Cowboys, 242, 362 (Bacardi Road), Wet Money Gangsters (Winton), Swamper Dogs (Pinewood), Raider Boy Killers, Original Boy Gangsters, Hoyas, etc.

               There are also female gangs such as the Trip Out Daughters, Mad A** Daughters, Head Gone B******, Looney Tunes, Shebellion (part of Raiders), and so on.

               Behind the bushes of Carmichael and Cowpen roads are Haitian gangs such as the Bush Boys and an offshoot of one of the world’s most dangerous and notorious black gangs—ZoPound. These gangs are all prevalent in our schools.

                ZoPound is a gang started in the ghettos of Miami, by destitute Haitian immigrants or persons of Haitian descent.

                Since its launch, ZoPound has been exported to the Bahamas via the large influx of illegal Haitian immigrants and the deportation of Haitian-Bahamians to the Bahamas after they have served sentences in US prisons. Reportedly, ZoPound is also comprised of ex-militants and ex-cops and generates hundreds of millions per annum from the sale of drugs, gambling and prostitution.

               ZoPound’s initiation rituals are slightly different from many Bahamian gangs, because to qualify for membership, you must have Haitian parentage.

              The policeman said that ZoPound is a worldwide gang involved in “drug racketeering.” He claimed that gangs, particularly ZoPound, are known to “hire fellas to stand on various street corners and serve as sentries to protect the dope sellers.”

             He claimed that several of these drug peddling lookouts work shifts like a regular job and earn $1,000-$1,500 per week.

             In various schools, particularly in bathrooms or desks, gangland graffiti is a common sight. In a BIS report in 2005, Seanalee Lewis, then head of the Behavioural Modification Programme at Woodcock Primary and a veteran social worker with the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development, asserted that primary school students are using marijuana, forming gangs and marking out turf. What a travesty!
Indeed, students must be taught to be independent and individualistic in their outlook as membership in menacing gangs can do nothing but result in social anarchy and in a collective lack of productivity. 
Character development and family values must become a focal point in Bahamian homes and in our classrooms!