For years the jury has been out as to whether Bermuda has gangs in the way most of us think of gangs — the Crips, the Bloods, LA-style collectives who’ll kill and be killed to protect each other. In reality though, it’s not like it’s everyday news.

Even when the so-called gangs did make news several years ago they basically told the media not to call them gangs because they didn’t think they were gangs.

Government used to play down their existence, too. Culture Minister Dale Butler, among others, has particular beefs about the whole ‘town and country’ phenomenon saying it’s a nonsense to think people, often relatives, are really that divided simply because they live a couple of miles down the road from each other.

But that’s all changed. Now, all of sudden, there’s no doubt about it. Bermuda has gangs. Home Affairs Minister Randy Horton announced this week he’s pouring $350,000 into an anti-gang plan to be drawn up by American expert and former cop DeLacy Davis.

We attended one of Mr. Davis’s seminars yesterday at the new Berkeley Institute, part of the Government’s Multi-Addictions Conference.There were about 20 people in the room, mostly professionals including probation officers, counsellors and youth workers. They were predominantly women.

Mr. Davis gave two talks, ‘From Childhood to Ganghood’ and the one we attended ‘The Concept of Gangs as Family.’

His key point was to try and get people to understand the gangs concept is not about them and us, especially in small geographical areas like Bermuda, rather they are us; our sons, brothers, uncles, grandsons, people we went to school with, people that we know.

Mr. Davis wanted people to tap into what they understood by the words families and gangs and acknowledge the commonalities, like respect and loyalty.

He asked people to consider the trial of Kenneth Burgess and Dennis Robinson who got life earlier this year for murdering twins Jahmal and Jahmil Cooper.

He said: “There were two convictions. Nobody ratted on the other one. They both got life. This concept of loyalty. What does it mean?”

He continued: “Gang members are our children, they are your neighbour’s children. Some of us know what’s going on and won’t tell. So how do you approach it and what do you do about it?”

He also challenged how people are liable to jump to conclusions and label someone a gang member if they’re using and selling drugs, listening to certain music and wearing certain clothes.

“It’s not just gang members selling drugs, business people, respected people sell drugs,too,” he said.

Mr. Davis said he’s toured most of the island and talked to a lot of the guys on the street, but he drew the line at “42nd Street” — St. Monica’s Road. “I didn’t feel comfortable. You could feel the vibrations,” he said.

Everyone needs love

He asked the audience how many people had family members with addictions — nearly everyone raised their hands. “Where do they go for treatment?” he asked. “It depends how much money they’ve got,” someone replied.

Everyone needs love, Mr. Davis continued.

“If society isn’t showing love by providing treatment options for people who can’t afford to pay, then how do you translate that as a young person? No love. So guess what? I’m not showing you any either.”

The seminar lasted about an hour and a half. Afterwards attendees we spoke to said they found it extremely enlightening and were enthused by the Government’s commitment to not only assign money to an anti-gang plan, but to educate the community, too, on how to look beneath the surface of the young men we see sitting on walls. They were grateful for the depth.

Mr. Davis praised the Government, too, for its proactive approach.

Earlier this week Mr. Horton reportedly linked robberies to gang activity. He said the number of robberies had risen from 75 in 2004 to 107 in 2005. In reality robberies accounted for just four per cent of all crimes last year.