The solutions must be found at home: ‘Our families need to call a family dinner. Invite everyone to attend. We need to have an agenda. We need a new set of rules which we have decided to live by.’ *Painting by Sharon Wilson
The solutions must be found at home: ‘Our families need to call a family dinner. Invite everyone to attend. We need to have an agenda. We need a new set of rules which we have decided to live by.’ *Painting by Sharon Wilson

I was in a meeting when someone shared with me the fact that the recent violent murders made her want to weep for the country. My response was something like “don’t bother, that won’t help.”
In my house and among my friends, this violence is a hot topic. Discussing violent behaviour and its root causes in constructive ways is challenging.

Most of us are fed up, and many of my crowd are feeling like the entire island is being hijacked. I continue to hear what should be done about it, most of which is illegal or impossible.

Let’s be very clear, there is no ‘they’.  Another way to put it is: “we are the only they there is”, or try this one: “they is us!” This seems to be the single most difficult concept to accept. “Neither my son, nor my daughter is caught up in this mess, so don’t talk to me as if I was one of them. Have you lost your mind, Sharon these people have guns!”

Yes they do, and who are ‘these people’? They are our sons, brothers, nephews, grandsons, godsons, boyfriends, children’s fathers, cousins, co-worker’s children, ....get the picture?

They are not strangers, although their behaviour is growing stranger every day. Like it or not, we grew this problem. We must own it. It is a home-grown virus and nobody, get this now, nobody is coming to fix it. Guess who that leaves?

“Sharon, the police can’t even get the guns, what do you want from us? I believe you must be losing your mind, because you definitely are not making much sense to me! I can’t talk to you !”

Okay, stay with me a minute, because no matter how much we want to distance ourselves from this mess, we are up to our eyeballs in it.

‘Lee’ is our neighbour. He lives in Somerset. For the last two years he has been unable to go to Hamilton. That probably means he doesn’t work, or attend school, but it is safe to assume that someone runs his errands, feeds him and houses him.

This also means that whatever house he sleeps in may attract to it someone intending violence toward him. This, in turn, means that all who visit or live in that house are at risk; babies, siblings, elderly, the rent-payers — commonly known as Mom and Dad — all those who keep the lights on and food in the cupboards.

Lee has managed  to make these individuals believe that their cooperation in protecting him is essential to keeping him alive and further that this is the role of family.


So as everyone else goes off to work, he watches television while keeping one eye on the sound of traffic which may be lingering outside. Granny knows what’s going on; not the particulars, but she knows this child is into some mess, Mom knows even more than Granny. They are probably on their knees at church on Sunday, but they are the biggest keeper of the secret on Monday.

Naturally, the girlfriends know more than Granny or Mom. Oh, and don’t forget extended family and friends of the family. They all know enough to know Lee is in some mess.

Here is what we will not face: The fact that one day, the door of the house will open and the three-year-old will be shot, or the granny — or you — because you allowed Lee to remain  in your home. Or perhaps while you drive home you will be shot with the baby in the car, because you were mistaken for him or because they intended to make an example of a family member.

Okay, so these are the players on the stage. We meet them at the beauty parlour, at a friend’s house, at school, on the road, wherever. When conversations related to retaliation come up, what do we say? Donna says retaliation’s coming, so what is our response in that moment? We either fan the flames, or starve them. Both saying nothing and answering dishonestly are fanning the flames.

Our families need to call a family dinner. Invite everyone to attend. We need to have an agenda. We need a new set of rules which we have decided to live by.

Lee, you are not the most important person living in our home. Babies and elderly must be protected. I insist on being protected! If you have decided that this is how you intend to live, you can no longer live here because you attract danger to all who live in this house. You may not remain here because you are teaching unacceptable behaviour to the children in this family. Your lifestyle is wholly unacceptable.

Call us when you are ready to clean up your behaviour! If this feels too cold and we are unable to put him out, prepare for  the price of maintaining  the madness.

There will be many, many more deaths and worse than the funerals is the damage done to the children left behind. Who will protect them from all they see and hear? If Lee is in our home we are lying to ourselves, telling ourselves that we are doing the loving thing. We are not exercising love to the minors living in that house, we are not being responsible parents if we do not face how our behaviour affects the vulnerable.

Families are a powerful force when we are united. We — uncles, aunts, girlfriends and grandparents — collectively are all more powerful than the guns. The truth is that no one wants to be dismissed by family and friends. Will we go this far to try to save his life?

“Clean up. If you need help, this family will help, otherwise take it someplace else.”

Don’t just be straight with Lee, be straight with your sister, too, when she gives you some lame excuse for the madness she’s perpetuating.

Get real with your girlfriend who knows her boyfriend is living a dangerous life but turns a blind eye. Be straight with your daughter who finds it exciting to be close to the action. I’m not the Premier, but I’m saying it anyway.

We need A National Push. We need to designate a day to have the big conversation.  We need public service ads to help families have this difficult conversation. The big conversation is not about race. It’s about this mess we have all contributed to, and it’s about how together we can clean it up.

“I did not give birth to my child to bury him before he is 30, and find myself having to bring up his children”.

Together we can do this. Let’s call a spade a spade. The price of silence and dishonesty is too great. You are no longer free to stand in my space and defend your child’s violent behavior  i.e. if they hadn’t done this, my son would not have had to do that. Where does that all end? Do you want your son to be right, or do you want peace? Do you want him to be right, or do you want him alive? Do you want him to be right or do you want him imprisoned for the better part of his life? Then who will be the father to his sons?

You can’t talk to me about your brother’s right to get even, I will look you in the eye and tell you ‘no’ — he does not have that right. Your misguided, sick support encourages him. Are you encouraging him to do violence to someone else’s son? Can you handle having that blood on your hands? When you come to me, I vow to look you in the eye and tell you the truth.

It’s not about being kind to save our friendship. Such a friendship is built on dishonesty and lies. Instead of going home and telling my family I think you are wrong, I am committed to telling you. That’s how I will show my love.  That is how I will do my part. I will tell you the truth. Google “six degrees of separation” and you will see how very connected we all are. If my nephew is doing a pack, he knows I will turn him in. I have told him so. We live in a time where wrong is made to look right, and right wrong.

• Sharon Wilson is one of Bermuda’s most celebrated artists.