BAHAMAS-Prime Minister supports new legislation to deal with criminal gangs.

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NASSAU, Bahamas, CMC—Prime Minister Phillip Davis announced his support for the Anti-Gang Bill (2024) on Wednesday, saying it is a “critical step forward as we make our communities safer and more prosperous.”

Davis told Parliament he also supports the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2024, noting that the “landmark legislation gives law enforcement and the justice system powerful new tools in the fight against criminal gangs.”

He told legislators that for decades, Bahamians have been demanding more direct action against gangs and that each time a gang-related act of violence makes the news, “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.

“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 victims and perpetrators instead,” Davis said, adding, “These are young men whose strength and talents our country needs.”

He said that instead, too many are taking paths that lead to incarceration or death and that his administration has created policies focused on offering other choices that lead instead to opportunity and security.

“We are also strengthening the alliances and cooperation necessary to impede 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.”

Davis said the government is also giving law enforcement new tools in their fight against crime and gangs.

He said the Anti-Gang Bill would 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.”

He said that gangs succeed when families and communities fail and that 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. Every time we lose a young person to gang life, it represents a 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 gang recruitment belongs to all of us. We all need to 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. Neighbours and community leaders, who look the other way instead of stepping up, and offering mentoring or support.”

Prime Minister Davis said that 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.

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

“In our schools, we are working hard to solve absenteeism and ensure our children are back in class and can catch up. At the National Training Agency and BTVI, we provide new opportunities for technical skills development at no cost to students and trainees.”

Prime Minister Davis said that in the National Youth Guard, the authorities are empowering young people 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.

He said that the other part of the strategy to deal with the gang situation is more challenging, including an increase in police presence, 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,” Davis said, including prosecution and rehabilitation.

“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.”

Davis said rehabilitation refers to preparing offenders for successful reintegration into society with vocational training, educational programs, 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,” he said, insisting that 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.”

He noted, for example, that 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 permissible evidence.”

Davis said 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 behaviors by gang members,” he said, noting that the Bill also gives the Supreme Court the ability to declare a group a gang to facilitate the prosecution of its members and supporters.

“This Bill…legally defines gang membership and gang activity, which includes a long list of activities related to recruitment, initiation, the commission of offenses, acts of intimidation and violence, support, and other activities related to the operations of the gang.”

Davis said that persons who are found guilty may face a fine of up to US$100,000 and up to a 25-year prison sentence.

“If someone is proven to be a gang member who, in the 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,” Davis said, adding that participating in retaliatory killings, apart from the charge of murder and related consequences, will now result in a prison sentence of up to 20 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 bulletproof 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 US$100,000.”

Prime Minister Davis said that 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.

He said the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill (2024) accompanying the Anti-Gang Bill 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 at 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,” he said.

Prime Minister Davis said he remains optimistic that Crackdown 2024, which is still ongoing, “can significantly lower crime in the short and long term through our approach to prevention, policing, prosecution, punishment, and rehabilitation.”

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