By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
Hardly a week goes by when another young man’s life is lost on the streets of New Providence - a victim of gang violence which still plagues our country.
It may feel the problem is less of an issue than it was in years gone by but the truth is it’s still there, casting a deathly shadow over many communities.
When the rattle of gunshots echoes through one area you know another life has been lost, someone ‘taken out’ by a rival gang. Within hours or just a few days more shots will be heard in another area, a revenge attack by the first victim’s fellow gangs members, striking back for the loss of their ‘soldier’.
Apart from the occasional stray hitting an innocent bystander or child, the proverbial “gang bullets” have names on them, taking out the correct target while bringing respect and possible promotion to the shooter. All the while those who witness the murderous acts will respond, “I saw nothing” when quizzed by police.
Recently Captain Godfrey G Rolle, RBDF (Rtrd) and former Ambassador to The Republic of Haiti, wrote a letter to The Tribune’s editor, lamenting over the horrible state of youth violence in our country.
Captain Rolle wrote: “My heart aches at the almost daily news reports of another young man’s life being violently snuffed out. And even as it quakes at the of-time insensitive, callous and extremely graphic videos making the rounds on social media of yet another young Bahamian son falling to the ground under a fusillade of bullets, in the deep recesses of my mind, the words of John King in his song ‘How Many More Jah” bubble up’.”
The former military man reflected on times when he and journalist and businesswoman, Dr Debbie Bartlett, engaged in intervention activities.
He continued: “I reflect on my time (2007-2012) as the first Director of the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (NADS) situated within the Ministry of National Security. I can vividly recall receiving a call from Dr Debbie Bartlett who had had a history of working in the inner city. Dr Bartlett shared with me that she was in contact with a number of gang leaders operating in communities throughout New Providence.
“These men wanted to meet with the Minister of National Security and the top brass of our Law Enforcement Agencies, to share their concerns about a new breed of gangbangers coming up in their organisations. The first meeting was organised and held at the East Street Gospel Chapel, and it was chilling to hear these gang leaders who candidly admitted to sometime trying to ‘take each other out’ express their deep concerns about the new crop of young men rising in the various organisations. To a man, they described this group of youngsters as “men without souls”.”
Captain Rolle said the leaders identified lack of education, poverty, lack of opportunities and incarceration with hardened criminals, as ‘incubating factors’ for the growth of these gangs.
“These gang leaders themselves offered as a first-step suggestion to mitigate against the rise of these ‘soulless young men’, the awarding of contracts and other assistance from the Government and Corporate citizens, which would empower each leader in his respective community to utilise the young men of that community to keep the area clean,” he explained.
Captain Rolle said sadly, in his view, this warning and plea for help was ignored, and the country is now seeing the full manifestation of the fears of those gang leaders - the rise of “the soulless young men”.
A woman brave enough to sit in the front of “gang bangers” and negotiate peace with them is remarkable. The Tribune reached out to Dr Bartlett to see what her mindset was as she carried out these herculean tasks. She has since stopped the interventions, but remains in contact with many of the young men.
Dr Bartlett said: “Most people don’t know but I’ve been involved with the gang and underground world since the 1980s. I have facilitated interventions with many gang leaders and members. Some of them are the most gentle and loyal people that you want to find. A lot of them are also very honest. They will admit to doing things. I used to know where bodies are and where guns are.
“I never betrayed them. They know the secrets I kept, but you know why they would come to me, they know that I would never compromise myself. It looks easy when somebody does it, but it’s not.
“We brought calm to the Hay Street area and then the government of the day decided they wanted to do it without me. It was said to let it be a ‘man’s thing’. They did not know the relationship I had with those guys.”
Not a tall or strappingly-built woman, Dr Bartlett was asked how she managed to take on the gangster ruffians and get them to respond to her successfully.
“So, when you talk about me going into a room with the gang members, I am reading that room. There is an invisible sign on everyone that says, ‘I am important to’,” she explained.
“The first thing I do is let them know I respect them. I don’t agree with what they are doing and they know that I don’t agree with it, but I listen to them. My experience then tells me what they need and then I open that door. I give them hope, but I also help appeal to any sort of humanity in them.”
Dr Bartlett recalls some of her most dangerous interventions where she and team members thwarted planned blood baths in the inner city.
“I was working with gangs and this young man went to Ambassador Rolle, who at the time was a defence force officer,” she recalled. “Twenty-five of the top gangs wanted to help the country as they said their generals were out of control and worse than them. They went to him and said that they wanted me to be the private sector partner.
“They had three or four of the top gang leaders there and they wanted to make the introduction to me. They did that because of my history with the Hay Street area when they were shooting every day. I intervened and had a meeting with the president of the Christian Council at that time, who called 15 of the top denominational leaders, then there was Perry Christie, Tommy Turnquest, Desmond Bannister and Charles Maynard. They told them that if I didn’t intervene, they were going to kill two government ministers and two pastors.”
Dr Bartlett said those same gang members had another murderous plan to sit on a roof with AK47s “and just start shooting”. She and her team mediated, got a group of corporate citizens together and got the gang members to cool down and the shooting plan was set aside.
“Although I did the work, I have to mention help I got from people who were involved like John Bostwick, Rev Patrick Paul and Elaine Pinder and many other people who pitched in. We all worked together with others,” said Dr Bartlett.
“There was that time when John Bostwick reached out to me. We worked a lot together in the inner city. They were going to have a gang war. One side told me and the other side told John. We met in Janet Bostwick’s office with the two sides. We had no idea what they were going to do, but they showed up with guns.
“It was a most hair-raising experience. I was a journalist at ZNS those days. We negotiated and reasoned with them and we were able to get them to put the guns down. I am not that much involved anymore with interventions, but I am still in touch with some of them.”
Back in the day there were high school gangs like the “Syndicate” and the “Raiders”. Now there is the Haitian movement Zoe Pound and One Order to name a few. This writer had a “sit down” with one of the leaders of a local gang who agreed to do the interview under certain conditions.
“Ghost”, as he is called, has been in the game from his teen years and is now in his mid-thirties. Under his hardened demeanour lies a person begging for recognition and belonging.
“I have been involved in this game for 20 years,” said Ghost. “I had regular family life. I went to private schools, I went to church, but something was missing. Power and belonging! I needed to know I mattered and I wanted to be feared. I kept getting put out of schools and there were no more schools to send me to. Then I was recruited. Someone was watching and saw what I doing and thought I would be a good soldier.
“They started me out moving drugs and guns with the Haitians and it was easy at first. Because I never showed fear for anything they gave me more and more to do and it started to get hard. I was young, so I was still living at home and my family started to get down on me. I was under a lot of pressure and I started to smoke weed to make me calm.
“My mother and father tried to put Jesus in my by dragging me to church one time so the devil can come out of me. That didn’t work out for them because while this big boy was dragging me to the ground, when he caught the spirit, my gun dropped out of my pants. My mother said I had no soul so she told me to get out of her house. I left and moved in with one of the generals. Things were really good after that. I did lots of work and made lots and lots of money.
According to “Ghost” there was a time when he contemplated leaving the gang, but the general brought him back into the fold.
“The first time I was asked to kill a man; that bugged me. I skipped out for a while. I went to stay with a cousin who tried to talk business into my head. He told me to take what money I had and start up a restaurant business because he was a good chef. I was going to do it, but that knock came on the door one night. It was the general I use to live with who told me I was a part of a brotherhood and he made me move back in with him.”
Ghost said he has gone to prison, “a few times” and never gave “snitched” on other gang members and he was rewarded for it. He said gang members have their own justice system.
“The police believe they are sharp, but trust me, we are always two steps ahead of them,” he continued. “The police will bust us for a few pounds of weed here and there, but I think for the most part, they don’t really get involved with gang wars. We basically do our thing and if someone gets take out, they might investigate or they might not. They let us do our thing. We have our own justice system.
“I am now a general in this force. If you are not onboard with what I am dealing with, you have to be eliminated. That’s simple eh? You cannot live if you want to go against me or steal from me. I’m a boss now and they have to show respect or taken out.”
Ghost became agitated when asked he has killed people before.
“Don’t be asking me if I ever killed anybody,” he responded quickly. “You ever killed anybody? I know if feels good, but I ain’t telling you if I did it or how many times I did it. For what I just finished telling you I do as a job, it’s almost disrespectful to ask me if I ever killed anybody. What you think? Answer your own question!
Asked if he values life he said, “Sure I value life. I value my life. I value my generals’ and soldiers’ life. I value my daughter’s life, but everybody else is just a number to me. If they have to get take out, it will be done and I will eat my dinner and go to sleep afterwards. I have no time to play when it comes to this business. If you slip you will get ran over like a dog. You have to stay awake, watch, listen and make a move.”
Ghost was asked what sort of things he does daily in his “business”.
He said, “My crew ain’t Haitians, but we have to deal with the Haitians. The Haitians have the guns. They have weed too, but the guns is the important part. They know how to move guns in broad daylight and that’s key. You have to do clean business with the Haitians.
“They some cruel ‘niggas’. They will chap up ‘niggas’ and drink their blood. We have done some serious things in our crew, but no way are we like them. I buy plenty guns from the Haitians, sell them or ship them out, but I don’t have them as no friends. Strictly business!”
Asked how he got the name Ghost, he said, “How I got the name Ghost? My movements made me famous. I could be here one minute and vanish the next minute like a ghost. Just like how you can go home right now, open your door with a key and meet me sitting in your kitchen. I move around like the wind; unseen but heard. Just like a ghost.”
The 36-year-old gangster said the “gang world” is alive and well in what he calls a cowboy town and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
“We might go quiet for a while but then we bounce back up, lick off some shots to let you’ll know we still here.”