As homicides near record, where's the outrage?
homicides as someone else's problem makes matters worse, observers say
Dec 10, 2007 04:30 AM
/ TORONTO STAR
Two officers and a Toronto Works employee melt snow in the search for evidence
at scene of fatal shooting on Empringham Dr. in Scarborough.
"She was not shocked. It was almost as if she was expecting it," said the investigator. "It really stuck with me." The detective asked not to be named so as not to bring her any more hurt.
Here in Canada's largest city, there have been 80 homicides so far in 2007, a number closing in on the record 89 set back in 1991. Notwithstanding one city councillor's call last week to bring in the military to combat gang violence, moral panic has not set in.
Make no mistake, Toronto remains one of the safest cities in the world. As police remind us, the chances of becoming a homicide victim are remote unless you have a "criminal, high-risk lifestyle" involving guns, gangs or drugs.
"If you take out the gangbangers, if you're not selling firearms, if you're not involved in the sex trade, you're not going to get murdered in Toronto," Brian Raybould, the head of the homicide squad, said last week.
But some fear Toronto has become a place with a parallel universe, where some residents feel shielded and far removed from a separate, hellish world where life is cheap and expendable and where those who suffer most are caught in a rising tide of helplessness.
"It doesn't seem to move us that much anymore. We're not rallying in great numbers to try to solve it," said Pastor Orim Meikle. "I think we've kind of folded our hands and say `I don't know if we're going to fix this.'"
And when society gets to that point, the focus for some becomes how to enact laws "to ensure that we keep them at bay or we build gated communities around ourselves so that we essentially accept that there's going to be that society and there's going to be us, almost a form of apartheid," said Grace-Edward Galabuzi, a professor in Ryerson University's department of politics and public administration.
Galabuzi said the uncomfortable fact that black youths disproportionately represent both homicide victims and victimizers shouldn't be ignored. The overwhelming majority of homicide victims in 2007 have been male, about two-thirds non-white. "I think that's troubling but I think that needs to be said," he said. Nor the fact a lot of the violent crime happens in low-income neighbourhoods where joblessness is high and opportunities limited, leading black youth to "the poor choices that some of them make."
Meikle, whose Rhema Christian Ministries has a large black congregation in the east end, worries that if the broader community regards it as a "black problem" it may fuel the belief that "this isn't our problem.
"By all means I think the black community should be culpable, come to the table and look for solutions and also accept blame where blame is due," he said.
"But if we continue to almost segregate the problem, it seems to suggest the solution only resides within the black community."
Defence lawyer John Struthers, who has represented nine young black men who went on to die violently, agrees this is everyone's problem.
He called Giorgio Mammoliti's suggestion that martial law be enacted and civil liberties suspended contemptible and grossly simplistic. Toronto police believe 16 of this year's homicides are related to gang activity.
"Perhaps focusing on the root causes of the problems, including poverty, educational and recreational resources and the failed war on drugs policy, would be more productive," said Struthers.
Toronto has created these "housing projects where we put people and isolate them from the rest of us," so is it any real surprise then that, when old enough, they make the choices they do?
"You can go work at the Foot Locker and make your $7 or $8 an hour wearing your striped shirt and selling shoes or you can stand on the corner and sell crack for $1,000 a day and the culture supports that in terms of it being cool."
Meikle says it comes down to choices. He has experienced racism – "so have many others" – but doesn't blame "wrong choices" earlier in his life on external forces. By his early 20s, he turned his life around after going back to school.
"It's not that there's this juggernaut of a system that's forcing some of these young men into making these decisions. Some are simply making these decisions because they're bad kids," said Meikle.
There are others, however, "in situations that their environment has forced them in that direction."
Regardless of whether we think "it's coming from a history of slavery, or there's an economic problem here within the black community, or there's a familial problem in the black community... really to solve it requires the resources and attention of the entire city."