By: Louis March
It does not have to be this way. Gun violence incidents and victims being shot across Toronto have increased significantly over the past year and have been trending upwards for the past 5 years. As of September 22nd, 325 shooting incidents and 484 victims compared to 308 and 405 respectively compared to the same date last year. The only area where we have seen a decline is in fatalities – 24 this year compared to 40 at the same time last year.
Over the past 5 years we have seen shooting incidents increase 146% from 132 in 2014 to 325 in 2019 – 193% increase from 165 for the same period. Fatalities due to gun violence increased 39% from 19 to 26 for the same 5 time period. We do not know what the final fatality number will be for 2019, but what we do know is that there were 22 fatalities in 2013 and 51 in 2018, a 132% increase.
As Founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, a collaboration of over 40 different community organizations, agencies and programs across the City of Toronto working towards the ambitious objective of zero-gun violence in the City, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to this deadly trend.
ZGVM is in the unenviable position of not only working with these organizations but also working with mothers who have lost children to gun violence and also people who have been responsible for some of this violence – people who have done the crime, done the time and now want to make a positive difference by helping others to reject the path of violence.
Some questions need to be asked: How did we get to this place and why do so many people, including our political leaders, seem so surprised?
Let’s start with how did we got here? Slave abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) stated may years ago, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” Unfortunately, Douglass made this statement many years ago and we as a society have still not figured it out yet.
Let’s look at gun violence from a different perspective. I strongly believe that gun violence in Toronto must be seen as a ‘report card’ on our past actions. Are some people being left behind and are some people being denied access and opportunity based on class and race? Where social and economic justice, opportunity and access exist, do you see the levels of gun violence compared to places where the same does not exist?
In this great City of Toronto is there a difference between living in Rosedale versus living in Rexdale? Is there a difference between living in High Park and living in Regent Park? Let’s be honest, what are these differences?
We need to have an honest discussion about the new characteristics and dynamics of the current gun violence culture. Compared to 2005 when we had 52-gun homicides in Toronto, commonly referred to as the ‘Year of the Gun’, I went to Ottawa to see the then Prime Minister, Paul Martin, with a delegation of nearly representatives of 30 community organizations. Our message was clear – the gun violence taking place at that time was a direct result of cut-backs to community and youth programs declared by the Premier Mike Harris Ontario government, and that it was disproportionately impacting the Black community.
We made similar presentations to the Provincial and City governments. Paul Martin did not survive the federal election but the provincial government did announce $41 million in funding for youth programs. They also created youth outreach worker positions and these workers were mandated to work in designated underserved communities and to help facilitate youth engagement and youth-led programming. The City created similar youth outreach worker positions with similar mandates.
Interestingly we saw a decrease in gun homicides from 52 in 2005 to 22 in 2013. Can we say that this was a direct result of new youth funding and programming initiatives? No evidence exists nor am I aware of any research that was completed. One thing I do know is that these initiatives all came with an expiry date.
The Roots of Youth Violence report was commissioned by the Provincial government; it was mandated to research the root causes of youth violence and draft recommendations that would interrupt the cycles of violence. The final report was issued in 2008 with 30 recommendations many of which were not implemented.
How does today’s gun violence problem differ from 2005? Access to guns has increased; the gun of choice is now the much more deadly semi-automatic. Recall the recent commando style shooting in the Malton area where in broad daylight a school playground with children having fun was sprayed with over 100 bullets. This is but one of many deadly episodes.
The age category of the shooters include mostly teenaged boys, down from the mid-20s. Finally, the social media is the preferred platform to boast, brag and threaten the opposition. Some people now call it ‘forever media’ because the messaging is there forever and you know that there will be a response.
Still, some gun violence characteristics have remained the same – gang and turf wars, failed drug deals, retaliations, bravado shootings, robberies and ego boosts, etc. Mix this all together and we now have a major problem with no end in sight if we are not smart enough and willing to change our approach to addressing and solving this new –age gun violence crisis.
Why do most people seem surprised, especially our political leaders, police, community leaders and service providers? Basically, not many people acknowledged what was happening until the violence spilled over into previously accepted safe zones. As long as the gun violence remained in certain communities there was no need to worry. It’s as if the importance of some lives is determined on where you live. But with more innocents being shot in here-to-fore safe zones, it seems that political leaders have finally found their voice. The Federal and provincial governments have suddenly found millions of dollars to throw at the problem; although a sizable chunk has been directed at policing; never mind that the City government already spends over a billion dollars on policing.
It is now a major problem as the level of fear and despair for all Toronto citizens rises.
So how do we how do we design a comprehensive plan to address this new reality? See part 2 next week in the Caribbean Camera.
Louis March is a community activist and the Founder of Zero Gun Violence Movement