Solution to the gun violence crisis

This article, written by Louis March, community activist and the Founder of Zero Gun Violence Movement, is the second part of his essay published last week entitled “The gun violence crisis- how we got here.” This week, March lays out the solution.

Solution to the gun violence crisis

By Louis March  

Former deputy chief Forde and Louis March discuss gun violence in Toronto. Gerald V. Paul photo.

Moving forward to address the gun violence problem requires a new political leadership at the provincial and municipal levels that is willing to demonstrate the will and courage to present innovative and bold solutions. The gun violence problem did not happen overnight; shootings, victims and homicide numbers have steadily increased since 2014.

The mayor and police chief were telling everyone that Toronto was one of the safest cities in the world – which is indeed true – but they never mentioned that it depended on which part of the city you were living in.

Premier Ford says that he is from the old school and that he believes in putting more boots on the ground; so he cut $25 million from after school programs and gave the $25 million to the police to put more boots on the ground. Clearly the premier needs to graduate from his old school and register in a new one that explains the new realities of gun violence, especially when the police chief made it clear that the police cannot solve this problem by themselves and needed help from community partners.

His reward for this astute assessment was a one year extension instead of the 5-year-term usually given to police chiefs who have done great work.

The mayor during his re-election said that he would match the $25 million dollars committed by the premier. He said that one-third would go to policing and the nbalance would go to investing in communities, families and youth. So far only $1.5 million was allocated as part of the $4.5 million given to the police for the short-term, Project Community Space. This is not the type of leadership, policy and funding decisions that will seriously address the root and systemic issues that have created the gun violence problem.

A reporter from Mexico recently phoned to inquire about the gun violence problem in Toronto. She wanted to know if Mexican immigrants who came to Canada via the USA and were contributing to the gun violence problem. It was made clear that this was not the case – the problem was created in Toronto and required a Toronto solution.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that we cannot provide a prescription without a thorough diagnosis that looks at the problem from a 2019 perspective. The characteristics and dynamics of gun violence in 2019 are significantly different from 2005. The ongoing, fragmented and temporary band-aid solutions over recent years, from mostly the provincial and municipal government have not worked and evident in the current crisis.

Secondly, we need to immediately convene an anti-gun and gang violence forum with invitations extended to federal, provincial, municipal governments, and key stakeholders who have can provide valuable inputs. The stakeholders must include representatives from service providers, funders, policing, justice, corrections, educators, academics, housing, employers, unions, youth workers, people impacted by the violence, people responsible for the violence, mental health and drug addiction workers, community representatives, family supports and social media experts.

They must be tasked to honestly discuss the new characteristics and dynamics of the gun violence problem and then to create a comprehensive and strategic solution plan with short term and long term action items.

The problem assessment should look at areas including the new dynamics of gun violence – access to guns, caliber of guns being used, why the new brazenness of the shootings, the age of those involved, the influence of social media and popular culture and new gang culture.

The forum should also look at gun violence as a public health issue; the school-to- jail pipeline; the increasing poverty gap; creating new job opportunities especially in the booming construction business; youth alienation; community investment and development; new policing and engagement strategies; the collection of gun usage data; guns coming across the border; and gang intervention strategies.    

The strategic action plan should then be used to inform government policy, program designs and funding decisions because what we are currently doing is not working despite the efforts of some incredible people doing incredible work to address problem. For example, communities where poverty and gun violence exists, are not underserved, they are poorly served. This is the difference between quantity and quality. As we spend more money on programming and policing – the gun violence problem increases.

What would it take to review all the government assets, programs and resources currently on the ground, that are designed to assist vulnerable youth?  Are they really working and how can we better evaluate their impact and outcomes?

The forum should also take a serious look at the impact of social media on new gun violence trends. The bragging, boasting, threats and language are all used to fuel violent interactions evidenced by recent shootings on Queen Street and in Malton  in broad daylight. Interestingly,  this open source media forum is foreign to many parents who have little understanding of what their children are doing. We know that police are monitoring social media but is this enough?

Another critical piece the plan should be to look at funding decisions from both government and private sources. ZGVM has been talking about the “Funding Olympics” since day one. We know who will get the main funding dollars – the gold, silver and bronze amounts and we also know that remaining funds have to be allocated to the remaining service providers. Unfortunately, they have to compete with each other to get funding. This does not foster an environment for working collaborations and collective impact. Programs are then designed to get funding dollars based on the most likely funding victory – while impact programming seldom happens.

Toronto is an internationally acclaimed world class City, where we expect to be in the top 10 category in any surveys comparing cities across the world. We have the resources and means to solve any problem that we encounter. Bring these people and resources to this forum with the right leadership and I am certain that we can develop the appropriate action plan to address the gun violence problem.

Lastly, we have to look at leadership and who can best move the forum’s strategic action plan forward. Clearly the premier and the mayor are having difficulty resolving the gun violence problem with their political gamesmanship and heavy focus on a policing solution. Claiming that gun violence is a priority without any demonstrated leadership is in itself a problem. There is a sense of urgency here and we do not need to see more violence, more bodies and more blood on the streets before we find the solution.

The level of fear and despair currently in the city is unacceptable. The increasing number of grieving families and communities is unacceptable. The constant spending of monies without measurable results is unacceptable. It is time for the premier and mayor to appoint a special anti-gun and gang violence commissioner to oversee the strategic action plan, its design, implementation, funding and evaluation.

I will continue to say that the first word in community safety is community, not police and not politicians. We can do better as a City and we can do better with strong communities with caring citizens. The level of gun violence in the City must be seen as a report card reflecting the success or failure of how we operate as a caring City; not only for some, but for all.