By PAT WATSON
It would be easy to pour hate and anger on the misguided persons who chose to express their own hate and anger by using violence on a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) vehicle earlier this week. But two wrongs don’t make a right. It would be easy to resort to fear-based thinking and behaviour when we realize there are people carrying illegal and concealed guns on public transit.
By now you may have heard that three or four men, all reportedly Black, got into an altercation on a southbound Oakwood bus, which was also carrying a number of other passengers. The men apparently know each other, and apparently don’t know what it means to have a polite disagreement. Whatever preceded the violence, Monday afternoon along Oakwood Ave. became a crime scene.
We all know what it is like to become angry about something or with someone. Most of us know what it is like to lose our emotional control from time to time. Fortunately, most of us don’t choose to respond with gun violence.
What a narrow range of emotional expression some of us are equipped with. There are people around us who carry the same measure of anger and frustration whether the coffee is too, they have just been fired from their job, or they have simply misunderstood what someone has just said. Their ability to tolerate even the smallest emotional discomfort is weak. Their sense of self is so fragile that they cannot withstand even the slightest contradiction. Worse, these days some of them have found that the way to protect their fragility is to exterminate any challenge to it with a gun.
It was only a month ago that a similar act of violence occurred at Osgoode subway station. I sat waiting along with many other passengers in a subway train some two hours after that shooting and felt the weight of the incident as a voice came over the TTC public address system to explain that trains were being re-routed because of the shooting.
I deeply regret it but admit my sense was that the incident involved young Black men, yet again. And, regrettably, it was revealed hours later that both the suspect and victim in that shooting were young Black men. Moreover, the alleged shooter was being described as someone wanted by police in connection with a number of other violent acts.
So what will be the consequence of these life-threatening events among the rest of us as we go about our daily business? For one thing, even the most fair-minded will begin to look with fear and suspicion at other young men, of whatever ilk, with their bandannas and oversized, droopy clothing – but especially young, Black men – and wonder if they are carrying weapons.
We may want to take cold comfort in thinking that they only seek out each other for reprisal and to vent their impulsive rage. But bullets don’t know friend, foe or uninvolved parties. In the summer of 2007, bullets found 11-year-old innocent, Ephraim Brown at a birthday party. In the summer of 2005, Shaquan Cadougan, then four years old, was shot by careless and callous gun-toters while at home in his backyard. In 2004, it was Tamara Carter, then 11, riding on a bus on a Sunday afternoon, sitting next to her mother.
Because many of these acts of violence appear to be carried out by young Black men, one deplorable consequence will be that those who want to fuel their hatred for Black people will use these crimes as fodder.
While there is no excusing such acts of violence, as thug culture continues its ascendancy, it bears remembering that hate begets hate. We must not forget the roots of these acts of armed violence. We must not forget the hopelessness and negativity that many young Black males are inured to from a very early age; that it does not take too long for them to understand that they are harshly rejected by the mainstream of society.
Many of our youth are protected to some extent from this cruel reality by their churches, their families and other social networks, but clearly not all are. The result is that the callousness that is planted in them bears bitter fruit as they come of age and respond to life as a reflection of how they have been tutored.
Something in the order of five per cent of a society will turn to forms of crime, regardless of their upbringing. But the fact is that as long as Black youth live in an environment with an excess of hatred and contempt aimed at them, some will, as a result, pay back society in kind.