Respect does not come from the end of a gun


Just because the number of young Black men in Toronto who meet their end by being shot to death keeps growing doesn’t mean they should all become a blur.

As of this past weekend, there have been eight shooting-related deaths in the city – of the 14 homicides recorded by Toronto Police so far this year. There have also been 36 reported shooting-related injuries. Many of the victims are from our community. The latest shooting death is that of 19-year-old Daniel Lewis. Ironically, he liked to read murder mysteries, according to his girlfriend.

But how he died is no mystery. Lewis was reportedly shot at a number of times in a laneway near Keele St. and Rogers Rd. on April 21 and was hit twice by bullets. He died in hospital.

Whatever else he may or may not have done, may or may not have been – apparently, he had run-ins with the police as so many young Black men do, due in no small part to aggressive policing – the ringing legacy of the young man is likely to be the quote that found its way into news reports of his demise. Before shots were fired at him, he was overheard to have said, “Don’t disrespect me”.

Perhaps, this call for respect will finally have some resonance. Perhaps it will be a turning point in this nightmare dimension of self hate being played out by some of the young men in our midst; like Rodney King’s desperate plea in the aftermath of the 1992 Riots in South Los Angeles: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not; it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice…Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out”.

While not bearing the gifted oratory of American civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or, more recently, U.S. President Barack Obama, those few words by Daniel Lewis has to mean something, given the price he paid.

This pitiable and desperate cry to be treated as someone of value is not a strange one. There isn’t a human being of any station in life who does not desire the same. As much as people need love, there is a hardly a person who does not want or expect respect. The message in any exchange of respect is that your life is valued. We may not agree with or even like each other, but we still recognize each other’s value as fellow human beings.

On the other hand, it is self-evident that an expression or action of disrespect toward another is in reality an expression of disrespect for one’s self.

So here is a plea to those who care about the young men at risk of heading into murderous confrontations in our community – and we know the caring corps is legion – to keep on reminding these youth that they are not reflections of other people’s negative attitudes toward them. Give them the currency that carries all the signs of self-respect so that they can model those behaviours. They need to see real examples so they can know what it looks and feels like. For, we know the alternative effect.

It’s a hell of a fight to take prison ‘justice’ off the streets, and it looks as if the battle is not being won. While the numbers bear it out, some people find it hard to believe crime is down overall. But, gun crimes, according to Mayor David Miller and Toronto Police Service statistics, have gone up over the past five years; perhaps coinciding with a lowering of respect. If Daniel Lewis were still alive, he might explain to the rest of us that respect does not truly come from the end of a gun.

On a meteorological note…

If you had a friend who behaved like the weather in Toronto – warm one minute, cold the next, ceaselessly swinging from one extreme to another, day in, day out – the caring thing to do would be to suggest that friend seek medical or other professional help. But, who has any sway with the weather?

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