Why in the name of all that is sane would a 14-year-old be walking around with a gun in this city? Police have charged a 14-year-old, who cannot be named because of his age, with manslaughter, alleging he is responsible in the death of 16-year-old Yusuf Tifow. The 16-year-old died after being shot on September 1 in the Lawrence Ave. W. and Weston Rd. area.
Tifow is the third Black teen to die from gunfire in recent weeks, and the seventh among Black youth, age 16 or younger, this year. Only days before, there was the double murder of friends O’She Doyles-White, 16, and Kwame Duodu, 15, both shot in front of the Duodu family home in the Jane-Finch area.
What is going on here is obvious and tragic. The easy access to illegal guns means that even a 14-year-old could be carrying one.
Toronto Police Service has to do something meaningful about getting illegal guns out of the hands of youth, because the underground trade in firearms is a significant factor in this rash of horrible fatalities. Where are police intelligence and resources in putting a stop to guns entering this city?
It has to come down to the law enforcement bodies because the laws imposing greater punishment for illegal possession of a gun matter little in the face of a lifestyle and system of rules of these youths’ own making. High on their list of rules appears to be that youth must be armed.
In all these cases, whatever led to these as yet unidentified assailants killing off their peers, we can assume an absence of the emotional maturity and social skills to work out their differences with dialogue and compromise. More commonly, youth taking these murderous actions are functioning on anger and fear.
These shootings have taken place in locations on or near public housing sites, areas of persistent poverty, high unemployment and low expectations. The rules for navigating in these environments are significantly different from those beyond their borders. Youth who do not normally have a sense of the future anyway, in these environments have an even dimmer view of their own future. Life, any life that looks like their own, therefore, has little or no value. It is a short step, then, to resolving differences by eliminating a life. Further, because the role models for many of these youth are those who have already gone to prison, many see prison as their destiny also, and follow in lockstep a path that is already well worn.
The police and other invested associations understand this, but much more need to be done to re-orient these young people to a different understanding of how their lives could be.
Social and community development programs that are given funding in the moment of crisis, but are not further supported, tell youth that the social safety net is fragile at best and therefore cannot truly help them. Half-measures only create distrust among those few youth who are actually being reached.
It is hard to fool kids about what is authentic care and what is only superficial. And if the programs in place are only for the appearance of help rather than real help, they will quickly see through it and find their own ways of coping within their environment. We see clearly what their way of coping is: gangs, guns and merciless retribution.
We refuse to believe that this crisis cannot be mitigated, but in order for that to become a reality, levelheaded responses have to be put in place and maintained. Otherwise, whatever resources are tossed into this incendiary situation to cool off the problem will be nothing more than a waste.
Municipal politicians must make this crisis a priority. If anyone seeking election does not have a well laid out plan of action to address this youth emergency then voters in their wards or ridings must demand it or come forward with their own plan of action and demand that it be committed to by politicians.
This is not a Black youth crisis and it is not a Black community crisis; this is a crisis for this city and this province. The longer we respond only with band-aid solutions, the greater the tragic long-term consequences.