By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Premier Dalton McGuinty has been saying all the right things following the spate of shootings in Toronto last week, beginning with the dreadful events of last week Monday night when two young people were killed and up to 23 others wounded, including a small child.
Not so much Mayor Rob Ford, who has clearly proven that he just isn’t up to the job of running the country’s largest city – especially where these kinds of issues are concerned.
Would someone kindly ask the mayor to just shut up already? He has become an embarrassment!
Here he is on a local radio call-in show the other day repeating his new mantra that criminals using guns should be banned from the city. At first it sounded like he was playing the immigrant (race?) card since it is alleged that the shooters were Black. It never occurred to him, it would seem, that they just might have been born right here in the city – maybe even in Scarborough. So, it would be interesting to hear where he would want to send them.
When he was pressed to explain his comments that “if you are caught with a gun and convicted of a gun crime, I want you out of this city”, he admitted that he really wasn’t an expert on citizenship and immigration, adding: “I’m sure nobody is right now until we talk to the minister and I can only get that information through the Prime Minister’s Office…”
And this is one of the people Black community leaders have been meeting with to discuss solutions to the problem of gun crimes in the city?
This is the same Ford who – as a councillor and now as mayor – has consistently rejected the funding of programs to help youth in underserved areas, programs that have the potential of steering kids away from a life of crime. He has referred to them derisively as “hug-a-thug” programs and instead favours increased policing.
Following a meeting with Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and McGuinty on Monday, here he was again crowing that he got more money for policing from the province. He didn’t seem to understand that what the premier did was announce the continuing of secure funding for the TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) program, which was slated to end next year, and not new money to expand the current program.
But that is our mayor. He doesn’t have a clue.
And those programs that Ford mocks should actually be considered “prevent-a-thug” programs or “save-a-child-from-becoming-a-thug” programs as the emphasis is on helping kids discover their intrinsic value; helping them to explore their talents; to show them how they can become valuable members of society; to show them how precious life is – theirs and others.
They are not geared only to young adults who have already turned to crime although there is a lot of ongoing outreach to them – even in prison. Many of the programs are focused on young children before they become exposed to a seamier side of life.
McGuinty has been quoted as saying: “The smartest way to deal with crime is to be tough both on crime and the causes of crime.” And this was evident in his announcement following that meeting on Monday. Yes, the province will continue to provide sustained funding for TAVIS, which is a good thing. I don’t know why it was slated to be terminated in the first place. But $500,000 in new funding will also be provided for social programs aimed at attacking the sources of the problems. Is that enough? We’ll see.
That is what most people concerned about this issue have been urging. No sensible person wants crime to be ignored but they also want to see a concrete plan in place to address the root causes of gangs and gun crimes.
Blair, himself, admitted that although the police did a good job of smashing the gangs a few years ago, arresting and removing from the streets a number of gang leaders and members, they have now been replaced by younger thugs looking to make a name for themselves. He astutely admitted that arrests alone won’t solve the problem.
So it is good to see that McGuinty seems to understand the need to also address the “causes of crime” and is willing to put money behind it. Maybe if he thought of that before, he would not have opposed the Africentric Alternative School.
Why did he think people have been fighting for so long to have such a school?
There are educators in our community who have been working quietly for decades, on their own time and at their own expense, to help our kids with their education because they understand that a good education is one way of defeating hopelessness, the kind of hopelessness that could lead youth to a life of crime. There are members of our community who have established various programs in their neighbourhoods to attract the children and to keep them occupied so that they would have alternatives to joining gangs. Maybe assisting some of them so that they can expand their outreach might be a good place to start.
Then there is this from another writer who I am sure means well: “Parents need to recognize the value of early therapeutic interventions at the first sign of concern.”
Here is another problem, these privileged, middle-class people trying to discuss the problems in inner-city neighbourhoods they don’t – and maybe can’t – understand and offering textbook fixes. How does someone with limited education “recognize the value of early therapeutic interventions…?”
Just like those media types – more privileged, middle-class folks – who are quick to blame any and all problems on single parents.
The thing is that most of them – as many of us do – know people who have been raised in single parent households and have done very well. Extremely well, in fact. But when it comes to our community, being raised in a single-parent household is at the root of everything bad.
One doesn’t need to be educated to have a baby. One doesn’t even need to have parenting skills to have a child. While most mothers will take a bullet for their child; while every mother – educated or not – who has watched her child lying in a coffin would gladly give herself up, would gladly give her life and climb into that box, if it would bring him or her back, not every one of them has the skills or the education or the knowledge of how to go about getting the help to assist their children. That is not an excuse, it is a fact. It is reality.
That’s why so many people in our community give of their time to help. That is why there are so many organizations or programs established, mostly to help the children, but some also try to help the parents. They understand the needs and they are trying to meet them.
But, until now, they have been, for the most part, left to fend for themselves or spend much of their time trying to finds the funds to continue their valuable work. Maybe now, if the premier keeps his word, they will get some help.
Finally, a lot of people are in conflict over how they view the police. On the one hand, they want cops to be very visible in their neighbourhoods, keeping them safe. On the other hand, they don’t want to see them stopping, question and/or arresting anyone – except in very exceptional circumstances.
It is a tough place in which to be. The primary responsibility of the police is to maintain law and order. That is what officers are trained to do. As much as we would like to see them hanging out with and talking to the kids, if they see something illegal going on, it is their duty to act. To do otherwise is against everything they stand for.
Recently, some folks expressed displeasure that police officers who were invited to their function, showed up in uniform. Well, what did you expect? That is who they are. Otherwise they would look just like any other adult at the function and the opportunity to have the kids see them in a more relaxed, fun and friendly environment would have been lost.
The police, especially under Blair (but even under former chief, Julian Fantino), have been making an effort to get out into the communities and to build bridges with residents, especially with the youth.
Some people have accused some officers of being unresponsive to their efforts to be friendly. Maybe it is an initial wall of apprehension that, hopefully, will come down with time.
We need them out in the communities. However, we need them to also understand, intuitively, that their efforts to work cooperatively with residents in the various under-served communities is also good policing and that those residents are not the enemy – they are victims. And, sometimes victims, too, can seem unfriendly as they develop a protective mechanism that can push away the help that they need. There needs to be a little understanding, a little give-and-take, on both sides, and a good measure of respect.
We do have problems, but they are fixable. However, we must be serious about working to fix them and not just be satisfied with talking about them.
Otherwise they will only get worse – for all of us.