Following the latest, much reported gun violence that resulted in the deaths of Black youngsters in low income neighbourhoods in Toronto, there has been a flood of reactions.
One such reaction has been shock at 15-year-olds being gunned down. But before these three latest victims, there were others. Too many to mention here; their families and friends will always hold their names in their hearts.
Another reaction has been frustration that even after the gun violence and deaths that occurred last summer at the Eaton Centre, and the two fatalities and record number of injuries during a street festival on Danzig Avenue, young people are still turning to this kind of gun violence.
There has been the predictable and hateful anti-Black reaction of those who ironically lay the blame and all responsibility for the pattern of violence at the feet of the very sector of society their hatred and discrimination have contributed to damaging.
Then there has been the response of Black individuals who publicly lay blame on the sector of the community within which this violence often occurs, characterizing troubled communities in ways that echo the anti-Black racists. This particular reaction subsequently relieves everyone else of having to accept any responsibility, while reassuring those who are prejudiced of the rightness of their contemptible views.
And then there are those who have made it their life’s work to dissect and understand the dynamics of the violence historically inflicted on the Black population and who see this recent rash of gun violence and bloodshed as yet another outcome of anti-Black bias implicit in our daily lives.
There has also been the police response, itemizing the ways in which they are doing all they can in concert with community programs to mitigate the crisis. But what is missing is an honest analysis of the myriad ways in which many in the wider society – including police officers – contribute to the problem with their suspicious, condescending, aggressive and confrontational dealings with members of the Black community, and particularly with young Black males.
Having said all that, there remains a search for one right answer, an all-encompassing solution to the crisis of self-abuse among some Black youth.
The complex that presents itself in the incidence of gun crimes among this group of young people, largely from depressed or subsidized housing neighbourhoods, includes historical discrimination against Black people, lack of access to opportunity, education bias, economic deprivation, inadequate social services and racialized poverty. None of these by themselves is a small issue.
There was a time when kids who had a grudge would make arrangements to meet after school, off school property, and settle their business. A kid who was angry with another kid and wanted satisfaction would have reacted with his fists. But these days, it is so easy to lay hands on an illegal weapon.
Here is where Canada’s problem is also America’s problem. We have a porous border with the U.S., a country that produces more weapons than any other on earth. Then, add to that the film and video game industries that glamorize gun use. This is a poisonous social-psychological environment to be in day after day in a short life that has little range of view.
Consequently, for a kid living in the middle of hostilities, the most protective mindset is a siege mentality. If you cannot see clearly who the enemy is, then the presumption is that just about everyone around you is your enemy.
Youth internalize the resulting anger and hopelessness and then project it onto others who look just like them. It would take the kind of perspective that only time allows to begin to be objective about what they are living through on the frontlines. The victims and the shooters haven’t had that time. Future shooters and certainly future victims won’t get that time.
Outreach work and engagement of youth in crisis areas must be intensified, that means sustained funding and real social, economic and psychological interventions such as those recommended in the Alvin Curling and Roy McMurty “Roots of Youth Violence” report. Yet, one critical key is to educate at-risk kids about the nature of their real enemy. They need to know that despite appearances, it is not each other.