The recent shootings of three youths within hours of each incident, in the Dixon and Islington neighbourhood and in Regent Park, respectively, including the death of a 15-year-old, occurred in areas of the city marked by poverty and disadvantage. Only days before, 19-year-old high school student Hamid Aminzada, a recent immigrant from Afghanistan, was stabbed to death reportedly while intervening to break up a fight between other students inside another Etobicoke high school. The incident that took the life of the 15-year old and a 17-year old occurred in a space between two schools during school hours. The incidents call to mind the shooting death in 2007 of 15-year-old Jordan Manners inside C.W. Jefferys Collegiate. The school is also located in what had been designated a high needs neighbourhood.
The recent fatalities and their locations are no coincidence. Police higher-ups say they are doing their best to work with disadvantaged communities to steer youth away from these kinds of violent outcomes. They call these recent shootings just an up-tick and not a trend.
We keep hearing that crime is down throughout the city, but that is of no comfort to the families of the youths who have lost their lives to violence.
Recommendations from the Roots of Youth Violence study headed by Alvin Curling and Roy McMurtry that came out in 2007 continue to go unfulfilled, and these kinds of killings continue to take place. Support for youth, for priority skills training, practical and applied education and job creation remain wanting.
When young people arm themselves to go to school, the very place they should be equipping themselves for a prosperous future, they already have decided what kind of future they will have. That means they have already internalized society’s low expectations for their lives.
It would come as no surprise to many young people living in these high needs areas, places like those where these recent acts of violence took place, that it is much easier to acquire a gun than it would be to afford an appropriate course-required text book.
This is a challenge that community groups struggle to respond to on the most meager of resources. This is a challenge that is typically met with funding in reaction to eruptions of violence, but which inevitably is not sustained. Community organizations expend as much energy chasing funding to keep programs going as they do trying to reach out to youth to give them the support they need.
These neighbourhoods are lacking in recreational facilities, and other programs that will keep especially teens engaged. There are after school programs for younger children, but there needs to be more programs in place for middle and high school aged youth.
When we hear from Ontario’s Deputy Premier Deb Matthews that the province has failed to meet its target of lifting 90,000 children out of poverty, thereby reducing child poverty by 25 per cent, we see the effect of that failure in tragedies such as these.
Four young men killed in acts of violence appear to be a small number, but the circumstances surrounding their deaths need to be seen as the much greater problem. These are all individuals from immigrant families, so-called visible minorities living in poor neighbourhoods.
The police suggest that there is no indication that these deaths are linked to gang activity. Nevertheless, youth are characteristically rash and impulsive at times. That impulsiveness combined with lethal weapons has devastating results.
This city needs a two-pronged plan of assault against poverty that must see a strong fight to get guns out of the hands of youth. An amnesty has been tried before. That is one way, but there has to be more than one approach in this effort.
The other approach has to be meaningful action to address the core issue of poverty in these neighbourhoods that clearly comes with the message to these kids that their lives matter.