Youth violence report should be mandatory reading

By Pat Watson Wednesday March 06 2013 in Opinion
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In this space a few columns ago, what cognitive psychologists term “inattentional blindness” took up some ink. That’s the brain’s peculiar action of blanking out things that are visible but which a person does not see because he or she is looking for something else, or expecting to see something else.


Inattentional blindness merits a second mention as it links to a city still shaken by the shooting deaths of a number of Black boys in recent weeks – including nine-year-old Kesean Williams, killed by a bullet that was fired into the Brampton apartment where he lived, meaning he was not even an intended target.


There is well-documented information that details how chronic economic inequality, neighbourhoods of concentrated poverty and scarcity, absence of opportunity to move out of social deprivation, and anti-Black attitude lead to the relatively high level of violence in crisis areas.


But this notion of inattentional blindness remains a point of interest because of the intransigence of those who reject or are blind to the prevailing conditions that lead to violent outcomes among at-risk youth.


The sentiment of people living worlds far apart from the daily reality of crisis neighbourhoods becomes tedious – and that is putting it mildly. Instead of admitting at the very least that they don’t have a clue about how this deadly violence continues to erupt, they offer obtuse explanations that include the two-parent family model as a solution. Apparently, the suburban nuclear family ideal strictly adhered to would be the solution to all the ills in crisis neighbourhoods.


Or, the violence will stop when kids just go to school and study.


That would be the same schools where many kids living in trouble spots experience further displacement.


We have just marked another Black History Month, a time when one would hope that the Canada we prefer to idealize would show a willingness to elevate its awareness of many and diverse African Canadian communities, both old and new. It would mean that we here in Canada would see it as a time to take on the matter of anti-Black racism and all it means. It would have been especially meaningful for that to happen, given the timing of the deaths these Black boys.


The month has ended, but it does not mean we should relax our efforts to make the changes that we need as a society that aspires to be a peaceable nation.


To begin with, all African Canadians ought to consider it their moral duty to read thoroughly the Roots of Youth Violence report. We need to come to a universal understanding of what is contributing to the problem of youth violence. Reading this report will both inform and provide a basis for exploration.


Furthermore, the report includes concrete recommendations for how to address the root causes of the distress so many Black youngsters face, especially those living in depressed neighbourhoods.


Going forward, a rubric has to be used to recognize the level of success or failure that is occurring. And we need timelines as a means of measuring results.


Additionally, the Roots of Youth Violence ought to be mandatory reading for every single politician and educator in every corner of this country followed by annual and semi-annual statements about what recommendations they have enacted in their respective areas of responsibility. Similar reports should come from those who have answered the call to do the work of lifting up youth in crisis communities. But we want truth, not fluffy reports. Reality, in the rise or fall of deaths by gun would be evidence anyway.


To stem the problem that is killing our young people living at risk, it would be well to consider the Roots of Youth Violence report as a manifesto for change. People of colour in this city must demand it of themselves and of those in authority. Aboriginal people have declared they are ‘Idle No More’. With the urgency of young lives at stake, we must do the same.


A note on women…


The world marks International Women’s Day 2013 on Friday, March 8. While we recognize the many advancements women have claimed in the past 100 years, it is well to paraphrase the words of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that no woman is free until every woman is free. It is also well to understand that where women are not accepted as equals and their humanity is denied, men also suffer.


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