CANADA

Invest in youth; it's a real solution to ending violence

We have witnessed escalating gun and gang violence over the past few weeks in Hamilton.

In November, a group of youths, and, allegedly, one adult, attacked a high-school basketball team in the school gym, with clubs, knives and a machete. Last month, club-goers had to dodge bullets in a Gertude Street bar when a gun battle erupted between what appear to be rival gangs.

And all Canadians are in shock over the Boxing Day shootout in Toronto that left a 15 -year-old student dead and six others wounded. An innocent young woman was callously gunned down in crossfire between young men who have lost a sense of community connection and value of humanity.

The community is frustrated and wants to find answers to a gun problem that is like a cancer in our society.

The answers to these heinous gun crimes are not easy to find. The quick fixes being uttered by politicians are no solution to the growing social decay that is evident in our society. There are those who would lay the blame at the feet of single mothers who they claim fail to inculcate good morals in their children, and of absent fathers who are nowhere to be found. The political parties each offer their own solutions, ranging from more punishment to more social programs. Not even the so-called experts have definitive answers to help quell what appears to be a Wild West mentality permeating our urban landscape.

Many are looking to the black community to take care of "its own" because the majority of perpetrators and victims of gun and gang violence are black males. This sentiment was echoed by a senior Hamilton police officer, who in a recent interview with The Spectator, said black community leaders must become involved in the solution. Unfortunately, these comments only serve to further stereotype members of the black community who have been strong opponents of violence and crime in its various forms.

I cannot recall another case in recent times when racial/ethnic communities have been called on to help find solutions to crimes committed by someone from their own ethnic group. Who do the police call on when the Hell Angels, a predominately white criminal organization, commit a crime?

Those who are looking for quick-fix answers to a multi-faceted problem will be disappointed because there are none. As a community, it is in our best interest to work together to help find ways to stop the escalating gun violence. Finger-pointing and blaming the black community will not help create a safer community for all.

We don't have all the answers but it is a well documented fact that there is a correlation between crime and poverty. We cannot ignore this fact if we are committed to finding meaningful solutions to crime.

Ryerson professor Wendy Cukier, co-author of the Global Gun Epidemic, agrees that the root causes of violence include a wide range of social, economic, community and psychological dimensions that must be examined if we are to find solutions to gun violence.

We must look at the problem as a disease and focus on understanding and addressing the factors which contribute to violence in order to develop appropriate prevention strategies.

Sandra Carnegie Douglas, president of the Jamaica Canadian Association -- who with 28 community groups in Toronto met with the prime minister to discuss the problem -- urges the community to look at a broad range of innovative programs to address violence and crime such as court diversion programs and job opportunities.

The struggle to end gun violence ought not to become a black community fight. It's a community issue that requires our collective response.

Those who commit crimes should be punished. But if we want longer-term solutions, the answers will not be found solely in handing out harsher sentences, but also by investing in our future -- investing in young people so they reach their full potential.

Evelyn Myrie
9 January 2006

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