As you are likely aware, there has been an increasing level of violence in the West End over the past number of weeks - including the rape of a young girl on Langside Street and the murders of two young people, which were gang related.
As in other neighbourhoods when this level of violence occurs, residents get angry and decide to rally together against the escalating violence.
What was rather unique about the rally on June 1 was that it drew all kinds of people from all parts of the West End to form a crowd of about 500 strong! They marched to reclaim the streets because they love their neighbourhood and are not prepared to let gangs take over.
Now, I have marched in hundreds of demonstrations over my 40 years of activism, but this felt different. This was a neighbourhood rally, not a peace, labour or women’s march. Ordinary people were there to take back their lives and where they live.
We marched for over an hour and a half, travelling up and down all the streets where the violence has occurred. To my surprise, almost every house opened their doors to greet us with cheers, waving banners and even playing music as we walked by! It felt like a street festival.
Unfortunately, unless there is follow-up action, the euphoria of the moment can sink into depression. As the Point Douglas neighbourhood has learned, you have to have citizens patrolling the streets on a regular basis identifying crack houses, spotting prostitutes and, as Harry Lehotsky did when he was still alive, identifying the cars of johns in the neighbourhood in order to get rid of them. As a good friend of mine commented, satirically, perhaps as our protest was going on the crack house residents and gang members were joining hands in glee!
So, what role does government have in taking care of the safety of neighbourhoods? I was recently on CJOB 68’s “The Greg and Marlo Show” with provincial justice minister Andrew Swan discussing exactly that.
“ In the case of the West End, the responsibility lies with those who live in the West End. They can’t expect, nor want to have, outsiders help them solve their problems.
Both of us agreed that, in the case of the West End, the responsibility lies with those who live in the West End. They cannot expect, nor want to have, outsiders help them solve their problems.
However, as I pointed out, government has the responsibility to provide enough funding for resources to address the issue of crime and safety. For example, the Spence Neighbourhood Association has one van that is partially funded by the provincial government. This van picks up kids who are walking down the streets alone from school or from the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre (MERC) and gives them rides home.
I asked the question, “Is one van enough?” MERC has upwards of 100 children that they serve per day!
On the other hand, as some people have said, “What is the parents’ responsibility in all this youth crime?” Ten- to 12-year-olds running around alone at midnight is exactly how gangs recruit their young members; they provide a sense of belonging and are a substitute family for these kids.
So, if the West End is serious about crime, West Enders need to address the issues of community leadership, resources and parenting.
Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster living in McFeetors Hall at the University of Winnipeg.