I feel safe in Winnipeg; it’s where I grew up.
I even spent two years working outdoors in downtown Winnipeg and never encountered any trouble.
That’s not to say there weren’t others who did.
I’m aware there are 700,000 other people in this city. This past year, 39 of them didn’t have the worry-free experience I did.
In 2004, Winnipeg set a new record for the most murders it has ever had in one year. That number was 34.
In 2011 we broke that record with 39 homicides. Unfortunately, as our city grows in business and sports, so does our homicide rate.
This past year, Winnipeg was the violent crime capital of Canada. This is not a title to be proud of.
How about the story that came out at the end of 2011 about the man who had his truck robbed by five men who shot him twice as they drove off in his vehicle? You’re probably asking how the hell I still feel safe in a city that has lost its mind.
Well, a lot of the violence is drug- and gang-related.
I am involved in neither, though that doesn’t exclude me from risk. A lot of our 2011 victims weren’t involved in gangs or drugs either and yet, now they’re a statistic.
“Homicide generally is correlated with poverty so if you look in Winnipeg, most of our homicides happen in the poorer areas of the city,” Michael Weinrath, professor of criminology at the University of Winnipeg, told the CBC this past November.
There’s no question that poverty is an issue in Winnipeg.
We have an obvious homelessness problem and according to the Hunger Count, a report put out by Food Banks Canada that details Food Bank use in our country, in March 2011 alone, 55,575 people in Manitoba used a food bank.
Not only that, but 50.4 per cent of those people were under the age of 18.
That’s a lot of kids potentially living in poverty.
And, food bank use is 26 per cent higher nationally than it was before the recession.
Homicide correlated with poverty?
I guess it’s no surprise then that in 2011 there were 11 young offenders charged, five of whom had gang ties. Only one had no previous involvement with the law.
With our in-and-out justice system, what do you expect? These kids barely get a slap on the wrist and gangs know this.
Street gangs will recruit underage kids to do the rough work because they know their sentences consist of some community service - a few months at the most.
The teen that murdered David Michael Vincett in September 2011 had only done six months for shooting at a Canada Post worker with a sawed-off shotgun a year earlier.
Is it a civic issue we need to address, or is it our justice system that needs fixing?
I think it’s both.
What more can we do? I don’t want to see guards holding semi-automatic weapons on every second street when I walk through my city.
I don’t walk up Portage Avenue looking over my shoulder. I don’t drive down Selkirk Avenue and lock my doors at the red light - I feel safe in my city.
However, I am aware, and I think that’s all we can be.
Dallas Kitchen was born and raised in Winnipeg. Check out www.dallaskitchen.ca to read more.
Published in Volume 66, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 18, 2012)