Senseless violence continues

Can new strategy make a difference?

The government’s “Gang Awareness for Parents” program may only be a Band-Aid solution to a larger problem, critics say. Cindy Titus

Following a string of violent incidents linked to gang activity – such as the summer’s grisly wedding reception shooting and the more recent occurrence in Wolseley where a man was set on fire – pressure has been mounting on officials to respond in some way to the issue of Winnipeg’s gang problem and youth-related crime.

In response, justice minister Dave Chomiak has announced a one-year pilot project called “Gang Awareness for Parents.” This approach has left some questioning whether this initiative and others like it are merely a Band-Aid approach to a deeper problem, like economic disadvantage.

“Increased policing is useless unless you address the underlying economic issues at the local level. Our state spends money on more police and new prisons which employ the middle classes. The sole biggest predictor for crime reduction (including gang involvement amongst youth) is economic prosperity. More police and more prisons does not create economic prosperity,” Kristen Kramer, University of Winnipeg sociology professor, said via email.

University of Winnipeg science student Emil, who did not wish to reveal his last name, was attacked by an armed 19-year-old male mere blocks from campus. Emil and his friend Derek were walking to meet friends at around 9:30 three Fridays ago, when Emil was hit in the head with an aluminum bat.

Shocked and disoriented, Emil turned around to find the youth repeatedly hitting his unconscious friend with the bat. The youth was also armed with a machete. Emil said he believed their attacker had the intention of killing his friend.

The guy who jumped us ... didn’t try to take anything from us. He attacked us for fun.


Emil and Derek escaped to a friend’s apartment after Emil rushed their attacker and exchanged heated words. Emil returned to the street with another individual to watch for the attacker and again they were jumped by the same individual and another youth, armed with knives.

“People on campus need to be aware of how dangerous it is around here. You never think it will happen to you until it does,” he said.

Emil believes one of the factors in youth crime is the media’s glamorization of a so-called “gangster lifestyle” and gratuitous violence.

“The guy who jumped us seemed to be trying to live up to that lifestyle, in the way he was dressed and the things that he said. He also didn’t try to take anything from us. He attacked us for fun.”

Emil and Derek’s attacker was arrested three weeks after the incident, but the other one remains free.

Kim, who wishes to keep her last name private, has lived in Wolseley for eight years and was frightened when the fire incident made the news. She thinks that a parental awareness-based gang strategy “sounds like a lot of talk.”

“If you have parents who don’t care it won’t make much of a difference ... I definitely don’t walk around here late at night,” she said.

Emil believes that tougher consequences for repeat offenders would help deter youth crime.

Published in Volume 64, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 8, 2009)

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