Not far away, some people try to get their critically injured friend into a car so they can take him to hospital. He collapses onto the sidewalk, his life blood spilling from him.
All around, people are scrambling in a panicked attempt to escape. A pregnant woman is hurt in the stampede.
23 people are injured by gunshots, one of them just 22 months old.
A policeman sadly shakes his head at the mother, who has just suffered an unbearable loss.
The young man’s now lifeless body is covered with a blanket.
And collectively, the community starts to weep.
How can it be possible to explain the senseless act of gun violence that shattered a Toronto community just blocks away from where I live? What do you say to the two sets of parents who lost their children? How do you console their friends? How do you reassure the youth in this neighbourhood that they are safe from the gangs who have instigated this tragedy?
How do we stop this from happening?
According to the mayor of Toronto, all we have to do is run the bad guys out of town. Because, you know, we live in an old Spaghetti Western film.
Gang violence in Toronto is nothing new. Every year there are several dozen homicides in the city, and most of them are gang-related. Few people would argue the fact that gang violence is getting worse because there are troubled youth out there who are not provided with enough opportunities to do something positive with their lives.
It’s not to say that people aren’t trying. There are community centres all over the city, staffed with people who have been working very hard to create programs and educational opportunities for youth. The problem, of course, has been funding. There just hasn’t been the money to reach everyone who needs to be reached, and the community workers and volunteers have been doing their best with the little they have.
There are enormous cracks in the system, and our young people are falling through them in their droves. They are not receiving the kind of guidance that teens need, and the messages they are being bombarded with by the MTV culture are prompting them to seek self-esteem by picking up guns and victimizing other people.
As part of a massive cost-cutting initiative led by the mayor when he took office, funding to many crucial community programs was cut, leaving our youth with an even bigger gap than they already had. This mass shooting incident, which ironically happened at a barbecue for youth, prompted many city councillors to call for the reinstatement of funding for troubled youths.
The mayor stubbornly resisted the calls, saying that the youth involved should get jobs.
The trouble is that the youth involved are basically unemployable. Many of them have been in gangster lifestyles for a long time and fear reprisal from fellow gang members if they try to leave. They have not had the opportunity to develop the social or practical skills that would make anyone want to hire them. They are certainly saveable, but they need some help in order to be in a position to enter the job market.
In the absence of community funding, where is that help going to come from?
Right now, it seems to be up to individuals and businesses, and they can only do so much.
Several years ago, my husband built a recording studio for the youth of Toronto, as a way of rewarding them for doing good things. A budding musician does some community service, and in return they get a free professional recording of their music. Most of the musicians who have gone through the studio’s doors have found that the process is about more than the music. It’s about forming positive connections and learning something about themselves that creates a shift in their way of thinking. It is a shift that sets them on a more promising path to a better future.
Some of the youth who have been through the studio believe that this program saved their lives.
It has been incredibly difficult to get any kind of government or municipal support for the program. We’re not expecting money, of course, not in these troubled economic times where basic services are being scaled back left, right and centre. However, it would be nice to receive a letter of endorsement from someone. If a little bit of lip service from the mayor or a government representative will save someone from a gangster lifestyle, we’ll take it. If it will save an innocent bystander from getting killed, we’ll take it. If it will allow a group of teens to enjoy a barbecue on a warm summer’s evening without being terrorized, we’ll take it.
This city is hurting right now. Every time a life is cut short by senseless violence carried out by misguided youth, a part of our collective soul dies.
We need our government and municipal representatives to take leadership in addressing the real cause of the problem instead of slapping a Band-Aid over it and hoping it will go away.
Is there a problem with gang violence where you live? What steps do you think can be taken to direct teens into more positive lifestyles?
In memory of Shyanne Charles (14) and Joshua Yasay (23)
For information about the studio, visit the Light of DAE Studios website.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada. Kirsten can also be found on her blog, Running for Autism, or on Twitter @Running4autism. You can also connect with her on Facebook.
Photo credit to the author.