Sunday, March 12, 2006

Toronto loses another one

Today marked the funeral of Scarborough native Kevin Persaud, run down and killed last Monday near Canmore Park where Persaud was at a friend's house. The Toronto Police believe that Persaud was pursued by his attackers- whose relationship to Persaud, as of yet, is not known- and killed following an altercation that night. An 18-year-old and a 17-year-old, both males, have been charged with the attack.

Now, if this is the first time you've heard of Persaud, you won't be the only one. The story itself appeared with a small photo on the third page of The Toronto Star (date: March 12, 2006), with a much larger picture at the top devoted to the story behind the death of American Tom Fox, a member of the Christian peacekeeping group that was abducted by the Swords of the Righteous Brigade. Persaud's story was much more noticeable than Fox's, but it was still not front-page material, only being known to those who bothered to open the paper past the frontpage.

This contrasts with the treatment of the murder of Jane Creba. You know her- the 15-year-old girl who was gunned down by a stray bullet after a shootout between gangs at Yonge & Dundas Square in downtown Toronto on Boxing Day, 2005. Her story was frontpage news and garnred nationwide attention as proof that Toronto's gun problem- which hit 52 victims in 2005- was at the boiling point and something needed to be done. Days afterward Paul Martin- who at the time was running for re-election- proposed a ban on handguns, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Mayor David Miller called for tougher gun and sentencing laws. Her memorial on January 26, 2006, one month afterward, received widespread media attention, with the weepy ceremony making the 6 o'clock news. We saw stills of the happy girl being presented while Creba's favourite song- James Blunt's "You're Beautiful"- played in the background. It was gripping stuff, sure, but at the same time it was sickening.

You see, the first thing that shot to my head when thinking of the differences between the Creba case and the Persaud case is that Creba is a 15-year-old Caucasian girl and Persaud is- I believe- African-Canadian. Yeah, I hate to play the race card too, but it sickens me that Creba's funeral and memorial got the play that it did and that the memorials of the other gun victims that year- almost all of which were visible minorities- got little or no play at all, with their names barely being a footnote in contrast to the well-known Creba. Remember Ali Mohamud Ali and Loyan Mohammed Ahmed? No? Well, they were the two youths killed outside of The Phoenix nightclub last June shortly after it closed. The killings themselves received a lot of play in the paper as people suddenly became frightened over the violence, but the victims' funerals and memorials were bypassed with nary a mention in the press. In fact, McGuinty, Miller and Martin did nothing in the aftermath, with the only person actually doing something was Ontario Conservative Leader John Tory, who visited the homes of the victims to send his condolensces. Several days later, the whole ordeal was forgotten, much like the names of the victims shortly after they were killed.

This is not to marginalize the death of Creba- by all means, what happened to her was tragic. However, it's disgusting to think that the media seemed to only care about Creba and not about Persaud, Ali or Ahmed, all of whom were visible minorities and all of whom received far less press than she did. It's like we seem- almost- to "expect" the minorities to get into trouble, but when it comes to a Caucasian, the alarm bells ring and the community reacts as if we've all lost a family member. Sure, the reaction to Creba's shooting is justified, but Persaud, Ali and Ahmed are just as much "family" as she was. It sickens me to think that in a supposedly liberal and tolerant country like Canada people like Persaud can be marginalized like they are now.

This, however, is just treading water- the problem- gangs- is much bigger and larger than a few random shootings, and what's worse is that nothing as of yet has been done about it except talk. The politicians have talked widely about how they want to get tough on gangs, but the only person with the fortitude to do anything is Curtis Silwa, the head of the "street vigilante" group The Guardian Angels, a volunteer organization that uses laws allowing for citizen's arrests to target and combat street gangs. The Angels are, effectively, an outreach program, and while I don't like the idea of- in effect- a "legal gang" running around the streets of Toronto, it is refreshing to know that someone wants to do something. Of course, lost in all this is the real problem behind the gangs: a culture of marginalization, poverty and no opportunities. Just looking at Toronto's housing costs alone will tell you that: the lowest rents are in the neighbourhood of $700/month for a single person, and combined with food and travel costs, there's not a lot left over if the person works a minimum wage job, which most immigrants have been sadly forced into. Furthermore, just look at Jane & Finch, the high-crime neighbourhood that's close to my University, York University. A walkthrough of the area reveals literally a dump, with shanty apartments, a mall and no community centre of any kind in the vicinity. I take a look at Jane & Finch and think, "no wonder there's a lot of crime here- there's nothing to do and everything about this place says 'poor'. What else are the residents going to do?" All this talk certainly won't make the area look any nicer, nor will it help the decrepit lot many of the residents have.

In the meantime, I'm going to take a moment to dedicate this space to all of Toronto's murder victims, including Kevin Persaud, Jane Creba, Loyan Mohammed Ahmed and Ali Mohamud Ali. You will all be missed, equally.