With Monday night's brazen shootout in east Scarborough, we can expect the chorus at City Hall to waste more time debating stricter gun penalties. This is an obvious way to go, but it won't mean anything to the majority of young guns who don't weigh the consequences when they decide to start packing.
Council needs to attack the general culture and ideology that infect teens in areas where violence and intimidation are idolized instead of condemned.
I grew up and frequented Scarborough's Tuxedo Court, Mornelle Court and Galloway, among others, and unfortunately have subscribed to this culture, too. I remember walking my high school hallways or streets like Morningside, Ellesmere, Lawrence, Eglinton and Kennedy and being ready for confrontation with young thugs hoping to impress their peers. Sometimes they wanted money, other times just to make an example of you. It's like high school bullying only the stakes are higher.
There are only a few options when you're in this situation, and I've tried them all. Keep your head down, though this just tags you as easy prey for humiliation. Report them to the principal or police. (Never a real option. Whatever authorities you bring down would be lucky to find someone to reprimand, and if they did, I'd be the bitch who talked and the target for more harassment.)
Option three: you "man the fuck up." Some victims, after the first fight, assemble their own crew to retaliate and eventually end up in a game of escalation where bravado meets bravado and the only hope is that it ends without someone dying.
In this option it's not long before some will seriously contemplate buying a used $300 gun with someone else's blood already on it. You don't have to come from a poor family to get caught up in this mix. You just have to succumb to this brand of peer pressure and ideology surrounding street reps.
Strict gun penalties are not top of mind when thinking about reputation or how to retaliate when you've caught a beating or even just an awkward eye. How could they be when serving time is seen as a badge of honour, official public notice of how much of a bad man you are?
We don't know much yet about the latest shootout, but I'm guessing it's a product of this culture and indicative of how much Toronto's at-risk neighbourhoods need more substantial community programs to keep teens in line. I'm saying this while programs like the Youth Challenge Fund have run out of resources and Rob Ford still believes cutting funding is the answer. After all, we're not as far gone as Detroit, right?
The only way to steer teens away from violence is to distract them while they're young and introduce them to the role models they desperately need. Give them clubs that will spur their interests, dedicated to basketball, hip-hop, movies and other arts. Give their activities media attention so they have a sense of achievement. Give them a space to breed an alternative culture where they prize talent and accomplishment over bravado and street cred.
Give them access to people who made it: rappers, basketball stars and folks like TIFF's Cameron Bailey.
I'm not encouraging the city just to throw up a few more basketball nets and be done with it. I'm saying get involved and do it right. Sorry about your tax dollars, but, really, we have no choice unless, of course, you don't mind treating the residents of some areas like moving targets.