Can Communities Do Anything to Help Youth?

I find myself scurrying from the TTC stop to my porch after dark. Instead of enjoying the last bit of sun (and summer), I almost dread the three-minute-or-so walk after stepping off the bus into my neighborhood in northwest Toronto.

You see, like some Torontonians, the city's recent eruption of shootings has hit home.

My home is in the thick of aromatic jerk chicken stands and restaurants, barber shops and hair salons. With exception of the local library, I haven't seen any community programs keeping youngsters busy this summer.

What I do see are a lot of bored kids hanging out in groups under the dense heat that blankets the city. What I see is a recipe for tragedy simmering to a boil. And I don't think Tuesday's news conference headed by Toronto Police Service (TPS) Chief Bill Blair and Mayor David Miller did anything to help snuff the potential blaze of violence.

While listening to the conference on the TPS website, it reminded me of one of the emergency town hall meetings coordinated in recent years when shootings became too frequent to ignore.

When I lived in the Jane-Finch area, approximately four years ago a toddler was killed on my bus route. The next day I remember looking out the window on my commute to see police tape curtain the area keeping out a memorial of flowers and teddy bears. I remember wondering what could have been done to prevent the child's death.

At Tuesday's conference, Chief Blair offered some ideas.

He cited the smuggling of firearms from the U.S. as a major problem. Blair said most of the 2,170 firearms they've seized to date this year trace to the U.S. So that must be the solution, right? Suture the border and problem solved.

Wrong.

Two days before this year's Caribana parade, a 15-year-old girl was stabbed four times by another teenager. So if it's not guns that might sneak their way into teenagers' hip-slung jeans, they could pull out something equally fatal when tempers flare.

Chief Blair also mentioned stepping up the amount of uniformed officers in vulnerable areas of the city. I guess this relies on the premise that if young people see more officers in their area, they'll think twice before relying on a handgun to solve their problems?

Not necessarily.

Late Tuesday night, Toronto's own officers became the city's latest targets when they were shot at while patrolling the Jane-Finch area. Luckily no one was injured.

Could it be more youth are growing less afraid of law enforcement?

Of course, there isn't one answer to end the violence that's making Toronto residents feel uneasy however, I think well-funded community programs that keep youth busy and invested in something is a start.

At the conference, Toronto Police Services board chair Pam McConnell noted the void created by the formerly free after-school and parks and recreation programs cut by the previous provincial government. (Yet somehow the TPS has deep enough pockets to deploy more uniforms into areas where gangs no longer fear cops.)

I think McConnell summed it up best when she said, "...the education of children doesn't happen in the four walls of the classroom. It happens throughout the community..."

What McConnell said reminds me of an old saying that could apply to a modern problem: It takes a village to raise a child.


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