On May 25 and 26, Winnipeggers were jolted by one story after another of gun violence on our streets. Three young people shot, one fatally, and once again the pit bulls of the political world began barking about the lack of teeth in the criminal justice system.
Seeing opposition leader Hugh McFadyen taking his usual spot at the head of the pack, howling for more police officers on the street and more changes to the justice system, is nothing new or surprising. However, the presence of the NDP Premier as a “get tough on crime” advocate is.
Ok, maybe not so new, since this provincial government has been talking tough on crime for over a year now as we approach a provincial election in 2011. It is, however, disappointing that we are seeing more and more violent crime on our streets that has less to do with the tools we have to fight crime and more to do with the perspective with which we approach this issue.
As a society we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that the streets are less safe than ever, and that it is the fault of left leaning bleeding hearts, who only want to cuddle and coddle the evil and irreconcilable delinquents. With columnists like Tom Brodbeck writing to the lowest common denominator, it is no wonder that Winnipeggers feel the need to avoid the downtown area at all costs unless there is a major concert or sporting event. The fact is that Mr. Brodbeck focuses too much on the “youth crime wave” in our city and too little on the paralyzing poverty and the hateful racism that feeds the gangs ravenous appetite for young and disillusioned recruits. Perhaps a less titillating focus on real and long term approaches to crime prevention would better serve the public interest.
Do we really think that these crimes occur in a vacuum? Are we going to make any real changes in these communities simply by locking up more and more young men and women, or are these crimes the fruit of a much larger and more evil tree?
I am horrified that the shooting on May 26 injured and tramautized two young, innocent children. I am equally horrified by the media using them as some sort of violent crime mascots to justify their knee-jerk approaches to crime prevention. More officers on the street certainly can have a short-term effect on crime in a community. It is an approach that is rarely met with much resistance from taxpayers either. However, a truly long term and holistic approach to crime prevention is necessary for true long-term success to be achieved. If we were to simply lock up every gang member and rid the streets of their presence for ten years, we would still have poverty, addiction, racism, unstable families and the paralyzing hopelessness that is at the root of the current gang problems in Winnipeg. More police and more arrests are only treating a symptom of the disease of despair that infects the inner cities of Canada today.
Whether you are looking at the East Side of downtown Vancouver, the Jane-Finch neighborhood of Toronto, or the North and West Ends of Winnipeg, the same tumor exists. It is not a person, it is not a gang. It is the neglect of those who are truly in need by those of us who look down our noses at them. It is the sense that there is no other choice but to make a life and career out of crime rather than our socially sanctioned route of education, career and family.
If Mr. Selinger or Mr. McFadyen truly want to make meaningful changes in the effect, frequency and intensity of youth and gang crime in our province, they would do better to put the same budget boosting focus used on the provincial Justice department onto departments of Family and Social Services, Health, and Education. They would be better served spending $250,000 on the Manitoba Healthy Child Initiative rather than the anti-gang commercial they shot and have shown during the evening news, The Jay Leno Show and The Price is Right.
However, like most politicians, they are only following the orders of their constituents. It is time for new ideas and maybe a little courage. Not only from our leaders, but from ourselves.
Stephen Milner is tired of thinking that crime prevention can only be preformed by someone with a badge and a gun.