Despite the rash of shootings in public places (Eaton Centre, Little Italy and recently at a Block Party) police say crime is down and Toronto’s streets are safe. Admittedly shooting numbers have escalated (more than 50%) from this time last year but the murder rate has fallen slightly. To date in 2012 reportedly 64% of homicides are gun related. City Councilor Adam Vaughan has repeatedly called for a ban on handguns and although police Chief Blair has said a ban would not solve the problem, policing in certain areas of the city has been stepped up. Police spokesman Mark Pugash supported Blair’s statement saying 70% of seized guns come from the US and the rest have been stolen. Over the Canada Day weekend three shootings occurred including one that resulted in a two-year old child being hit by a bullet that grazed her legs as she was sitting outside her home in North York.
As of July 17th 19 people have been killed by gunfire. Last year that figure was 14 over the same period. Gun violence has been responsible for nearly 200 “reported victims” – an increase of more than 40% over last year. Spokesman Pugash disputes this statistic saying most of the victims were not really victims. He said victims are determined if a gun has been fired in the general direction even if no one is injured.
So is the city safe as police insist? I suppose it depends on who is asked – residents of some areas of the city (i.e. Finch & Jane – Kipling, some parts of Scarborough) would emphatically answer NO. Downtown residents, club patrons, festival goers and the like say Toronto is safe and their attendance at some city events seems to prove their position. Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford also insists the streets are safe.
Residents on Danzig Street (Morningside & Lawrence E) don’t think their street is safe. On July 16th what began as a neighborhood block barbeque for kids ended as a block war zone when thugs opened fire, shooting 25 people – 2 fatally. One of the injured was a 22 month-old toddler. The injured were transported to various hospitals to be treated for gunshot wounds. Some were placed in intensive care units but all are expected to recover.
Shyanne Charles, just 14, was a fun-loving, caring teen. She loved to dance, play basketball and was always watching out for her siblings. She had just graduated grade 9 at West Hill Collegiate and for the past 10 years she had been involved at the Scarborough Boys & Girls club where she mentored younger kids. She was always offering to help staff said Ben Lo, co-ordinator of the Child & Youth program. She will mentor no more because she was shot dead at the scene. The next day over 100 people held a vigil on Danzig Street with flowers and candles and displaying signs that read “Forever in our hearts” and We love you Shyanne.
Joshua Yasay was 23. Last year he graduated from York University with an honors degree in criminology and hoped to join the police force. He coached basketball for at-risk youth in Malvern. He hoped his volunteer work with kids would help prevent violence and keep them from a life of crime. He concentrated on kids 13-17, a particularly at-risk strong group and was able to make a difference said Katie Bushee, Supervisor/Program Manager at the Learning Disabilities Association of Toronto. She had offered to hire Yasay as a paid employee but he declined saying he couldn’t imagine taking money for the work, she said. Yasay was an extremely busy person, besides volunteering he worked as a security guard at Commerce Court and since October, together with a good friend opened and helped run the Goodfellas Barber Lounge in Ajax. He also died at the scene.
Police fear retaliation for what Chief Blair called “the worst incident of gun violence in Toronto’s recent history. He said the shootings are probably gang-related but declined to name the gangs he thought might be involved. It has been reported that one of the injured was taken into custody as a person of interest. Police are requesting anyone with information, photos, etc. to come forward but many have said they are too scared and fear retaliation against them. So they sit and hope that the heavy concentration of law enforcement officers will be able to find the cowards responsible for this tragedy.
Update: July 19: Police have charged Nanom Tsegazab, 19, with reckless discharge of a firearm. Tsegazab, previously listed as “a person of interest” was also one of the victims and was still hospitalized when the charges were laid. The charges relate to the people wounded and not to the two victims who died.
Within three days of the block barbeque tragedy, two more Black men were shot to death. 42-year old Clayton Wright was killed in a parking lot after watching a soccer game. Wright’s body was found on Emmett Ave., in the Jane/Eglinton Ave. W., area. His brother Winston Wright has turned himself in and has been charged with murder.
July 19: 27-year old Daniel Davis was shot and killed in North York. His body was found by police in the Flemington Public School playground after police received calls around 1:15 AM from residents in the area. According to family members Davis was not involved with gangs. It is rumored that he attended the Danzig St. barbecue but police and others say there is no evidence to support this.