Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Toronto will never solve the problem of gun violence

Last night The Agenda's topic was "Targeting Gun Violence", an appropriate topic after the several gun related tragedies Toronto has suffered this year and in years past.  The Danzig shooting this summer seemed to be the tipping point, prompting the Mayor to puff out his chest and demand that gangs stop terrorizing his city. "This is about gangs and gang violence" he said. "The criminals" were wrecking our fair city and we needed to use every legal means to curb the violence. One of his solutions was to "ban" people who are convicted of gun crimes, which I wrote about HERE and to make gang life "miserable." I don't believe that we can solve gun crimes by villainizing gang members, who are often people with so few options or resources that a gang is the only way to survive. I don't really think we can take a huge, complex issue and boil it down to a few bad gang apples ruining Toronto for everyone, which is what brings me back to The Agenda.

A show on "Targeting Gun Violence" could be interesting but when I went to the website to see who the guests would be I was annoyed but not surprised.
Here are the guests listed:
  • Bill Blair: Toronto Police Chief
  • Dr. Gary Slutkin: Founder and Executive, Cure Violence
  • Alvin Curling: Fmr Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
  • Peter Sloly: Deputy Chief, Toronto Police
  • John Sawdon: Executive Director, CTI Canadian Training Institute and Breaking the Cycle
  • Irvin Waller: Criminology Professor, University of Ottawa
  • Lekan Olawoye: Executive Director, For Youth Initiative
Every single one of these guests has a unique point of view on violence and many of them work directly with under serviced communities and have done work on reducing violence, they are all perfectly qualified guests for this show and I'd be interested in hearing what they all have to say. My issue with this list of guests is that the show didn't bother to find one single woman to pipe in.This isn't just about token women, it's about acknowledging the fact that women experience gun violence in different ways than men and their opinions and knowledge have to be taken into account in any discussion on gun violence and that there are innumerable qualified women who head organizations and write academic work on violence reduction.

So Rob Ford wants to ship out foreign gangsters who bring guns to our city and people claiming to want to get to the bottom of the issue ignore 50% of the population. These are two small reasons why we will never solve the issue of gun violence in Toronto. That may seem pessimistic but it's just honest. How can we attempt to solve such an enormously multifaceted problem when public discourse and policy are based on such simplistic ideologies? When it seems totally acceptable to only have men on a panel about gun violence? When we only view the issue from our little Toronto lens?

Somebody said to me yesterday that it was alright to just have men talk about gun violence because "men get shot more than women" and that women can't discuss guns without becoming hysterical. It is true that men are killed by guns more often than women, but that doesn't mean that women aren't killed by guns or hurt by them, threatened and coerced with them. And did men just drop out of the sky? No, men have mothers. Irregardless of who is being killed by guns, communities suffer afterwards. Mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, grandmothers may not be getting killed on the streets of Toronto by gangs as much as their husbands, partners, sons, brothers, and grandsons but that doesn't mean that gun violence doesn't touch their lives deeply. When we don't included women in the conversation around gun violence then we aren't serious about understanding the issue at all. Toronto is the home of so many anti-violence movements, including the United Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere(UMOVE) -- a presence at most anti-gun events and comprised of women who have lost their children to gun violence, amongst others. Internationally, organizations against gun violence have been primarily organized by women, such as the International Action Network on Small Arms.

We also can't just focus on gun violence as being gang related. If the issue of violence in Toronto is going to be truly addressed it has to be looked at as part of a bigger picture. Yes, gun violence on the streets of Toronto is a problem but it isn't disconnected from the culture of violence produces the men who are sexually assaulting women in our neighborhoods. It also isn't disconnected from the men who abuse their partners, who use their registered guns to intimidate and threaten them. Criminals are not just young, black men and the culture of crime and violence is pervasive.  The culture of masculinity and male privilege is something we have to address across the boards. How can we say we are dedicated to ending gun violence when our government has eradicated gun registry? The gun registry was developed specifically to address gun violence against women (read more here) so why is it being dropped? Because law-abiding citizens shouldn't have to register their guns? Because we trust the general population with their guns? It is based on the underlying assumption that the general, gun-owning population (read: white men) aren't going to use their guns for evil, that the "real" problem is the unregistered crime guns (read: black men). This is crazy. Violence against women and children happens at the hands of all men, regardless of their colour or class and if gun violence is an issue we actually want to start understanding we have to face this.

Not only did The Agenda program lack women but it lacked a true presence from the Toronto communities most affected. Lekan Olawoye, the  Executive Director of For Youth Initiative is an important voice for youth in under serviced areas but the program has two representatives from the Toronto Police, why not throw in some more community members?

Gun violence isn't just about gangs, criminals, bad boys. It's about systemic violence, discrimination, poverty, power and masculinity. It can't be solved with more police(because Toronto also seems to have a problem with police brutality). The Agenda seems like a small thing to be annoyed about, but it's an example of how we approach complicated issues in problematic ways.

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