“Today, on many blocks, it is clear the bad guys have won, and the police and the law and peace of a civil society gave up and went home.”

Rob Galston, the Rise and Sprawl

No, that’s not true. At least not in my view.

Realistically, there’s only so many police to go around.

And in the wake of three separate shootings (two of them fatal) in a half hour — on top of all the other usual mayhem — the North End got — and is getting — as much police presence as the force can afford, if not more.

If the sheer presence of police officers made for a safer neighbourhood, then the North End should be one of the safest in North America.

On any given day in Winnipeg, there are more police around there than anywhere else in the city. One needs only to look at a GPS map of where the squad cars are to make that determination.

The Saturday shootings have renewed a call for the return to foot patrols in the area.

While on the surface, this sounds like a great idea, I’d predict there’s little chance the rank-and-file on the service would buy into this.

It’s one thing to cruise around a gun-infested hood in a squad car — entirely another to be walking about on foot, an easy target for armed fools.

Which sort of brings me to my larger point.

Ultimately, police are only as able to keep the peace as much as their jobs and authority are respected by the communities they serve.

I’d submit in all parts of Winnipeg, including the North End, there’s factions who completely lack that respect.

[UPDATE: For an excellent run-down of what life’s like for th average citizen living in the North End, see here]

For various reasons, some deserved, some not.

But, like a snake eating its tail, mistrust and racism and fear curb attempts by both sides to stop the violence.

Same goes for the law of the land. The majority of us know shooting people — under any circumstances — is wrong. Others just don’t seem to care and act out however they want.

There’s no respect there.

No respect for the fact that everyone is supposed to have the right to security of the person, to be able to walk the streets and be unafraid.

Kelcey had a recent blog post about crime prevention, explaining in detail why he favours a “kitchen sink” approach to fighting crime.

I’d suggest you read about how Los Angeles — a city with some very close similarities to the crime problems we have here — is doing what our police chief has been saying he wants to do ever since he was hired: Stop making the police the end-all-be-all solution to the problem. It’s bigger than that.

If we’re gonna fix anything, it starts within each of us.

Not with a helicopter, not with bigger guns, not with tougher laws that criminals just ignore anyways.

Tomorrow we (re)elect a mayor. In some sense, the way the votes swing is like taking the pulse of the city.

Of the two viable candidates running, one says more cops is the answer. In fact that’s pretty much all he’s said in my view. More police = more safety, less gang activity and more toughness.

The other, a career politician, has largely only talked about fixing the so-called “root causes” of crime like poverty, injustice, etc.

We, the voters — if we believe that crime response is an ‘electable’ issue worth getting off the couch for — are being asked to pick between two incomplete options.

Both options, in my view, are unpalatable given the level of violence we’re seeing.

It’s both candidates’ complete and utter lack of creativity that stuns me.

Gonna take back the neighbourhood? Then it’s pretty clear it’s up to us, first.

How do we get started?

-30-

BTW Galston, your post was a fantastic read. Thanks.

2 thoughts on “No choice but to react

  1. I live in the west end. most of my neighbours are decent, honest hardworking people. But on my block alone, I am certain of the prescence of at least four “questionable” houses, occupied by gang members. I am also faced with prostitutes working my corner from 7am to well after midnight.

    I see a lot of questionable crap happening all of the time. My next door neighbours, whose yard looks like a garbage dump, is littered with a new wallet or backpack every couple of days. There are at least 10 people living in this tiny house and the yard is often frequented by teen gang members, who hang menacingly in front of the yard and stare me down while I unload groceries from my car, or when my downstairs neighbour does yardwork. There are two kids living there, both under 7 who are neglected daily, out running into traffic on Ellice with no awareness of the consequences. The little girl (6 years old) has often spewed racial slurs towards my wife and I while her mother sits, smoking weed in the front yard, listening but saying nothing. I have caught the little boy (7) pulling on the door handles of parked cars while said teen gang losers watch from the yard. There are fist fights monthly, a monthly social worker visit and regular visits from the mormons (18 year old boys in white shirts and skinny black ties with a name tag that says, “Elder so and so”) who take the young ones every Sunday for who knows what.

    I watch the john’s pick up on the corner while there are kids playing not 20 feet away. I wake for work at 6:45 am and see the ladies on the corner, scratching, twitching, restless and obviously high getting picked up by men from all walks of life – rusty old pick ups to company vehicles to beemers.

    I hear gunshots, I watch my back all the time. I don’t walk my dog at night for fear of being a victim of violence. I’m a big guy and not used to this kind of fear, but it seems necessary to survive in the West End.

    I don’t want to survive here, I want to live here. So I call the police at every possible opportunity. Most recently, I called because I looked out of my living room window (2nd floor) to see a man parked in front of my house being serviced by a prostitute.

    I call when I see gang members casing cars. I call when there are three prostitutes on the corner harassing drivers and pedestrians. I call when I see one of them sell drugs. I call when I see their pimp delivering supplies or picking up cash. My wife and I called after seeing two kids, naked except for diapers, pushing their own strollers out of their apartment building on Sargent during afternoon rush hour, completely unattended, two years old tops. I call when the black Jetta with tinted windows parks in front of my neighbours house to deliver drugs or whatever it is in those overstuffed black garbage bags.

    I know this is a long winded explanation, but here’s the point. The police never show up. At best, I wait on hold for 10-20 minutes, which is usally enough time for the incident to be done with. If I am lucky enough to get someone quicker, the apathetic tone in their voice, which suggests that I’m some sort of crazy with nothing better to do than call the cops, is enough to make me want to hang up the phone.

    For this reason, I don’t see more police being the answer. And while I don’t agree with the Mormon’s sales tactics, I do see their influence should be providing these misguided youth with some sort of moral measure – but it’s not. Social programs are a good long term answer, but the problems we live with require as much if not more immediate solutions in the mix.

    I agree that neither mayoral candidate has presented a complete solution and am dismayed at the half-assed, election fuelled solutions that will surely dwindle post election – at least until another innocent victim gets hurt or killed.

    That’s my rant. Unless sometihng tangible and effective is done to combat an ever growing thron in the side of my and other hoods, my only option is to duck for cover, report what I can and live in fear until I can afford to move away.

  2. [FROM FACEBOOK]

    In June I visited Winnipeg, and I brought along 30 members of my crew. I don’t get home very often, and when I do I generally spend most of my time with my family in their homes in Fort Rouge and River Heights. Alternatively, we flee the city for the peace and quiet of cottage country. So I hadn’t had a really good look at the city in many years, and what I saw on this last trip made me sad for the place I call home. I had spent months talking about the city with my colleagues. The arts scene is still thriving, and restaurants in Winnipeg are still second to none. What I wasn’t prepared for was the level of urban decay we encountered. Now I realize that your blog focusses on crime for the most part, but I think urban decay is a symptom of the same disease that spawns violent crime. Our city, I still call it home, lacks a sense of ownership. We keep leaving it up to our elected officials to DO SOMETHING about the problem, and then we sit back behind our television sets, with our deadbolts firmly locked in place, and hope we’ll see some news about how the city’s ailment has suddenly been cured. Hooray, we are prosperous and no one goes hungry!
    Out on the pointy end of the spear you get a different perspective. Our police officers are the archetypal little Dutch Boy, and they’ve long ago run out of fingers to shove into .50 caliber holes. They see the apathetic neighbors of rape victims, and abused children. They shake their collective head and wonder when the citizenry they serve with their very lives will gather to support them. They know how many of these terrible events could be prevented if we just looked out for one another.
    I don’t suppose it really matters who you elect if your just going to sit back when it’s all decided and watch while your new mayor struggles to lift everyone’s burden unaided.

    It’s been a long time James. Glad to see you’re doing well.

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