Murder most foul and we don’t care

(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)
(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)

 

[EDIT: A slightly-revised version of this post appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press Sunday edition on Sept. 15. Below is the original version].

I keep wondering why more folk in the general public don’t appear to care all too much that two young aboriginal men were brutally cut down in the prime of their lives, killed brutally inside a shabby suite in a West End multiplex.

Yes, Dennis Baptiste and Jessie Henderson were members of a feared and loathed Winnipeg street gang, the Mad Cowz.

But for many young aboriginal men in a city where baby-faced teens somehow can get their hands on a .357 Magnum and carry it about with seeming impunity to kill over ridiculous notions of revenge, gang membership or association is to people in some particular circumstances, more akin to a Scouts club or after-school sports program might be for semi-affluent kids who live in Winnipeg’s sprawling suburbs.

And therein lies the rub of it. Our ability to look the other way or shrug our shoulders at the deaths of these men speaks to a fundamentally larger problem our society suffers from.

That being: a shocking and profound inability to empathize very much any more. That’s my gut feeling. And I trust my gut.

Live by the sword, die by the sword,” one person replied to me on Twitter tonight when I expressed my angst on this topic.

I celebrate every time one or more of these drug dealer/gangsters gets snuffed,” said another.

Bullshit, I say to them here in reply. These are the answers of cowards.

Dismiss out of hand what you refuse to even try to understand.

Eye for an eye is an exercise in mental gymnastics which will take us nowhere.

Regardless of anything: These two 23-year-old were living, breathing people, goddammit. For example: Baptiste had two young children. He had a long-time partner who cared about him. He lived, he breathed.

And dear God, how he bled.

I never met either of these men. And I’m pretty much sure they would have spat on me — or at least eyed me with extreme suspicion — if I had ever had the courage to walk up and say hello.

That’s not the point. The point is that between my cowardice and what I assume would be their disdain are symptoms of a sickness.

Just as street gangs are symptoms of a larger sickness still — a generational, trickle-down illness of poverty, rampant unfairness, inequality and racism.

I deplore senseless violence. I detest gangs and their uber-profitable, miserable businesses of drug-and-human trafficking, just to name two of the major income streams.

But to the degree an outsider can, I understand why the gangs exist and how they persist.  And I know we don’t (or is it can’t or won’t?) do nearly enough as a society to be able to convince gang members to want to get out, that something better is waiting on the other side.

I find it very, very difficult to simply say, ‘meh‘ to a life cut senselessly, brutally, criminally short.

But that’s what I see happening when it comes to the overall public reaction to the murder trial — a process trying to find some justice for Henderson and Baptiste.

Media coverage, aside from the daily newspapers, has been scant, despite wide-spread coverage of their deaths when they were discovered.

It makes no sense to me how there’s little follow-through.

But I won’t get too deep into that, because we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. This brings me to what I wanted to point out. My appreciation.

I don’t know if the Winnipeg police have it right in charging Ken Roulette – reportedly a friend of these men — with the deaths.

There are things about this case I’ve seen so far that don’t quite add up to me, at least just yet.

But in the end, it’s not up to me, or you, to decide. In this way, we’re just observers to the work six men and six women are now charged with doing.

But what I do know is that homicide investigators and the two seasoned Crown prosecutors now putting in the case didn’t have the choice of saying, ‘Meh,’ and shrugging their shoulders when called on to try and bring some resolution to this awful matter.

What I do know is that two of Winnipeg’s best defence lawyers don’t appear to be conceding one inch of territory to their state adversaries — another hallmark of criminal-legal seriousness. The stakes are huge here.

There’s an aura to the proceedings as a whole which I can only describe as spine-tingling. It hangs over the courtroom like a pregnant dark cloud.

To me, it’s right and just that this feeling persists. The awfulness of what happened here can’t be brushed aside, despite my fear it will.

Ask yourself this. If it had been two 23-year-old white kids from Charleswood or St. Vital who were killed in this fashion — what would the interest be then?

-30-

Nigel Dixon homicide; the atmosphere in which it happened

(Police search for clues to catch Nigel Dixon's killer)
(Police search for clues to catch Nigel Dixon’s killer)

Why?

It’s the question which routinely gnaws at most acts of horrific violence anywhere, and one police investigators and prosecutors often foist themselves on while trying to resolve cases, make arrests and bring criminals to justice.

The callous April 2 broad-daylight murder of Nigel Dixon, 20, in the 500 block of Langside Street is no different. A woman he was with was also shot, but thankfully survived.

Police have said the two were approached and shot after being approached by a group of gang members and asked what gang affiliation they had. When they denied any gang ties, they were shot, and Dixon killed.

Again: In broad daylight, not far from a busy street (Ellice). It’s beyond chilling. It’s absolutely reprehensible.

While I’m tempted to get into a diatribe — a useless one, no doubt — about how there’s been little to no public condemnation of such a horrific act from our political leaders in the wake of the shootings, I’ve learned by now it will simply fall on deaf ears.

A rant put down to more whinging about a problem many in power in this province simply can’t publicly admit even exists.

But I can offer maybe a glimmer of information about the atmosphere in the immediate inner-city/Spence neighbourhood/West End area in the weeks prior to Dixon’s death.

There’s a bona fide street gang war going on over drug turf. And it’s not sticks and stones being used to fight it.

And the gangsters behind it are nervous and on edge.

Here’s one theory why:

Tuesday, a 23-year-old “entrenched” Manitoba Warriors member was denied bail on several weapons charges.

He’s been in since Feb. 19, when police in the Street Crimes Unit nabbed him while near a home in the 500 block of Furby — pretty much right near where Dixon was shot weeks later, just a block and a half over.

He’s accused of transporting a sawed-off shotgun (and several shells of ammo) in a duffel bag to that home, described as a “well-known” “crack shack.”

The crack house used to belong to the Mad Cowz street gang, but around the time of the arrest cops got some interesting, and no doubt concerning, information: “The Manitoba Warriors has taken control over this crack shack and would be arming themselves to prevent retaliation from the Mad Cowz,” the Crown told court.

When arresting the MW member (he’s only accused and not convicted so I won’t name him here), he told police the gun “was for protection against rival gang members,” Judge Judith Elliott was told.

Hmmm.

A few weeks later, Dixon, an innocent (and his female friend) are shot by gangsters suspicious about their affiliation a block over. It’s entirely probable one of the two gangs — scared at potentially losing more crack turf to the other — is out conducting “sweeps” in the area in hopes of either gaining or not losing more ground.

Ask yourself why Phil Haiart, another innocent, was shot and killed years back, along with a man he was out walking at the time, not far from where the most recent shootings took place.

It was Jeff Cansanay and Corey Spence of the African Mafia firing rounds off at then-rival Mad Cowz gangsters near their McGee St. crack house after several other attacks on the place in the days and hours prior.

Today, a source was telling me there’s been several other “Who you reppin?” — style incidents in the West End, ones where people are approached by a pack and questioned about affiliations.

The animals are restless and nervous, folks. Hope it doesn’t get worse as the weather heats up. Because the temperature in the West End (as usual?) is already pretty hot right now.