Woke up this morning to the news of a North Preston homicide today. My heart broke a little. Again. For the third time in less than 2 weeks. I am not reading any comments on the news stories today… I predict high volumes of ignorance and bullshit, sprinkled with opinions of people who don’t know what they are talking about with regards to violence and guns and crime and justice.
Instead I chose to reread the Guns, Shootings and Drug Culture section of Don Clairmont’s 2014 Roundtable Review (Page 18) because it tells the academic side of these stories… and I am the type of person who must intellectualize fear and tragedy in order to understand and deal with it.
I ended up sharing huge excerpts of it on my Facebook page because I think there are some important thoughts in it which could stand to be circulated right now, to challenge the narrative of “who cares” “doesn’t affect me” and even, “let god sort it out”… I find comments like these to be compounding tragedies in their way.
Homicide stats don’t lie. This is a problem with our young men. From 2004 to 2012 (inclusive) 80% of homicide victims were men. Men were also 90% of those accused. This year we are almost batting 100% with male accused. One female victim this year so far.
The boys are in trouble. Impulse control issues, unregulated emotional responses, low literacy levels, lack of “real-world” options to support their young families, addiction and mental health issues, untreated physical health issues… and fragile masculinities underlying it all.
With maleness is blackness. This year, 4 of the victims were black. And while I generally shy away from commenting publicly on blackness (given my whiteness) I take huge issue with people using statistics to back up their own racist bullshit. I want them to learn a sociological lesson… The over-representation of marginalized populations in drug and crime rates has more to do with racist narratives, institutions and cultures than it has to do with skin color. Black homicide victims and offenders that are involved in the crime and drug scene are “often products of vulnerable and poor families and much exposed to real and symbolic violence, are largely the creation of a sub-culture abetted by societal inequality and a legacy of racism.” (Clairmont)
Tied to blackness like the anchor of a slave ship, particularly in HRM, is geography. The neighborhoods that people make up scary stories about to keep their teenagers out of them because they are neighborhood bubbles of otherness and perceived danger.
When maleness and blackness and neighborhood are mixed together in a crime/drug culture context, it brings out the ignorant racist in (most) white people around here. People who perpetuate narratives of “bad guys hurting bad guys” are actually part of the problem, and must share in some of the cultural blame for these deaths, especially those who really mean “young black men from Preston, or the Square or the Park” when they say “bad guys.”
I don’t believe in “good guys” and “bad guys” anymore… good and bad are too simple and subjective and open to interpretation.
I do believe in safe and healthy communities though… I care about all the individuals that make up all the communities of HRM. Regardless of their race, gender, age, neighborhood, socio-economic, mental health or criminal status. Every person requires the same amount of love and care and education and opportunity. No matter what they look like, where they live, what they have done, and no what they might or might not do.
“Their action and its consequences (e.g., high risks of incarceration, murder etc) have grave implications for their families and communities. Shrugging off the violence is not an option. Nor is public safety not threatened in a more general sense.” (Clairmont)
We can’t leave this problem to the police and justice system alone. The communities involved don’t seem to be talking to the police, given the HRP’s and RCMP’s repeated pleas for members of the community to come forward. And in some ways, I don’t blame them… They have little reason to trust the police. And usually, the police have little reason to try and gain their trust, because that would require them to behave as something other than a police officer. It would also require the Justice System to invest lots and lots of money and resources into these communities and individuals, using community-directed processes of justice, real education and employment opportunities, and long-term strategies and support systems to enhance the chance for success.
Once in a while the Police or RCMP or Department of Justice “pilot” a “program”. They get the communities to buy in, give it 12-24 months and then give up if it appears to be too difficult or resource-heavy. They pull the funding and resources, and that distances them even further from the trust zone of the community. They do not have the patience or resources to invest in transformative change.
We can’t leave this problem to the non-profits alone. The programs in place which are striving to assist people in making the kinds of personal transformations required to stop the destructive behaviours and criminal engagement. But there are so many more programs that don’t even exist yet which are needed to create part of the solution. The programs and services have to wrap around the individual… and need to be 24-hour in nature.
We have to let the communities most affected by these issues be the leaders on the solutions. We have to support them as they mobilize, and if they ask for outside help, be ready to answer the call. We also have to call people out for being part of the problem when they say stupid racist things in the wake of these deaths.
We ALL have our role to play in eliminating violence and fear and hate and brutality in our city. Change the narratives… Change the world…