How do we start investing in gang prevention, instead of just complaining that our politicians don’t?

For reasons that I hope are obvious, I’ve tried to avoid getting too involved in the current debate about gang violence. If I’ve failed here and there, it’s because I worry that the conversation’s being commandeered by all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. Our city feels lousy with politicians all of the sudden, and as much as I hate to say it, politicians are the last people who should ever be put in charge of a problem like this.

The job of a politician – particularly one in campaign mode, as too many of ours perpetually seem to be – is to make big promises that create the sense of dramatic response. A sudden spike in the shooting rate is bound to make concerned citizens call for swift and decisive action – and without downplaying the severity of the shootings we’ve experienced this summer, a few is all it takes in a city this safe. The media fan the flames and nourish our fears, and the politicians respond by promising quick and easy solutions, because that’s what it says in both of their job descriptions.

But as I’m sure you already know, there are no quick and easy solutions to the problem of gang violence. I don’t blame anyone in this town for wanting someone in authority to give them an immediate reason to feel safe again, but there’s nothing we can do to make this problem go away right away.

We can’t run all the criminals out of town. We can’t pour all of our money into more cops and more prisons without a plan to prevent crime in addition to punishing it. We can’t coach a high school football team in our private life and use it as an excuse to pretend our public record on community investment is unimpeachable, after we’re called out for being the only member of City Council who, just a few weeks ago, voted against $350,000 in federal money to deal specifically with gang violence in this city.

And just so you don’t think I’m a left-wing kook, we can’t enact a misguided bullet ban, either.

There are all sorts of things we can do, and all sorts of things we should do, but I’m afraid they’re not very sexy. They’re not dramatic enough to sell papers, and you can’t campaign on the back of them because the payoff may not be clear for a generation, let alone before the next election.

Real solutions take time, but they work. Investing in children and families takes time, but it works. Building bridges between the police and priority neighbourhoods takes time, but it works. Obviously, we as a city need to work together to achieve the arrests and convictions that will bring this particular surge of gang violence to a close. But if we want to talk prevention, then we need to talk long-term investment.

And if our local government is unwilling to talk that talk, let alone walk that walk, then we need to do it ourselves instead of just complaining about our politicians and saying we’ve done our part. That’s the Twitter equivalent of coaching a high school football team.

The challenge, of course, is knowing where to invest or volunteer. Not all community organizations are created equal, and we need to focus our attention and support on the ones who are innovative, efficient and effective.

There are two I like, for example. You all know I’m a big fan of Literature for Life, who focus on building up children and families through reading together. I was on their board of directors for two years, and if not for the fact that I didn’t want to half-ass my own role as a new father, I still might have been. I’ve always said that they would never have to worry about funding if only everyone knew about them, and I invite you to challenge me on that by learning all about them.

While you’re at it, check out East Metro Youth Services, who work specifically with at-risk youth in Scarborough. Three years ago, when Everyone’s a DJ was exploring the idea of doing an all-ages workshop and fundraiser, I met with a fellow at Youth Assisting Youth who flat-out told me that we should get in touch with EMYS instead. You may have spotted Likwa Nkala, their Manager of Resource Development and Outreach, on CityTV this past Thursday, talking about the vital importance of exactly these sorts of investments.

Those are just two suggestions. They’re coming from a guy who hasn’t lived in Scarborough in eight years, and doesn’t know the current lay of the land. There’s a reason why the title of this post is a question instead of an answer. My wife suggested Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto as well; she’s volunteered with them for over a year, and she says they’re currently in serious need of male mentors in Scarborough.

Who are your favorite organizations? What sort of long-term measures should we be pursuing? Feel free to sound off in the comments, and do take a moment to share this post with people who might know more about these issues than I do.

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2 Responses to “How do we start investing in gang prevention, instead of just complaining that our politicians don’t?”

  1. Camille says:

    Well said, Matt. As usual, the real “answers” to these types of problems are complex, piecemeal, time consuming, more subtle and less sexy. I appreciate that you turn that reality into a call for action – the kind of personal, bit by bit action that can be a part of big (or small) change. I don’t think the call for personal responsibility negates the role of government or other institutional responsibility; I think they go hand in hand. And as long as we’re complaining (or worrying) about things we might as well do something about it – something that will be mutually rewarding, as well. After all, volunteering or participating in something you care about is infinitely more satisfying than a Twitter bitch session.

  2. Matt says:

    Thank you, Camille! You’re definitely right that we shouldn’t negate the role of institutions or government, and I hope I didn’t create the impression that I think we ought to let them off the hook. They definitely do go hand in hand, and I think we need to hold our politicians in particular to account for real investment, not just easy answers.