Whose Violence Is It Anyway?

June 7, 2012

On June 2nd, Christopher Husbands (23) opened fire in the food court of the Toronto Eaton Centre, tragically killing Ahmed Hassan (24), and injuring a number of others including a 13-year-old boy. Being a sunny Saturday afternoon, I knew that several of my friends and family would be at or around the Eaton Centre, but was relieved to learn everyone was safe. However, I stayed glued to my computer in the UK as the incident unfolded in Toronto, constantly refreshing my browser… tense, as I waited to learn more. Toggling between Google and Facebook, I saw a friend’s status, which read: “Please don’t be black, please don’t be black, please don’t be black …” Reading this, I realized that this was the unsaid concern that was keeping me awake into the wee hours of the morning, thousands of miles away from an incident that had not affected anyone I knew. But that’s just it. I’ve witnessed the politicization of youth violence in Toronto unfold enough times to know that if the shooter was black, this incident would affect far too many people that I know.

With Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, and Rob Ford as Mayor…now was NOT the time for this to happen in Toronto. Or to be more specific, at the Toronto Eaton Centre.

Conservative governments + young black shooter + affluent tourist area + media frenzy = reactionary counter-productive social policies

It’s happened before, and it will happen again. It is precisely the kind of ammunition Harper needs to feed his ‘tough-on-crime’ agenda, which is completely uninformed by research, and is slowly reversing the gains made through years of advocacy and criminal justice reform. As for the Mayor, if only he were that predictable! It might seem insensitive to be concerned about the ‘criminals’ and not the ‘victims’, and about politicians and not ‘violence’ at a time like this. However [if the quotation marks don’t give it away already], it is precisely the construction and politicization of these categories (criminal, victim, violence) that I look to challenge. Why is racial profiling and police brutality any less ‘violent’ than this particular incident? And why is cutting the social services and programs that millions depend upon just to gain some political brownie points any less ‘criminal’? And as Simon Black so brilliantly asks in a related article in the Toronto Star, why do some ‘victims’ matter more than others?

After a similarly tragic shooting that resulted in the death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners in 2007, the Ontario government commissioned a review of the roots of youth violence, and asked the Grassroots Youth Collaborative to contribute a ‘community perspective’. This culminated in a section of the report which I co-authored, entitled “Rooted in Action: A Youth-Led Report on Our Demands and Plans to Address the Root Causes of Violence in Our Communities”. We said it there, and I say it here…you cannot speak genuinely about addressing youth violence without speaking about equity, education, and employment in the same breath. Yet the tragic truth is that far too often, the policies and ‘reforms’ put in place to address youth violence, perpetuate the very structures that cause youth violence to begin with! It is a vicious violent circle that makes it near impossible to build healthy communities. Was this incident terrible, and heartbreaking, and unjust? Yes. But pleeeease, let’s not put blinders on so wide that we cannot see the deeper violence that plays out in parliament, budgets, courtrooms, and communities every single day. Violence begets violence begets violence…



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