Addressing poverty, not policing, is solution to gun violence – Opinion/Contributors
July 19, 2018.   By

Toronto is now seeing what has historically been experienced by most low-income communities on a daily basis — the outcomes of concentrated, racialized poverty. Gun violence is suddenly becoming a serious concern for everyone; no one is immune.

The mayor and premier both suggest we need more police officers on our streets. While that is certainly one piece of the puzzle, the complexities of the relationship between particular communities and the police needs to be better understood.

For decades, communities across the city, activists and non-profits have been calling on the police to reform their practices that have resulted in the disproportionate representation of people of colour in the criminal justice system.

What has and is always largely ignored is the root of all the violence. The conditions specific communities are forced to live in and the lack of opportunity to break the cycle.

Over the years, many organizations have developed interventions that have demonstrated success in equipping neighbourhoods to be resilient. On a continuum, we have learned over the years that early intervention is needed to prevent children and youth from falling through the cracks.

Providing opportunities, programs and social supports for daycare aged children as young as two, all the way through to assisting youth to pursue post-secondary education, it is resources rather than enforcement that go a long way to address poverty.

Some of the interventions that have been most successful are those that remove young people from their immediate environment, provide not just employment but a career ladder, make available wraparound supports that help low-income families and communities thrive.

International exchanges, employment combined with academic upgrading and skills development, social recreation programs are all critical — along with consistent anti-violence messaging that should be integrated into all programming, from early years to seniors.

The mayor must acknowledge that simply putting more police officers on the street is not the answer — it never has been, and this traditional approach to addressing crime won’t work when poverty is the real issue.

Decades of research, from Canada’s Creeping Economic Apartheid to the Roots of Youth Violence report all highlight the need to support and not punish our communities.

In this time with the complete absence of leadership, the question that really needs to be asked is what will the premier and mayor really do to invest in the interventions that will work to keep our city safe?

How will our city tackle issues of poverty beyond lip-service and more reports?

How will communities be supported instead of victimized?

It’s time to put our money where our mouth is and make real commitments. We need to develop a plan together with our communities and we need to do this now.

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