Articles re gangster rap contributing to gang violence in Toronto, Ontario


Lost boys

Growing up without a father can set youth up for a violent life and an early death. 
A member of the black community writes about remedies

January 7, 2006
By Ingrid Walter - Special to the Star

Amon Beckles and Jamal Hemmings had a lot in common. Beckles, 18, and Hemmings, 17, were best friends, tough guys who came from low-income Toronto neighbourhoods. They had fathered children. Perhaps the strongest bond of all, they had grown up fatherless.

Tragically, they also had death in common. Hemmings was killed Nov. 9 in a west-end parking lot. Beckles was gunned down at Hemmings' funeral on Nov. 18.

Toronto has experienced a stunning wave of gang violence that some say is inexplicably bold and callous. But at least one man who works with the city's black youth understands better than most why some of them are living a life of crime and violence, why they, and innocent bystanders, are dying in such great numbers.

The common thread, says Pastor Bruce Smith, is the absence of fathers and the feelings of powerlessness and frustration that breeds.

Smith's seen it all before. The stories of snuffed-out young lives today in Toronto bear an eerie resemblance to the stories of his friends, many of whom lost their lives to gang wars and crime.

"They equated power with respect," he says, "(and) money with power."

Smith spent his youth in Huntsville, Texas, but says the common denominator with Toronto's problem is young people growing up without a father or a father figure. Like the youth of today, his friends were trying to make up for what they were lacking.

"The reason they did it is because they felt, like me, powerless. As a young kid, you need that security, so if you don't have it, you will try to create it, by being tough, by being mean, being part of a gang. That's how it happens."

Smith, who grew up to become a CFL superstar with the Argonauts and in 2000 joined the King-Bay Chaplaincy, based in the Toronto-Dominion Centre, is among those who are trying to help the black community change the dynamic around being fatherless and create a more constructive environment Ñ particularly by providing father figures for youth at risk.

Rev. Al Bowen has been working in Toronto housing projects for six years and estimates more than 90 per cent are single-parent families Ñ and the vast majority of single-parent families are headed by women. "Here, the mother is not at home, (she's) doing a minimum-wage job," he says. "The kids are being raised by older brothers, by sisters, BET and MuchMusic.

"We become what we eat and we also become what we take into the mind and we become what our friends are."

Smith finds a similar situation in Sparrow Way, the housing project in northeast Toronto developed by the King-Bay Chaplaincy where he ministers to young men. He estimates 80 per cent of mothers there are raising their children without a father, but there are men in these women's lives who are doing more harm than good.

"A number of these single women also have boyfriends who are abusing their children. Lots of these kids have stuff happen to them.

"But how can a young kid say, `I'm being abused'? They get a gun and say, `I'm going to kill somebody.'"

Willingness to commit violence is only part of the problem. The casual nature of some of the violence in Toronto has been particularly horrifying. On Boxing Day, 15-year-old Jane Creba was killed in a shootout while shopping on Yonge St. In another case, a youth was killed in a dispute about a cellphone.

Researchers can link this kind of callousness to the absence of a father. "The single most important childhood factor in developing empathy is paternal involvement," says a landmark report on the subject, which was published in 1990.

The report's authors, Richard Koestner, Carol Franz and Joel Weinberger, conducted a 26-year study of 379 individuals and found that fathers who spent time alone with their kids, performing routine child care at least two times a week, raised children who were the most compassionate adults of the group studied.

Conversely, says University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley, the effects of being fatherless can lead to several negative behaviours, particularly in low-income single-parent homes.

Even if there is a bond with the mother, says Wortley, "with no male role models, there is often gravitation toward the worst stereotypes of masculinity and they adopt what they see in the media, which often are extremes of masculine behaviour."

Wortley adds that some youth are quick to use guns as a sign of masculinity "and try to get young women pregnant as a sign of virility and control."

Other research traces the general disadvantages faced by children who grow up without fathers.

"Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents," say sociologists Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, who have studied the relationship between fatherlessness, race, income and education.

These disadvantages hold true regardless of the parents' race or educational background, regardless of whether the parents are married when the child is born and regardless of whether the resident parent remarries, they say.

Robert Brodie, whose Toronto company, Court Agency Limited, helps people get pardons and waivers, sees the same phenomenon. His clients include former gang members from a number of racial and ethnic backgrounds and a significant percentage are young men who grew up without fathers or father figures. "I was amazed when I actually looked at the cases and talked to the families," he says of the connection.

He thinks gangs provide vital security. "This is protection for them," he says of these clients. "The gang becomes the family unit. Once in, they have to do a lot and sometimes a killing might be initiation for them."

Smith emphasizes the point that the problem is not confined to any one race. "If you take any community and you remove the fathers Ñ black, white, red, green Ñ you're going to have the same problem. It's not a black problem, it's a relationship problem."

It's a problem often encountered by Neleitha Hewitt, a single mother who is a chaplain on call at the King-Bay Chaplaincy and ministers to at-risk youth. She recounts what happened recently when addressing 75 young people at a church in Scarborough. "After I finished, I wanted to know how many of these children had fathers. I said, `All of you who have a father, stand' Ñ and only five were standing up."

Hewitt says Toronto single mothers are overwhelmed. Many beg her to pray for them, fearful their fatherless child will become another statistic, caught up in the gang and gun culture.

Hewitt's son Carl has grown into a responsible 18-year-old and for that she is grateful to a compassionate school principal and a church minister.

Although there may be men in these single mothers' lives, Hewitt says many of them represent a negative model because they are abusive.

Youth, seeing their mothers being abused, get angry and frustrated, she says. "When the men start to abuse their mom and they can't do anything with the men, then they become bullies and get involved with the wrong crowd."

That was Smith's experience growing up in the poverty-stricken, segregated southern United States, with few employment opportunities for blacks, virtually no recreational facilities for youth and an environment where desperation and anger often led to violent crime.

Smith, who preaches at the Rock and River Congregation Mission in Mississauga as well as working for the chaplaincy, is writing a book about the importance of having engaged, nurturing fathers in the lives of children.

During his childhood, he had several stepfathers. He calls this generational behaviour a historical pattern that's been hard to break.

Smith says he understands that the problem of being fatherless, particularly in the black community, is complex. But he believes he and his non-denominational chaplaincy can find solutions.

He is creating a ministry he plans to call Church Fathers, a group of men who will serve as surrogate fathers to troubled fatherless youth. "We also need a training program to teach them how to become fathers, training them to take on the proper role of father in the household and to be protectors and providers," says Smith.

He also wants to develop a project by which business people will teach these young men the ins and outs of commerce. Meanwhile, he and his team of church volunteers spend hours ministering to at-risk youth, engaging them in sports activities, taking them to games.

Bowen's focus is on giving single mothers all the support they need.

"We need to find intelligent ways to replace what she is missing," he says.

He argues that the welfare system should be overhauled so it doesn't encourage young girls to have children outside of marriage.

"We have to promote the long-term, two-parent relationship (so) that they (young people) buy into that. We have to sell it through the music, the literature, the schools, in the workplace."


Blowing the whistle on gun murder 

January 3, 2006
Globe and Mail
By Margaret Wente

In Toronto, we had a race to see which came first: the New Year's baby, or the New Year's gun murder. The baby won, but not by much. Before the day dawned on 2006, 21-year-old Dillan Yhanike Anderson was shot dead in an alley in his silver Cadillac Seville.

His passing did not inspire the same outpouring of grief and outrage as the death of Jane Creba, the 15-year-old who was cut down in the Boxing Day shootout. I suspect no one will be rushing to hold candlelight vigils for him. Is this racist? The CBC seems to think so. "Poor black victims are being forgotten," one expert opined. "There just seems to be a double standard when it comes to white middle-class people."

Well, hold it just a minute. There was quite a fuss when a (black) 4-year-old named Shaquan Cadougan took four bullets in his little body last summer. Fortunately, he didn't die, but he, too, was an innocent bystander. Most of Toronto's other gun victims are not. Mr. Anderson, for example, was on probation for shooting another man in the head in 2003. Another difference might be the fact that Ms. Creba got shot in broad daylight, in the heart of mainstream Canada, on a day when millions of people go out to shop and have fun. In other words, if she's not safe, who is?

Far from focusing our attention on the real issues, the murder of Ms. Creba seems to have inspired new levels of weaseling and fatuity. "These are Harris's children, because they were 5 or 6 years old [when Mike Harris became premier of Ontario in 1995], and these were the kids that got neglected," one community activist told the Toronto Star, referring to thugs who shoot innocent bystanders in broad daylight. "A decade of neglect in Toronto is coming back to haunt us," declared Olivia Chow, who's running for office. "How many more innocents will it take?"

Racism and joblessness are always popular culprits, too. CBC Radio quoted someone saying that, when the only jobs young people can get are part-time ones without benefits, well, what can you expect? American gun culture also came in for the usual licking. CBC-TV did some neat graphics on gun crime in Houston, and the Star even found an expert who blamed Hollywood. "If you go to a movie today in New York, you see preview after preview with scenes of unbelievable gun violence," he said.

Actually there's been a crime crash in New York City. Gun murders there are at a 40-year low, and swaths of the city did not record a single gun fatality last year. Meantime, the gun-murder rate in Jamaica is among the highest in the world. But nobody mentioned that. In fact, the word "Jamaica" can't be found in any of these penetrating analyses, even though police will tell you off the record that 80 per cent or more of the city's gun crime is Jamaican-related.

The violent culture of Jamaica sheds far more light on Toronto's gun-and-gang problem than Mr. Harris's cruel decision to shut down the Anti-Racism Secretariat. So does the culture of gangsta rap. All the black kids know this; they understand the pervasive influence of gangsta culture far better than our media experts and community leaders do. So does Bob Herbert, the black, liberal New York Times columnist. In his view, poor, urban North American blacks are being devastated by a self-inflicted set of woes that are as harmful as the Jim Crow laws once were. He is calling for a new civil-rights revolution -- from within.

"It is time to blow the whistle on the nitwits who have so successfully promoted a values system that embraces murder, drug-dealing, gang membership, misogyny, child abandonment and a sense of self so diseased that it teaches children to view the men in their orbit as niggaz and the women as hoes," Mr. Herbert wrote recently. "I understand that jobs are hard to come by for many people, and that many schools are substandard, and that racial discrimination is still widespread. But those are not good reasons for committing cultural suicide."

Are we failing our most disadvantaged kids? Damn right. We're failing them with our evasions and our cowardice. We are failing them with our reluctance to tell the truth. How many more innocents will it take? I shudder to think.


Time to talk about violence and culture 

December 29, 2005
Globe and Mail Editorial

Go to Toronto's Yonge Street shopping area on any given day, and you will find groups of tough-looking young men. Their dress is the dress of the urban ghetto culture: puffy down jackets, baseball caps or tuques, baggy pants, expensive running shoes. The tunes on their music players glorify violence and demean women. They speak in the same slang you might find on the streets of inner-city Chicago or Detroit. Their role models are "gangsta" rappers like 50 Cent.

In the wake of Toronto's Boxing Day shootout on Yonge, community leaders are trying to understand the roots of the recent wave of gun violence. Conservatives say that judges have been too lax. They call for tougher sentences and more police. Liberals say governments have failed to reach out to marginalized youth. They want more job programs and social work.

But one possible cause is not getting enough attention. Call it the cultural factor. Is the glorification of violence in today's youth culture helping lead young men to a life of crime?

Not long ago, liberal-minded people would have rejected such a conclusion. Finger wagging about cultural decadence was the preserve of small-minded conservatives. But the growing power and reach of global culture has led to a reassessment of cultural influences and their effect in stoking street violence.

Is it merely a coincidence that Toronto youths who engage in the same reckless, sociopathic behaviour as U.S. ghetto youths also listen to the same jusic, watch the same videos and dress and talk the same way? Or do these influences help legitimize the resort to violence?

Liberal MP Dan McTeague was scorned when he suggested that Ottawa should stop 50 Cent from coming to Canada to perform. His critics were right in saying that banning music or musicians is no solution. But Mr. McTeague was on to something when he suggested that the message in such music "runs counter to all of our efforts of trying to curb gun violence." While educators say stay in school and parents say stay off the street, those messeages are swamped by the get-rich-or-die-trying message that dominates so much of youth culture.

It's not good enough simply to say, "It's a free country." Any community that deserves the name has some sort of value system. When popular culture doesn't reflect those values, and in fact seems actively to undermine them, it's not being preachy to suggest that it might be a problem. A healthy society has to fight back. Politicians and community leaders shouldn't leave the fight to religious conservatives. They should speak out themselves against the anti-social messages conveyed in so much of youth culture.

Obviously, that is only one small part of what needs to be done to combat gun violence in Toronto and other cities. Better law enforcement and more effective community programs have their part, too. But popular culture is a powerful influence, especially on groups where the pull of family and community are weak. After Boxing Day, we can't avoid talking about the culture factor any more.


The sins of the fathers are visited on Black youth

December 2, 2005
Globe and Mail
By Eugene Rivers

Canada's black community faces a crisis. A generation of poor, predominantly black youth is in violent rebellion against fatherlessness and, by logical extension, against law and order and an established middle-class black leadership that purports to speak for them. This largely unacknowledged crisis is part of a larger international pattern; from Kingston, Jamaica, to Birmingham, England, from Los Angeles to Chicago, we are witnessing the globalization of "thug life."

Thug life may be defined as the gangsta-talkin' world view that celebrates and promotes, through a multibillion-dollar media and fashion industry, the rhetoric and reality of black-on-black violence and criminality. This phenomenon, which has emerged from the gangsta wing of the hip hop nation founded in the 1970s in U.S. ghettos, has emerged as a powerful symbol of the cultural and political decay of black civil society. In this world, style is substance. The obligatory "big pimpin'" hyper-masculine pose is essential for many young black males to conceal the underlying political impotence that masquerades as manhood.

The involvement of Jamaicans in Toronto's current violence has an added dimension. A troubled political history in that island has led to the development of a culture of violence whose existence precedes the emergence of global thug life. This pattern has trailed Jamaican immigrants to the U.S. and the U.K., and the resulting deportations have simply magnified the problem as sophisticated criminals are returned to the island, train new thugs and, eluding the immigration barriers, cycle back the gang activity to foreign countries.

The violence now being witnessed in Toronto's poor black neighbourhoods is ultimately the voice of political orphans denied the firm discipline and direction of the black fathers. It is less the sins of Pharaoh than the sins of the fathers who have cursed their sons by their abandonment and neglect.

Here in Boston, the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation and its lead site, the Ella J. Baker House, have been working on issues of violence among high-risk black youth for the past 10 years. In our field work in the U.S., U.K. and Jamaica, there is a common theme of fatherlessness and a failure of leadership from the black middle and upper classes that contributes to gang-related violence in the ghettos.

The Globe and Mail reports that nearly 50 per cent of all black children under 14 in Canada have just one parent. Two in three black children from Jamaica are being raised by a single parent. What can black Canadians do about black-on-black, gang-related violence beyond denouncing other's failures and racism?

If black Canadian political and religious leaders are to successfully engage the issue of black-on-black gang-related violence as a social and public policy question, they must first own it, morally and politically. They must accept their moral complicity by having so far failed to effectively engage this crisis. Only by publicly acknowledging their failures can they legitimately criticize the failures of others. Such moral transparency is a prerequisite for any rational discussion of the delicate topic of race and violent crime in any Western society.

Where there has been success in other cities in alleviating the violence among black males, there has been a full-court press from a coalition of organizations: law-enforcement agencies (especially the police), churches, the private sector and government agencies have worked together to address the plethora of needs of kids caught up in gangs. Where young men obstinately reject involvement in jobs and educational or recreational programs, law-enforcement agencies have collaborated closely with black churches to ensure their incarceration.

The black churches have a unique role to play in engaging the cultural and practical dimensions of gang-related violence as they minister, mentor and monitor young people. Churches can have significant impact in the lives of youth when they develop long-term mentoring relationships with young men on the edge of violence. They can minister to their moral and material needs, developing programs that provide access to training and jobs. And in monitoring the involvement of youth in violence, they can lend their moral authority to the action of police when enforcement of the law becomes the only option. These are a few of the steps outlined in the Ten Point Plan; they might be a helpful starting point in crafting a plan to address Toronto's crisis.

Black churches must become visible on the streets. They must commit men to work the streets of the most violent neighbourhoods to reclaim the orphans who live there.

Rev. Eugene Rivers is president of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundations (www. ntlf.org), which is working to build grassroots leadership in 40 of the worst U.S. inner-city neighbourhoods.


Get mad, we're being' had, gangsta rap's really bad

December 1, 2005
Globe and Mail
By Margaret Wente

At the Urban Music Awards in Toronto the other night, everybody dissed the people who think there's something wrong with rap music. Everybody, that is, except for one of the special guests, a mother whose son had been gunned down on the street. There is something wrong with rap music, she said, just as there is something wrong with killing someone at a church funeral. Rap music is not harmless. It glorifies the culture of violence that killed her son.

That is not the fashionable position. What's fashionable is making fun of the stupid politician who wants the rapper 50 Cent banned from Canada. And, of course, his position is absurd. What's the point in banning 50 Cent when his music and his image are available any time, any place, anywhere, and the kids at Jane and Finch internalized his every move long ago? You might as well try to ban the air they breathe.

Sophisticated people know that violent, misogynistic lyrics are inherently harmless. They're a form of social protest, or just a way to work off steam. Look at Mick. If obnoxious lyrics lead to violence, then why haven't 100 million Rolling Stone fans run amok?

Eugene Rivers has a view on that. I wrote about him last week. He's the black pastor from Boston who argues that underclass culture, not racism, is to blame for Toronto's deadly guns-and-gangs crisis.

Mr. Rivers maintains that for adolescent white males, who make up its biggest audience, gangsta rap is relatively harmless. Like the Rolling Stones, rappers offer rebellion on the cheap -- a low-cost way to give the finger to authority, have an outlaw fantasy life, and drive your parents nuts, without any social consequences. The white kids "go off to college, put on a suit and go to work at Morgan Stanley". But for black kids who grow up without family discipline, a sense of law and order, or alternative role models, gangsta rap "has an absolutely catastrophic effect".

Call it the Murphy Brown mistake -- the belief by large segments of the educated overclass that underclass culture is really very cool. And it is -- for the overclass. After all, when an affluent thirtysomething white career woman has a baby out of wedlock, chances are things will be okay. When a poor black 17-year-old does the same thing, chances are things won't be okay at all.

When a juvenile outlaw culture is the only one available to adolescent males, there's going to be trouble. And when famous rappers dictate the behaviour code, watch out. A few weeks ago, a platinum-selling rap star named Cam'ron Giles was shot in both arms while tooling around Washington in his $250,000 royal blue Lamborghini. The mystery of who shot him, and why, is a hot topic in the hip hop world. But the police investigation has gone nowhere, because nobody, least of all Cam'ron, will talk. If he did, he'd lose his street cred. "It's not in our nature," his rapping buddy told The Washington Post.

Needless to say, the shooting has been good for Cam'ron's career. His next album is called Killa Season, and, as one fan said, "this is definitely going to help his sales."

Among the fiercest critics of hip hop culture is John McWhorter, a black American academic. Two years ago, he wrote a blistering essay called "How hip hop holds blacks back", in which he traced the decline of rap from happy party music to the ugly glorification of thug life, bling, easy money, fast cars and woman-bashing. "Of course, not all hip hop is belligerent or profane", he wrote. "But it's the nastiest rap that sells best, and the nastiest cuts that make a career." Today, hip hop is a billion-dollar industry, and stars such as 50 Cent and Cam'ron Giles are extremely rich.

Mr. McWhorter argues that the attitude and style expressed in the hip hop "identity" keep blacks down. "Almost all hip hop, gangsta or not, is delivered with a cocky, confrontational cadence that is fast becoming a common speech style among young black males. The problem with such speech and mannerisms is that they make potential employers wary of young black men and can impede a young black's ability to interact comfortably with co-workers and customers. The black community has gone through too much to sacrifice upward mobility to the passing kick of an adversarial hip hop 'identity'."

But when hip hop is all there is, don't expect the music to fade any time soon.


Gun crime biggest fear: poll

87% say city is more violent compared to five years ago

October 25, 2005
National Post
By Nicholas Kohler

TORONTO - Toronto residents are feeling "under siege" by gangs that draw their income from drug sales and their inspiration from urban rap music, says an Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday.

Gun crime and violence has become the most important issue facing the city of Toronto for 55% of the residents who participated in the poll -- up 40 percentage points from a similar survey conducted two years ago.

The degree of concern more than doubles the number of Torontonians who cite gun violence as their primary concern over those who list "garbage" as the most pressing issue facing Toronto.

The findings of the survey, conducted by Ipsos-Reid for the National Post, Global News and CFRB, arrived on a day of several shootings.

Apparently random acts of violence have left nine out of 10 residents of the city, or 87%, believing that "Toronto is becoming more violent compared to five years ago" -- up 21 percentage points from a survey conducted in 2000, when 66% of respondents agreed with the same statement.

And while 74% of Torontonians said they felt safe in 2003 walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, only 64% feel the same way now, the poll says. The poll found women, at 46%, to be more likely than men, at 25%, to feel unsafe after dark in their neighbourhoods.

"I don't personally feel under siege, although I do have concerns about the increasing number of gun incidents in which people are being killed," said Paul Godfrey, a former member of the Toronto police commission.

"I think you'd have to be living in a vacuum if you didn't realize that what we have here is a spike in the use of guns and young people shooting other young people," added Mr. Godfrey, who is now president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club.

The recent violence, the vast majority of respondents said, is driven by gangs and the drugs they traffic in -- a belief the Toronto police force largely endorses.

"The overwhelming majority of this gun violence that our city has experienced is being perpetuated by people who are involved in gangs," Police Chief Bill Blair said yesterday after hearing the poll results.

Statistically, violent crime rates are down, said Chief Blair, who attributed the increase in concern to the new "callousness" of gunmen who are more likely to pull the trigger in busy public places.

But more than gangs, 63% of the survey's respondents pointed to the "glamorization of gang culture" -- found, some say, in movies and rap music videos that tend to glorify gangsters -- as contributing to the increase in Toronto's gun violence.

Torontonians 55 and over were more likely than younger residents to believe such "glamorization" is an important factor in the city's gun violence.

Recent moves by the Toronto police force to move more patrolling officers into the city's gritty northwest corner, where much of the violence has occurred, reflects the belief of 64% of residents, who would rather see an increase in police presence and stricter penalties than money spent on social programs aimed at fostering alternatives to gang culture among youths.

Chief Blair agreed stiffer penalties would cut down on gun violence.

"The people that we do apprehend that are involved in this violence, quite frankly, they need to go to jail," he said, adding: "Unfortunately, we have seen many cases where the sentences do not reflect the seriousness of the crime."

Others, however, sought to stress the importance of social programs in neighbourhoods where they say disenfranchised young people are in the grips of desperation.

John Sewell, a former mayor of the city of Toronto and a senior member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, said much of the violence stems from "treating particularly black kids in a way that has made them give up generally on the traditional roots we have for success in this society.

"It's very sad and the last thing you'd want to be, at this point I think, is a black kid," Mr. Sewell said, adding: "We've got to rush in with big programs quickly."

Mr. Sewell's position is one more likely to be reflected by younger residents, says the poll, which found that 54% of Torontonians between the ages of 18 and 34 believe introducing social programs should be a priority. Only 34% of those aged 35 and up felt similarly, the survey says.

The Ipsos-Reid poll drew on answers from 500 Toronto residents who responded through an online survey. The poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


'J-Bug' a Crips video star: Cop 

October 18, 2005
Toronto Sun
By Ian McDougall, Courts Bureau

Another underground video featuring armed Toronto gangster rappers has surfaced, but it hasn't hit MuchMusic's playlist.

The low-budget video, called Rapsheet DVD, was played in a University Ave. courtroom yesterday for an audience consisting of Justice Ian Nordheimer, Crown attorney Matthew Boswell and defence lawyer Anna Martin during the sentencing hearing for Jermaine Grant.

Grant, also known as J-Bug and Bugs, was convicted at the end of August for weapons charges, breach of recognizance and possession of cocaine.

Boswell called Toronto street gang expert, Det.-Const. Richard Bobbis, to testify Grant was a member of the Jamestown Crips street gang.

As part of his testimony, a short video was entered as an exhibit. It showed a group of Toronto rappers armed with guns and flashing gang signs.

At the end of the video, they list off names of people who have either been killed on Toronto's streets or are in jail.

The name "Bugs" is shouted along with several others.

Proud of pistols

Pistols are proudly brandished for the camera. One member racks the slide of a Glock .40-calibre handgun and later points it at the camera.

Another rapper forms a "C" with his hands, which Bobbis said is a gang sign for the Crips.

He said the names are all aliases for Toronto gang members who are in jail. There is also a list of six names of gang members who have been killed.

"It tells me a local street gang, the Jamestown Crips, are sophisticated," he said. "They have access to weapons, they pay homage to their slain members."

Bobbis said gangs that originated in Los Angeles, the Bloods and Crips, have migrated across North America and have grown into two separate "nations."

Toronto is currently in the midst of a war between two members of the Crips nation, the Mount Olive Crips and the Jamestown (also known as the Doomstown) Crips.

The gangs get their names from streets in their neighbourhoods.

Bobbis told court he has been called to lecture at police forums and is getting calls from schools -- teachers and principals want his expertise.

Schools invaded

One school yearbook committee complained that students were flashing gang signs in their class pictures.

He's also received materials from school art classes from concerned teachers wondering if the works contain gang messages.

But the video, which Bobbis found in his mailbox one day, is an important document, he said. "They are representing the Doomstown Crips," he said. "This is the physical manifestation of the investigations we've done over the last few years," he said.

Some of the people featured on the video, which can be purchased or obtained off the Internet, are now in jail or facing charges, or both, he said.

The hearing continues.

---

Language of the street

A glossary of gang terms from Det.-Const. Richard Bobbis' testimony yesterday:

- Mount Olive Crips: Toronto street gang named after the Mount Olive area.

- Jamestown, Doomstown Crips: Street gang named after the Jamestown area.

- One Love: Former alliance of Crips. Broke down into Jamestown Crips and Mount Olive Crips following a murder over drug turf in 2000.

- Crips or Bloods Nations: The larger groups local gangs claim affiliation with.

- UBN: United Blood Nation, gang group spreading throughout the eastern coast of the U.S.

- Set: The smaller neighbourhood gang associated with the larger gang nation.

- Gat: Gun

- Strapped: Armed

- Custy: Customer, usually for drugs

- 187: Dead or killed, named after the California Penal Code section for homicide.

- Mourning Wall: A graffiti mural, paying tribute to dead gang members.

- Mad-Dogging: Staring at someone to intimidate them.

- R to the X: Rexdale

- Beat in or sexed in: Initiation for new gang member. Males are beaten by fellow members as their initiation. Females must have sex with a certain number of gang members.


A victim's legacy

Teen's dad to fight gun violence

September 3, 2005
Toronto Sun
By Chris Doucette

THEODORE HUXTABLE is still trying to come to grips with his teenage son's murder, but the heartbroken dad vows he'll do whatever he can to stop the gun violence plaguing Toronto.

Friends and family said Jason Huxtable was a "great guy" with a zest for life, someone who had never been in trouble and had no enemies.

The 18-year-old was shot to death Tuesday as he climbed out of his car at a government housing complex in the Jane St. and Sheppard Ave. W. area.

Police are looking for a 15-year-old, who they believe pulled the trigger, and two other youths.

"I won't let his death be in vain," Theodore said through tears yesterday. "I want to do something to stop the killings."

Theodore is not exactly sure what he's going to do yet. He's still dealing with funeral arrangements for his son, which are taking longer than normal because many relatives are arriving from Jamaica.

What he is sure of, though, is that gangster rap videos and parts of the hip-hop culture that make guns and thug-life seem cool, are squarely to blame for the wave of violence that has gripped Toronto this summer.

Jason, the 33rd person to be killed by a gun in the city this year, lived in Maple with his mom, dad, younger brother and older sister.

He drove an Acura, had nice clothes and a big, bright smile, which was occasionally obscured by a gold denture he liked to wear. But his father stressed Jason "worked hard for everything he had."

He worked since he was 14, volunteering for six months to get the job, at a Shoppers Drug Mart near Jane-Finch, Theodore said. He recently graduated from high school and was planning to study business at Seneca College this fall.

His family said he was picking up a girl at a townhouse complex on Magellan Dr. when he was ambushed by the girl's younger brother -- who had warned Jason to stay away because he was "an outsider" -- and two other teens.

"He was innocent, he didn't do anything wrong," Jason's dad said. "I miss him dearly."

A vigil was held last night for the murdered teen on the street where he drew his last breath.

Toronto Police have issued a warrant on second-degree murder for Greg Tailor, a 15-year-old with a criminal past. Although he is a minor, police obtained a court order to release his identity.

Detectives are also tracking the two youths who were with the shooter, but they have few details to work with.


Giving a rap to black violence

August 15, 2005
Toronto Sun
By Nicholas Davis

"We used to talk about being killed by white men in hoods. Now we talk about being killed by black men in the 'hood."

That's a line from a song called Role Reversal by Toronto rapper-spoken word artist JD Vishus. It's from his newly released debut CD, Alleycat Sensibilities. The lyrics in this song speak to the main problem Vishus has with the recent spate of gun violence that has plagued the city -- the black-on-black violence.

"I know a guy who was shot about a month ago," Vishus says. "He said the whole thing was about being disrespected. But what these guys constitute as disrespect is often times very petty.

"I get the sense that shooting someone is almost like a badge of honour for some of these guys. What saddens me is the lack of value they place on other people's lives."

Vishus grew up in Scarborough where he witnessed gun violence first-hand. He feels if it wasn't for his parents, he may have ended up mixed up with guns like some of the young black men in his neighbourhood.

"There was a time when I was beginning to act out and get angry all the time," remembers Vishus, whose real name is Joseph Daley. "I would hear racial slurs and they would just build my anger. But my parents intervened. They saw at an early age where my misguided anger was taking me and they moved me away from my friends and put me in a new school.

"It actually made me angrier that I was being separated from my friends, but in the end it worked for me. I was able to focus more on school and I learned how to channel my anger into something more positive."

Vishus focused his energies on poetry and rap. He was enamoured with the conscious rappers of the day -- Public Enemy, KRS 1 and Grandmaster Flash. By the time he was in high school, Vishus started writing his own rhymes.

Ever since then he has been consumed by hip hop culture -- a culture that Vishus acknowledges is partly to blame for some of the poor attitudes and choices that plague young people today.

"There is a culture of coolness in the hip hop community that doesn't always manifest itself in a positive light," he says. "I'm not saying that hip hop is to blame totally, but it has to take some of the blame for the behaviour prevalent in many young people today. Too many of them feed into the stereotypes that are being marketed in rap music."

Vishus blames the record labels for the marketing, but he blames consumers for allowing the labels to dictate what hip hop fans listen to.

"Back in the day, Public Enemy dominated the hip hop scene with positive messages of upliftment and righteousness," he says. "They were rebels with a cause. Now it's gangsta rap and bling bling that carries the swing."

And Vishus wants to do his part to change that.

"I'm trying to convey myself in a way that people can get something positive out of my music. I'm trying to bring consciousness back into rap. I'm not promoting gangsterism or sex or materialism. I'm into promoting knowledge."

Vishus is also trying to promote his thoughts on how to curb the gun violence in the city. "The solution has to come from us ... black people," he says. "First we have to find a way to embrace some of these young people like they're family -- a form of outreach.

"I hope my album can be a part of that outreach. I don't want to preach, but I want them to listen and then decide what they want to do. In the end, I hope my message is strong enough that it will get through to them."

JD Vishus will perform Sunday on the rooftop of the Inside Lounge at 218 Richmond St. W. Doors open at 3 p.m. His CD Alleycat Sensibilities, a mix of spoken word and rap, is available at jdvishus.com.


Statistics belie flood of guns from U.S.

August 15, 2005
Globe and Mail
By Colin Freeze

As Canadian politicians express alarm about a rising tide of guns smuggled from the United States, statistics obtained by The Globe and Mail show that federal border guards are seizing fewer firearms and Toronto police are pulling no more guns off the streets than they ordinarily do.

The Canada Border Services Agency says it has intercepted 318 guns so far in 2005, below the more than 1,000 seized guns that border guards have averaged annually during the past five years, and far fewer than the 1,500 seized annually in the 1990s.

And while Toronto Police Service Chief Bill Blair was widely quoted last week as saying his officers have seized more than 2,000 guns so far in 2005, civilians in his statistics department say the chief inadvertently "misspoke." Their official tally is only 1,151, consistent with the pace of seizures in recent years.

During the past three weeks, eight people have been killed by guns and 25 injured in Toronto. One man was killed and two others injured in two separate incidents Saturday night, the latest in the city.

As the gun violence appears to be rising, officials are left seeking answers. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and other politicians have started lobbying U.S officials, asking them to help curtail the cross-border gun flow.

But if a glut of guns exists on Canadians streets, the weapons have not materialized overnight. The border agency says its lower seizure numbers stem from anti-smuggling efforts.

Meanwhile, the union representing border guards disagrees, saying a lack of resources leaves its members intercepting, at the most, one out of every 20 guns coming north.

No one really knows how many guns are crossing the border, but experts say plenty of problems lie in Canada's backyard and the Americans are not about to solve them.

"Guns from the U.S. are an issue, but a small part of the bigger picture," said Paul Culver, a senior Toronto Crown Attorney.

From his vantage point, gun crimes are a complex riddle. He finds the ones he prosecutes mostly involve weapons stolen from Canadian homes and businesses.

"Guns on the street are nothing new, especially in Toronto. I would say they are probably being used more often."

Like many observers, he regards the summer's flare-up of violence in Toronto as part of a tit-for-tat series of shootings that has long affected a small subculture of gangsters.

While the city's homicide rate has not changed in a decade, police and Crown prosecutors say guns have become status symbols, even fashion accessories. Gunmen, who increasingly care about nothing beyond amassing respect, no longer need much provocation to pull the trigger.

One telling example occurred at the back of a crowded Toronto bus last fall, after a young man told a group of tough-talking youngsters that "people on this bus don't appreciate or care about what you're talking about."

"What, you think we're bitches?" a 16-year-old retorted. "We gangsta niggas," his cohort said. And with that, bullets flew -- almost killing the 24-year-old man, who later told his story to this newspaper, and hitting 11-year-old Tamara Carter, who suffered a serious injury to her left eye.

In Toronto, similar shootings happen in busy dance clubs and crowded public squares, and on streets where the intended victims are surrounded by children -- such as four-year-old Shaquan Cadougan, who was wounded this month in a drive-by shooting.

"I don't think we've always had the same mentality," said Detective Stacy Gallant of Toronto police's guns and gangs task force, who added cultural factors are at work.

Music videos are harmless entertainment for the vast majority of viewers, but Det. Gallant suggested some young criminals are ready to kill or be killed so they can emulate the high-living drug dealers and pimps whom they have grown up watching on TV.

"I've had young kids say to me, 'I'm not afraid to die.' A 19-year-old. They don't care," Det. Gallant said. "You see these guys watching rap movies and videos, and look at what these guys are carrying -- the money, the flashy cars."

"If you're driving a flashy car, it's not enough to have a cheap gun. You have got to have a Smith & Wesson."

The gangsters who value ostentatious wealth are often poor children whom society failed years ago, some experts say.

"It used to be that we had more places to encourage kids to get power, self-esteem, and respect in a socially acceptable way," said psychologist Robin Alter, who has spent 25 years working in Toronto's violence-plagued northwest.

But, she said, camp programs have been cut, affordable housing has not been built and single mothers are working two or three jobs just to get by. Years ago, youth workers sat around talking about ways to get children into programs that suited them, she said, but "that doesn't happen any more."

It is easy to blame the United States for gun violence, she said, "but we have some of our own problems we need to address."

Still, a lot of police have trouble seeing today's criminals as needy children, especially given the disregard for life that exists on the streets. That only fuels a fear factor, where handguns fetch a "consistent" price of $1,000 to $2,500, according to members of Ontario's weapons enforcement unit.