Saturday, May 29, 2010
More and younger teens are joining gangs, says a local agency
Recent gunplay in the West End has catapulted Winnipeg’s gang situation and the troubling issue of teenage gangsters into the spotlight.
A Winnipegger who counsels at-risk youth from neighbourhoods where this kind of violence is happening says she’s encountering more program participants who have gang ties.
“They are still children. We as a community have a responsibility to protect children and I don’t think it’s being done well enough,” said Liz Wolff, a program manager and clinician at New Directions.
Kids are getting involved with gangs at a younger age, Wolff said.
“We know that our 16-year-olds have siblings, 12 or 13, who are gang-involved,” Wolff said. “Many run drugs or are peripherally involved.”
Wolff said the agency has seen an increase in reports of youths carrying a firearm on New Directions property, which is strictly forbidden.
She said teens turn to gangs to find a sense of belonging and an identity.
Most kids go to school and belong to sports teams, a choir or other activities or groups, she said, but the kids in New Directions programs aren’t attached to schools or clubs.
For some, it’s part of their survival because they come from poverty and have little, while others are influenced by gang-associated relatives, Wolff said.
“For some it’s a way of life,” she said. “It’s not easy to get out but a lot of the kids identify that they do want to get out.”
Many have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or cognitive deficits, putting them at a disadvantage from birth, Wolff said.
New Directions offers four programs for youths aged 16 to 19 who aren’t in school, Wolff said.
One is for Level 4 auto thieves, a second assists newcomer refugees, a third is called Project VIP (violence intervention and prevention), and a fourth offers training resources, she said.
The programs accept 135 youths per year and 55% wind up going back to school or finding work, Wolff said.
She was unaware of how many exit gang life.
It turns out there is a connection between a pair of shootings in the West End — which killed one child and injured three others — after all, Winnipeg’s police chief says.
An alleged gunman was involved in both.
Chief Keith McCaskill said Friday investigators uncovered the link when they arrested a 19-year-old man and obtained new details.
The information came to light after McCaskill spoke to reporters Thursday, telling them there was no evidence of a link.
McCaskill wouldn’t reveal the new details but said police learned of the man’s alleged role as a triggerman in both incidents. The man has gang ties, he said.
The first shooting occurred when two gunmen sprayed a Toronto Street home with bullets Tuesday afternoon, killing Kyle Earl, 16, and wounding Byron Cook, his 13-year-old friend, who were outside on a porch with at least one other person.
The 19-year-old, a friend of the victims, was armed with a gun and chased and shot at the suspects on Agnes Street in retaliation, police allege.
The shots missed the suspects and struck two uninvolved cars, including one occupied by three people.
The 19-year-old was arrested Thursday. The homicide suspects haven’t been caught, police said.
McCaskill previously said the shooting was “gang related to a degree.” Earl claimed involvement with a Winnipeg street gang.
On Wednesday evening, the 19-year-old allegedly shot at a person on Victor Street but missed, striking a home’s window. Inside, a 10-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound to the leg while her eight-year-old sister was injured by debris, possibly broken glass, police said.
“Thank God these kids weren’t killed. That easily could have happened,” McCaskill said.
He said the house was a backdrop to the shooting and wasn’t targeted but the incident wasn’t a random act.
Police were mum on other details, refusing to comment on the motives or discuss whether the shootings are part of a gang feud.
Marcus Abe Payash, 19, of Winnipeg is charged with three counts of attempted murder and single counts of carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm while prohibited in the Agnes Street shooting.
He’s also charged with attempted murder while using a firearm and two counts of discharging a firearm with intent to wound, maim or disfigure.
The 14-year-old boy, who was allegedly with the 19-year-old on Victor Street, is charged with failing to comply with an undertaking and two counts of aggravated assault.
Police returned to the Toronto Street home Friday to arrest a male who allegedly caused a disturbance and was armed with a knife.
I agree that teens join gangs because they feel a need for belonging and identity, if they lack attention, interaction or are neglected by the parents. These teens often live in poverty, are unemployed, have dropped out of school, have mental health issues or behavioural problems, and often have substance abuse issues. These teens need help to overcome these issues. We need to implement more gang prevention and desistance programs, positive role models and tutors and mentors, more recreational facilities and activities for youths, family violence programs and counseling, parenting programs, substance abuse programs, improved access to education and money incentives to graduate, employment assistance and resources, life skills/stress management/risk management/coping with life's challenges, etc. etc. If we can implement these strategies, we can more effectively reduce crime, instead of only relying upon prison as a solution. Prison is a quick fix, not a long term solution.