Inner City Diary
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Can't let thugs stop us now...
March 21, 2004
I somehow knew there might be trouble as soon as I spied them. Six guys, loitering on the corner, enveloped in an aura of thuggery.

I was on the other side of the street, walking home by myself after a community meeting. Minding my own business. Talking on a cell phone as I walked.

Already past them, out of the corner of my eye, I see a couple of the guys pointing across the street at me. One of the wannabe's breaks away from the group and comes running diagonally across the street toward me.

I imagined that if this were a Spiderman movie I would say my spider sense was tingling. If this were a TV series, the background music would suddenly reflect the tension and sinister intent. I noted the odd influx of thoughts as I gathered my wits and braced for the inevitable.

He ran up to me and said, “Give me your f------ phone.”

While I didn't think fast enough to challenge the anatomical absurdity of his grammar, I retorted with the first thing that came to my mind.

I pulled back from him as he grabbed for the phone. “Get outta here! No way you're getting my phone!”

He donned a more menacing look. “Gimme the phone now, man!”

I repeated my refusal and commented, “You're making a big mistake.”

We looked at each other, sizing each other up for whatever would happen next. I noticed him start to reach behind his back. Then he hesitated as his eyes fell on the crest of my old NYPD jacket.

After a moment of analysis, he resumed his pose and said, “That's just a jacket.”

I responded, “Yeah, it’s just a jacket. And you’re still making a big mistake.”

Noticing the growing interest of his friends across the street, I decided retreat would be wise. So I left, watching my back all the way.

I encountered more than a thug that night. I encountered feelings in myself which took awhile to process. 

To be honest, there was some fear. I'm no dummy. With five of that punk's buddies across the street, and who knows what in his back pocket, the odds weren't good.

But there was also some serious anger that this guy figured he had rights to my phone. That righteous anger started boiling into a not-so-righteous rage. I pictured myself getting this guy one-on-one, without his buddies to back him up. I envisioned a not-so-pastoral “laying on of hands.” I visualized administering a justice far beyond that of our justice system.

But when I got to the point of mentally processing legal implications of such action, I realized I better just leave it alone.

Spiritually, this guy had invoked upon himself the power of a curse from which no amount of buddies, weapons or attorneys can protect him. I prayed for God to have mercy long enough for the guy to have opportunity to change his ways.

Afterwards, when giving police a rough description of the guys, I became aware of a few more reactions.

I resisted the prejudices tempted by such an incident - either against the age or ethnicity of the thugs - because I know so many other aboriginals and youth that don't fit the stereotype of these punks.

I wondered, however, how I would have felt had that been my first and only contact with aboriginal people. That would be bad. All the more reason to challenge the stereotypes which don't apply to the majority of any minority.

Then one of my friends asked an interesting question. "Are you going to write about this in your column?"

I hesitated to write this column, because I was afraid people would think badly of our community. I was concerned that some people will say, “See, I told you so. That’s a bad neighbourhood. No way I’ll go there!”

Yet this is a rare occurrence in our area. Things are improving here. There is more an assumption of safety than risk among residents in our community. I'm out at all hours of day and night and know this problem is rare.

But I can't withhold the truth for fear of reinforcing someone's stereotypes. Prejudiced people will always find ways to maintain their prejudice.

As an alternative to people “getting the wrong idea about our neighbourhood,” some folks want me to pretend there’s no problem – or “at least don’t talk about it.”

I have only one answer for the Pollyannas of this world. Talking honestly about it is a necessary first step. Next is doing something about it. That’s why things have improved so much in this area that a few thugs aren’t going to stop us anymore.
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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lehotsky@escape.ca