Inner City Diary
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Checking crime stats when they count
August 15, 2004
Last week I did a little venting about some of the problems with -- and possible interpretations of -- outdated crime stats and behind-the-times experts.

By the time all the talking heads get hold of crime stats, they're about a year behind the times. They're analysing last year's numbers in comparisons to other jurisdictions. We're suffering this year's reality.

I have two predictions for next year's review of this year's crime. You'll likely see a serious spike in street crime and also an alarming increase in the number of criminal activities associated with some recent African immigrants.  

From talking to folks in the neighbourhood, I can tell you that there's lots of concern about some of the recent trends with crime around here. Lots more people getting roughed up or threatened for their wallets, bikes, phones or purses. Even prostitutes in the area have complained about an increase in being "jacked" for money.

Over the past few years, the "big boys" of crime got more aggressive with staking out their turf, establishing their control over certain elements of the criminal enterprise. My guess is that the smaller players are passing on the bullying and greed they've experienced at the hands of others.

Reorganizations and splits among gangs and wannabees are growing. The lower cost and chemical effects of street drugs are breeding more petty crime, more violent addicts and dealers.

Another disturbing trend is the number of African immigrants and refugees getting sucked into the illicit drug trade. This involvement brings with it all the attendant criminal activities associated with the trade. The reasons for this trend are a bit easier to figure.

It seems some of the other players in the drug trade are getting tired of getting busted, hassled or hauled to jail. Seeking a fresh layer of insulation from legal and criminal accountability, these guys are apparently targeting a new crop of youth to do their dirty work.

It's actually been happening for awhile. And African immigrants are not the first to be exploited by the pseudo-organized criminal element in Winnipeg. European, Asian and Caribbean immigrants have been similarly exploited in the past.

But the young men targeted for this wave of exploitation are perfect targets.

They're typically young, from their late teens to 20s. Many come from countries with levels of violence, desperation and corruption unimaginable in Winnipeg. Some have witnessed and survived massacres and atrocities incomprehensible to meek and mild Manitobans.

Many immigrants face some disillusionment as they reach a land of amazing opportunities -- most of which are not nearly as present as the bills they have to pay. Some find solid supports in the community and work hard to overcome their disappointment. For others, disappointment smolders into resentment and desperation.

It's at this point that the lure of quick cash and "respect" on the streets is particularly attractive to those frustrated in pursuit of legitimate opportunities and tired of prejudice against people of their age, colour, or country of origin.

Those familiar with the culture of crime in our neighbourhood are alarmed and saddened at the number of young males from these refugee and immigrant communities which seem to be actively involved or loitering at the fringes of criminal activity.

But we better turn our response into action quickly. Otherwise, everyone will soon reap the disastrous results of neglect or ducking a serious issue.

Perhaps Judy Sgro might spend more time on this issue than taking cheap shots at churches for assisting immigrants who have earned strong community support and credibility. Hopefully immigration and refugee agencies will provide some constructive suggestions. It's sometimes tough to even discuss issues like this without legitimate concerns being deflected by allegations of profiling or racism. Recent African refugees and immigrants are painfully aware of the problems being caused by some in their own community. And it's crucial that we work together on this problem.

At the same time, we need to be especially vigilant against racist interpretations of these facts. There are always some who look for any excuse to slam any immigration, denouncing any allowance for "foreigners" building a new life. The majority of recent African (and other) immigrants are a blessing to Winnipeg.

Left unheeded, this situation will produce far more serious problems. Recruiting a specific group of people for criminal behaviour will not just harm the neighbourhood and further alienate the recruits.

It will backfire on the recruiters. It won't take long before the recruits tire of being "sub-contractors" and organize to grab their own slice of the action. That's a gang war just waiting to happen.

It's time we insist that people pay attention to today's trends rather than contenting themselves with autopsies of last year's stats.
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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