Inner City Diary
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He was only a boy, gunned down at 14
September 19, 2004
I stood quietly and prayed near the spot where a 14-year-old boy was recently gunned down in our neighbourhood.

It's been a few weeks. Folks have moved on. The crack house two doors away is doing steady business again. The camera peeking out between the window blinds is a steady reminder that they're watching us even as we're watching them. Several of the young man's peers are back to their "business" in the neighbourhood.

Immediately following the shooting there was a flurry of interest and concern about what happened. But now, weeks after the funeral, I have a few thoughts to share as I stand on the spot where he died.  

To our politicians: I miss you. You're often on TV unveiling statues or beaming over multi-million dollar condos and commercial developments. I regularly see you in the society page pictorials -- wining and cheesing with the who's who of Winnipeg. Lots of smiles, glitz and glamor.

There's nothing wrong with all that. But we need politicians who are willing to come down here and get their proverbial hands dirty once in awhile.

Face the fears and frustrations of communities struggling with lawlessness. Mourn with us for the death of kids and the loss of innocence. Come to understand the visceral fear of seniors afraid to leave their homes.

We're used to seeing you when there's something you want -- like an election. How about when there's something we need?

To the courts: I'm angered by your seeming inability to understand what's going on out here. You've neutered the youth justice system, criminalized spanking and curtailed the rights of cops to search or question known thugs terrorizing our streets.

You cloak criminals in the Charter of Rights while they deprive us of our freedom to live peaceably in community. Adding insult to injury, you make us pay top drawer lawyers to defend them.

Do you have any more brilliant ideas to make our neighbourhoods safer?

To parents of misbehaving kids: I remember the grief I gave my parents. They're the last ones who should have been blamed for the stupid things I did. But they were consistent and they were strict. I was generally home when they said so, no matter how much I resented them and their limits.

But if your kid is way past controls, you need help. Don't live in denial. Don't defend your kids' demons. You know where they're hanging out. You know who they're hanging with. You've seen the colours, paraphernalia, and even the weapons.

Phone CFS or the cops to let them know your child missed a court-imposed curfew. Don't wait for them to call you.

Better to bust your kid than bury your kid. Call for help. If the helpers won't help you, call others who will hold the helpers accountable for their inaction.

To the dealers: Some of you guys are high enough in the distribution networks that you've become filthy rich off the misery on our streets. Your money is well laundered and invested. Your friends and family maintain an uneasy pretense that you're a legitimate "businessman." I've heard some of you protest "These people are going to do it anyway. At least I'm a nice guy." You occasionally salve your conscience with political and charitable donations.

Some of you mid-level dealers rationalize your trade in the same manner. "At least I cut my stuff clean. I take good care of my people." You spout some crap about your lack of options -- no education, lack of marketable skills, etc. "It's just business," you tell me.

But on the day you meet your Creator, you will be sickened by your excuses and rationalizations.

If you don't change, that kid's blood will be as fresh on your hands as if you had tried to wash your hands in his wounds.

To the shooter: The feeling of power as you carried the gun was replaced by paranoia after you used it to shoot that kid. You know your "reasons" suck. I know what it's like to feel sick as you grasp what you did -- no matter what you tell your buddies. There's no way to turn back the clock. Deal with the consequences in the best way possible, before the worst thing possible happens.

To the good folk in the neighbourhood: We need you to stick around. To believe even when it seems easier to doubt. To stay when it seems to make more sense to leave. To speak up when fear tempts you to shut up. To keep up your good work, not dissuaded by the bad work of others.

To other wannabees: Your buddies have died in vain if not to warn you before you suffer the same fate. Revenge is useless. Bravado is like spitting in the wind. Show some real courage. Break free. Live honourably and you might one day have kids who might actually be proud of you.

The things you're living for are sure as hell not worth dying for!

Make sure they are before you do.
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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