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Memo to Newsrooms: Read the last memo

At the beginning of August, The Black Rod sent this to every newsroom in the city.

Memo to newrooms: if you're waiting for an official police news release, it's going to look something like this:
There's a gang war going on in the heart of the North End.

We called for authorities to make this tit-for-tat exchange of drive-by shootings and firebombing of homes a priority before some bystander was killed.

And we challenged the news media to get involved immediately instead of waiting until the worst happened and then singing a predictable chorus of "How did this happen? Why didn't anybody stop it?"

Regretably, our worst case scenario is now a reality.

And, right on cue, the news media is singing: "How did this happen? Why didn't anybody stop it?"

A teenager walking down the street has been shot dead. A second man was wounded and could have been killed as well. Neither had any relation to the gang members shooting up McGee Street (which is not in the North End, but stay with us).

One of the shooting suspects says on a web profile that he works in the military. If literally true, it's enough to send a chill through the police investigators who now face the possibility that he had access to weapons for distribution to his fellow gang members or to sell on the street. If he was using a euphemism for his gang affilitation, then it reflects the mindset that Winnipeg citizens and authorities must now contend with.

The Black Rod has been watching the reaction to this tragedy.

The victim's friends called him a great guy.
"He was an awesome person, so outgoing and friendly," said one.

Const. Patrick Chabidon, from the Broadway community office, took a positive view.
Despite the tragic shooting, the "neighbourhood is not lost," he told the Winnipeg Sun.

City councillor Russ Wyatt called for an emergency meeting. The other councillors ignored him.

Maybe its because nobody wants to draw attention to this part of Glen Murray's Winnipeg; like the former mayor they prefer to concentrate on shiny bridges and fast buses to the suburbs and not on random shootings and bombings in the Inner City.

Mayor Sam Katz was missing, just as he has been whenever anything important has happened in Winnipeg since his election last June. This time he had a valid excuse, it was Yom Kippur. But the truth is that he's never around when leadership is required, raising the question of whether Winnipeg needs more than a part-time mayor.

Chief of Police Jack Ewatski blamed the courts for being easy on criminals.
"There has to be meaningful consequences for individuals who have no respect for the laws of the land"

He never mentioned his role in destroying the morale of the police homicide unit that investigates gang murders and in undermining the precedent-setting mega-trial of six Hell's Angels members and associates. Chief Ewatski has done more to promote the power of gangs than any other single person in the city.

Justice Minister Huff-n-Puff, aka Gord Macintosh, was silent. No doubt he'll be issuing a news release blaming Ottawa any day now.

But, really, what can he say? The NDP has no credibility on the issue.

The last time anyone from the NDP made a major statement about gangs, it was MLA Eric Robinson (Minister for Culture, Heritage and Tourism) and he was doing his best to get Manitoba Warriors gang members out of jail, not in. Other aboriginal members of the government - Oscar Lathlin, Andrew Swan and speaker George Hickes - have been silent. As have their ethnic members like Conrad Santos.

Not that the Tories have been any better. Despite the fact that the leading authority on the situation in the West End, Rev. Harry Lehotsky, was once a Conservative candidate, leader Stuart Murray has remained invisible instead of being seen at Lehotsky's side demanding action from Huff-n-Puff.

And the daily newspapers?

The Winnipeg Sun said its time for zero-tolerance.
"The status quo isn't an option. We don't want to see a second or a third innocent bystander shot and killed on city streets. What we want to see is a very aggressive strategy by police to be all over these gangs, arresting gang leaders and nipping new gangs in the bud."

The Winnipeg Free Press left the heavy lifting to its crime reporter Mike McIntyre, who, to his credit, had an excellent exclusive interview with a member of one of the gangs linked to the fatal shooting of passerby Phillipe Haiart.

The paper hid it on Page Four.

But it was obvious on Friday that the news media in this city still just don't get it.

Deep inside both newspapers was a story on, you guessed it, the latest episode in the gang war in the North End.

A house on Boyd targetted. Two gunshots fired into the windows. Two molotov cocktails thrown at the house. Shotgun shell casings litter the street.

Was the story juxtaposed with the West End gang shooting? Did anyone see how narrowly more innocent people were almost killed by gang violence? Was there a hue and cry to catch the shooters?

Hell, no.

The Sun carried its story on the Boyd Avenue attack on Page 14 ("Windows shot out in North End"). The Free Press slipped five tiny paragraphs into its second section Page 3 InBrief block ( "North End home targeted" ).

There were three children (aged 7, 9, and 12) in the home, plus a teenager and his mother. Any one of them could have been killed by the gunshots. Or burned to death if the firebombs had worked as planned.

Somehow, this escaped the attention of the reporters on the newspapers and their editors. Television stations were just as blind, as the information on the Boyd Street attack was released on Thursday, and nobody thought it worthy of news coverage.

When asking, "How did this happen? Why didn't anybody stop it?" the news media in Winnipeg has only to look in the mirror.

Once again:
Memo to newrooms: if you're waiting for an official police news release, it's going to look something like this:

There's a gang war going on in the heart of the North End.

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