The Mayor dithers while the children of the North End lose hope
Tick. Tick. Tick.
It's Day Ten.
And Mayor Sam Katz's credibility is draining faster than the sand in an hourglass.
It's been 10 days since a man was murdered in cold blood in broad daylight while sitting in his car on Magnus Avenue. Ten days ago The Black Rod's clock of credibility began counting down the hours until the mayor announced a concerted plan to attack the crime and social disorder on Magnus Avenue.
There had to be a plan, surely.
The Mayor didn't hesitate when Phil Haiart, the son of a well-heeled family from south Winnipeg, was fatally wounded on Maryland Avenue when he wandered into a shootout between two street gangs.
Katz cobbled together a special unit of 40 police officers to patrol the immediate area of the shooting, to target gang members and gang houses and drug dealers and street prostitution. He called a news conference 15 days after Haiarts's death to trumpet his new crime-fighting credentials. Within a couple of weeks the residents of the area could see signs of an amazing transformation of their neighbourhood.
Now, a family man has been murdered in the North End in a neighbourhood fighting to reclaim its reputation from gang members, drug dealers, and crack whores. That neighbourhood is waiting to hear Sam Katz say he's throwing just as many resources into their fight for a decent place to live as he dedicated when a rich boy was killed.
The Mayor went on a radio talkshow on Day Seven and made all the right noises. There was no double standard and he was offended at any suggestion there was. He expected the police to be pro-active. He wanted answers. He had set up a meeting with the police.
And then came the weasel words.
· Operation Clean Sweep, the special unit thrown into action when Phil Hiairt was killed, was still in existence as the citywide Street Gang Unit.
Translation: there won't be any special policing for Magnus Avenue; we reserve that for when rich, connected people get hurt or threatened.
· Crime is a problem in many parts of the city, not just Magnus Ave.
Translation: quit whining, you get what you deserve for living there.
· And, of course, I grew up in the North End, too.
Translation: Now shut up.
Today we learned what the police told the Mayor at his special meeting. Between 2002 and 2005 the city closed 123 problem houses throughout the city using new provincial legislation. And now there's a list of anothter 250 other houses that should be shut down.
There you have it. The Mayor has a list.
When a nice boy, the son of a doctor, no less, got killed, the Mayor and the Police Chief went all out to declare this was unacceptable and they were determined to clean up the neighbourhood where it happened.
When a family man in the North End gets killed, the Mayor and the Police Chief have a list and they're prepared to wave it if things get ugly.
Actual police are needed to babysit car thieves and read nursery rhymes to children in schools. Soon they'll be riding horsies at the Forks for the tourists.
And now, of course, they're needed to provide special protection to crown attorneys who, wouldn't you know it, just by coincidence, live in south Winnipeg.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Maybe we're too hasty. Katz waited 15 days before announcing Operation Clean Sweep.
Maybe we're wrong to think an action plan for the North End could be prepared faster, given the precedent.
So we'll wait another five days before declaring the Double Standard proved.
In the meantime, what should we tell the other victims of the City's inaction on Magnus Avenue?
A poster on New Winnipeg, a local webforum, wrote this heartbreaking personal account of the damage that's being done to the children who live on Magnus Avenue and on the neighbouring streets:
northender wrote (and we couldn't say it any better):
Some children have lost their hope.
Last night, a couple of kids dropped by for a visit and a snack. This is a regular daily thing. One of them lives on Magnus. He's only eight. The other is seven. The one who lives on Magnus usually only visits on weekends, but it's school holidays, so I wasn't too surprised to see him.
These kids are usually very talkative and lively. But they were glum. I asked what was up and they were silent. I prompted them to open up by asking if they had seen the police on Magnus. One said a man was shot. The one who lives on Magnus still said nothing. I told him the police had caught the boy who shot him, and gave my young friend a reassuring pat on the back and told him not to worry. He hugged me. He really never said anything in response.
Later the same night, a friend who also knows this young Magnus Street resident, told me this is the third incident of shooting violence this boy has witnessed in his short life.
This wonderful child and his family are living in a war zone. The trauma is real.
We have to do something to find a solution. We can't just leave these kids and their parents in the line of fire.
If we cannot remove the danger, then we should seriously consider relocating people from these areas.
We have now heard from Lazarenko. What does the mayor have to say?
After all, this is no longer a North End problem...is it?
We wonder, if the Mayor's almost-five-year-old daughter had to witness people being murdered in front of her eyes, what would Sam Katz say to the Chief of Police?
Would he make a list?