Edward Keenan: Hard to recognize Toronto amid rash of senseless violence
Some days, it can feel like the city you knew is slipping away.
Someone shooting two little girls, 5- and 9-year-old sisters, as they play in a playground after school will do it to you.
But it is the accumulation of details from news items — in the Star, on Newstalk 1010, on CBC — that really makes that bottomed-out grief feel suffocating: a sunny Thursday afternoon in June at the playground. School has let out for the day. Eleven kids climbing the familiar blue and red metal structure, rushing down the big yellow slides, doing after-school things in the shade of a couple of big trees. The jangling of an ice-cream truck comes and goes.
Then parents and neighbours in the surrounding townhouses hear what sound like popping sounds — like a hammer on a construction site or maybe like firecrackers. If only.
A man had opened fire on the playground from beyond a fence, apparently aiming at an adult who was also there among the children, squeezing off seven or more shots before fleeing into a waiting car. He left bullet holes in the fence. He left two little girls shot and wounded. He left a whole community shocked and terrified.
It’s the accumulation of details. And the accumulation of new items full of details.
Earlier Thursday, a man driving a pickup truck struck a 50-year-old woman on a motorcycle. He stopped and got out of the truck, police say, had a brief conversation, then got back in and sped away. The woman died of her injuries.
This week I heard about a meeting in my neighbourhood to discuss an incident near some local schools. A bunch of high school students — 17-year-olds, reportedly — had surrounded an elementary school student, unprovoked, and beat him, kicking and punching him until he was unconscious and bleeding. Some of them were recording it on video and sharing it around. The meeting, the high school principle wrote, was to deal with the “broader culture of violence and intimidation” in the school “community.”
What the hell kind of community is this, where such violence and cruelty and disregard for other people happen? What the hell kind of city is this? It is hard to recognize this place. It is hard to want to recognize it.
And what the hell can you do about it?
Moments like these seem to come from time to time, like a cold snap or a heat wave, to shake the whole city’s sense of home. Like when a young man shot up the Eaton Centre food court in 2012 and then a group of young men shot up a neighbourhood block party on Danzig St. the same year. Or when we learned that a serial killer had been preying on men in Toronto’s gay community for years. Or when a man terrorized and killed bystanders in a murderous rampage on Yonge St. earlier this year.
I admit that on days like this, my own immediate reaction is anger. Blind rage. An urgent longing for vengeance to be served on those responsible. And then, as the fire of that emotion burns through me, deep sadness. Grief that this is part of this city I live in and love, this is part of this world. All the time, not just when I hear about it. Not just when it happens near my own home. Not just when it strikes children roughly the same ages as my own.
What the hell can you do about it?
The followup items were quick — and brought somewhat better news. The two young girls were in stable condition in the hospital. A suspect in the shooting was arrested Friday. A suspect in the hit-and-run had been arrested and arraigned by Friday morning. The school the bullies attended had called in the police, charges had been laid, an expulsion was recommended, they held a meeting determined to change things.
Good news, all of it, that does not undo the bad news. Deep wounds that are opened in a moment take a long time to heal, if they ever can heal.
At times like these, it is hard to recall — or to care — that Toronto is among the very safest cities in the world.
It is hard to recall — or think it is relevant — that this is the same city where you’ve been invited to join impromptu parties by families of strangers at the beach, where you’ve seen groups of people band together suddenly to find hotel rooms for the homeless in the cold, where you’ve joined sing-a-longs in bars and joyous celebratory parades in the road. Where you’ve made neighbours into friends and worked with those around you to build a community. To remember the education system, the standard of living, the parks and restaurants and arts organizations and community amenities, the everyday acts of kindness and everything else big and small that make this, on most days, among the best places in the world to live.
To remember, that is, the accumulation of details that have made this home.
On days like this, I don’t know what the hell to do about it. I don’t know how to turn those feelings of anger and sadness into something useful. Except to hold those around me a bit tighter — as people always say — and to demand those in power pursue justice. And to remember that it is an accumulation of details that made this a happy place to live, and an accumulation of details that have shaken that happiness.
So that I may ensure the details my own actions are contributing are pushing the balance back in the right direction. On days like this, and every day.
Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire