Thursday, 9 April 2009

Shooting for zero

How many is it now? 21?

20 or 21, at least.

Vancouver 24 hours’ newspaper displayed Vancouver’s latest gun victim plainly on its website – you can still see it here, but be warned – if you don’t like photos of dead bodies, then you won’t like this. It’s not gruesome, it’s not gory, it’s quite simply a dead body lying on the pavement. But it’s quite striking.

That dead body belonged to a man who was alive just hours before this photo was taken early in the morning on Sunday, April 5th, 2009. He was gunned down at West 70th Avenue and Granville Street just before midnight on Saturday.

Now, he got involved in gangsterism, in drug tradeism, in wrong-trackism. That’s a fair way to put it.
And he ended up in ultimate price-ism.

It’s a tragedy, and there are far too many tragedies during this year 2009 for us to tolerate. Far too many.

We’ve had, as I said, about 20-21 gun murders all related to gangsterism and drugism, and about 50-odd shooting incidents.

In this post, I want to talk about comparisons. Earlier this week, Vancouver, our fair city of Vancouver, so often called the most beautiful city in the world, was pilloried in a story in Britain’s The Independent newspaper, on Sunday. You can read it here. Don’t have to read the whole thing, but go have a look and get an idea of what they’ve said about Vancouver.

They said we were named the best city in the world in which to live, but those halcyon days are over.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

That’s fine. It’s the reality of the situation. Besides, I have always been irked with the smugness of the idea that we call ourselves the best city and most beautiful city in the world. How dare we have the audacity to call ourselves that? Go take a walk. We are surrounded by homeless people. I can’t walk to work without someone asking me for money at least once. There is garbage everywhere. Down the hill, to the Downtown Eastside, there lies the great shame of our city’s existence, the poorest postal code in all Canada, the shithole of shitholes, the absolute worst slice of neighbourhood I’ve ever had the displeasure of witnessing.

Moreover, all this so-called beauty in Vancouver is tied to the mountains and the ocean. Our beautiful beaches. Our stunning blue waters. A slice of paradise on Canada’s west coast. It's all nature.

But how much of this did we contribute to? It’s not like we got together, put up scaffolding and built these beautiful mountains, and then found some water and transported it bucket by bucket to the edge of the city and created an ocean. No. This was all here already. And is it beautiful? Hell yes, it is.

But as we gaze out over the ocean, from the beach, our backs are to the city. As we gaze to the mountains, our line of sight soars OVER the city.

We are not looking INTO our city.

If we look into our city, we see dead bodies piling up because of a vicious gang war – which is absolutely tied into the drug trade, which brings the whole Downtown Eastside into the whole equation – all the junkies, addicts and whatnot feed the drug trade, while all the social drug users; yes, that includes you every time you shell out a few dollars for a marijuana joint – we all feed this drug trade. And when we feed this drug trade, we feed this problem. This mountain of problems which is growing larger than Cypress, Grouse and Seymour every day.

Our homicide rate is stunning right now. If we stick to this impressive rate of gun murders this year so far, then we’re headed for about 110-120 gun deaths in a region with just over 2 million people. I did a bit of math and learned that this works out to a rate of 0.0528 gun deaths per 1,000 people. Yes, it’s just for one urban area, and yes, it’s just for the span of three nauseatingly violent months, but still, to put it all into perspective, if we compare that number to a list of firearm murders per capita by country in Nationmaster, here, we are actually fourth best in the world when it comes to firearms murders per capita. Only South Africa, Colombia and Thailand are doing “better” than we are right now.

Side note – yes, I am aware that I’m talking about just one urban area and I am comparing this with entire countries. But I want to put it into perspective. The numbers I cited above show that our gun homicide rate is at epidemic proportions.

Now, on to Mayor Gregor Robertson. This is what he said about the Independent newspaper’s analysis of our city: "We are one of the safer cities in the world … If you look at Vancouver compared to major U.S. cities, we're nowhere near the level of violent crime we see south of the border."

Is he right? Of course he is.

Is he right to say this? No, he’s not.

Our Gregor is a smart man, but he disappointed me greatly when he said this. He effectively said to us that once we compare ourselves with other cities, then we aren’t doing so bad.

Does this mean that if our murder rate is small compared with New York City, then we’re doing absolutely fine?

Does this mean that if our car break-in rate is small compared with Johannesburg, then we’re OK?

Does this mean that if we have fewer rapes per year compared with Managua, then we’re gosh-darn-it doing pretty good?

My answer to all three questions is: Absolutely not.

We have to stop comparing ourselves with other cities. We have to stop saying we are more beautiful than other cities. The best city in the world for anyone is usually the town they live in. Even people in Baghdad love Baghdad and they wouldn’t live anywhere else, in spite of all the artillery going on.

And more importantly, we need to stop justifying our own crime rates, our own homicide rates by saying “Oh, at least we’re doing pretty good when we see that the U.S. is doing worse than we are.”

You know what? I don’t give a fuck if the U.S. is worse off than we are, homicide-wise.

When I see that photo of a dead young boy lying face down on the pavement in a gas station, I see something wrong.

I see something unacceptable.

Why? Because anything more than zero is unacceptable. We need to shift our thinking. Not because 2010 is coming. But because we are a collective, a co-operative of individuals living together in this city, and we need to work together to MAKE this city the best one in the world. Right now, it is not. The reason for that is because our murder rate is NOT zero. Our rape rate is NOT zero. Our assault rate is NOT zero. Our poverty rate, by and far, is not even close to zero.

Let’s stop staring at the mountains and ocean and proclaiming how great we are. Instead, let’s aim for something different. Let’s aim for ZERO.

Zero is what we should be aiming for, regardless of how we compare with other cities in this world.

Is this unreasonable? Sure, it can be unreasonable. But as one George Bernard Shaw said: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Mayor Gregor Robertson, by saying “If you look at Vancouver compared to major U.S. cities, we're nowhere near the level of violent crime we see south of the border," is being reasonable.

And that is not good enough, for him, or for anyone. We need to aim for zero, and nothing more than that. We need to be unreasonable.

If you doubt this, then look at the photo again here.

That is a mother’s son.

There are 20 or 21 other mothers' sons who were gunned down in similar fashion in the Lower Mainland this year.

Any questions?


Mike Stacey said...

Hey Keith, This is a very high number, for not only gun deaths, but murders all together this early in the year. I thought Edmonton had a lot of these careless acts of crap, but something is a-ragin' in Vancouver. Keep safe man!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. You've said what needed to be said and I hope that it makes some sort of difference.


Anonymous said...

Great presentation of a really sad story, and terrific resolution...

Anonymous said...

I really don't know what's happening back home, I just see the press here in Europe and squirm. Is Vancouver the best place to live in the world? Flat answer here... no chance man. It's not even the best place to live in BC! Anyhow, as you point out the location is stunning, but what is wrong with the way we are going as a society? It's not just the murders, hell that is just symptoms of the disease... it's the poverty, the smugness of big business and politics in BC, the growing disparity between those who have and those who haven't a chance... Zurich was once a real drug cesspool with serious, serious issues... heck I remember walking with the Real MacKenzie along the lakeside where needles were in plain sight... what did they do? Well, the city is now incredibly safe and largely free of issues of any kind. They embraced radical views of prostitution (legal, regulated and taxed), drugs (weed is all but legal, all others confined to red light districts which are heavily policed, not lawless), drug abuse (by bringing the druggies into one place, they knew where to go to reach them & offer clean drugs, clean needles, psychiatric care etc.) and most of all the raising of children (it is paramount here that parents have enough money and support to be at home with their kids and for the kids to have health care, food, schooling and their parents at home when needed.) If you throw in a minimum wage of 25 bucks an hour and a small business community that thrives regardless (more customers)... you have a place where i haven't seen a begger in years... or a homeless person. May not be paradise, but it sure could be a place for us to look at for some inspiration instead of gazing south for excuses!

Devon Perry