Montreal Gangs Following in the Footsteps of LA Gangs?
It had been less than a week since I left Los Angeles when the police officers accused of beating Rodney King were acquitted by a jury mostly composed of whites. The date was April 29th 1992; I was 18 at the time.
A couple of months earlier, my friend Fred and I had run away from home and bought a one-way bus ticket from Montreal to El-Paso, which we eventually extended to San-Diego. But our first stop in California was Los Angeles. After stepping out of the Greyhound bus station, we wandered south towards the Santa Monica freeway, and soon realized this was not a place for backpacking teenagers. Even as we walked towards the downtown area on 6th street, we could feel, and see, the presence of gangs everywhere. Those were really rough times.
After a few weeks of camping out on the beach in SoCal, we hitched a ride to San Francisco with a group of three Five-Percent Nation types who were heading to Eugene, Oregon. Brother B Wildflower was heading up there to reunite with his child's mother, trading away L.A's urban landscape for the lush greenery of the Northwest. The two other guys, Beau-Sage and Ko, were just tagging along for the ride. Fred stopped in San Francisco, but I pushed all the way to Eugene with the rest of the crew.
A day or two after we made it to our destination, Ko and I were invited to a house party with a couple friends, a native dreadlock named Corey and a wigger whose name I don't recall. This was April 29. Upon Corey's suggestion, we took a shortcut through an alley. Soon, we encountered a large black man who was washing his sports car and really looked like an NFL linebacker in his L.A. Raiders jacket. The wigger took it upon himself to strike a conversation with this man and bragged about his first hand experience of L.A.'s gang ridden neighbourhoods. The black man accused him of lying and, soon enough, started swinging at the wigger. He missed, pulled out a knife, and started chasing us down the alley. I don't think I ever ran as fast in my entire life. Not surprising so many talented athletes come from the inner city.
It was only later that night, on the news, that I found out what had happened in Los Angeles. The repercussions of the Rodney King Uprising were felt all over the West Coast, from San Diego to Seattle.
Montreal-North Has a Riot of Its Own
Fifteen years later, the residents of Montreal-North decided they had had enough of police brutality, and started a riot of their own. On April 9th 2008, 18 year old Fredy Villanueva was shot to death by police officer Jean-Loup Lapointe, in what many considered to be a case of police brutality. The incident caused a riot that was reminiscent of the Watt's Riots and the Rodney King Uprising in Los Angeles.
Montreal-North, was set ablaze, although no actual deaths were reported. The trial that ensued caused a heated public debate between members of the black community, politicians, the police force and the judiciary concerning ways to improve the situation. According to Stephanie Pilotte, Lapointe's partner, gang activity in the area had made it increasingly difficult for them to do their job (Montgomery).
The fact is that street gangs have been very present in the East end of Montreal for the past twenty years and overall criminal activity in Montreal is fairly stable. Since most of the leaders of the Hells Angels were sent to jail in 2002, street gangs have been under the media eye. In 2008, the Eclipse tactical squad was created to intensify the fight against crime. Its officers are trained specifically for dealing with street gangs. Leaders of the black community have criticized this move, claiming it only serves to increase repression and racial profiling.
The question is, how benign or malign
is the Montreal street gang problem? The answer is not simple. While Pie-IX
blvd stands as a very real division between Blue and Red territories, the
actual number of official major gang members is relatively low, between 300 and
500 members (Larouche 2006). On the other hand, for some, there is real danger
in crossing the Pie-IX line. Severe beatings are frequent. Being from the other
side of the line is often the only criteria, not only gang affiliation.
The gangs under the Red banner,
affiliated with the Bloods, stand east of Pie-IX blvd ( 2006), occupying the
eastern point of the island, an area which includes Montreal-North,
Rivière-des-Prairies, Anjou, Pointe-au-Trembles and Tétreauville. The Blues,
affiliated with the Crips, occupy St-Michel, Pie-Ix, Rosemont, Villeray,
Ahuntsic and Park Extension. The affiliations with the Bloods and the Crips are
real. But how similar or different are these crews to their American siblings?
To answer this question fully, we will have to compare the origins of these gangs. In both cases, the phenomena started with relatively harmless black youth gangs that were compelled to fight against white repression. Master B rose up against skinheads and Neo-Nazis in Montreal, while LA gangs rose against a racist police force. The major difference lies in the scale of things. For example, there are nowhere near as many murders committed in Montreal as in major American cities. Although the well established presence of the Bloods and the Crips in Montreal is a sign that street gangs are a problem that needs to be dealt with, the situation is nowhere near as bad as in Los Angeles where street intervention organizations, like Unity One and Kush, are turning gang bangers into college graduates and community leaders, with support and funding from prestigious organizations such as USC.
If a city like Los Angeles, where the Bloods and the Crips originated, can find creative and effective solutions to its gang problem, I truly can't see why Montreal couldn't do the same, particularly when for most here, being part of a gang is mostly the expression of a quest for identity born from exclusion.
The Advent of the Crips
The Bloods and the Crips arose from the streets of Los Angeles. Their emergence is the result of a long series of historical events that lead up to the gang wars that still rage today. In order to better understand the reasons why these gangs came into existence, a brief overview of these events is necessary. For this document, most of the historical background concerning the Bloods and Crips inL.A.was provided by Stacy Peralta's critically acclaimed documentary, Bloods and Crips, Made in America.
The Watts Riots
After WW2, during what is known as the Second Great Migration (wiki), approximately 5 million Afro-Americans migrated from the South to the Midwest, the Northeast and the West after WW2. Out of this number, thousands moved to Los Angeles to work in factories. They were allured by the prospect of a new world full of promise, a new world, where blacks didn't ride in the back of the bus, and where dreams are made, California.
In LA, they found better homes and better jobs, much like the Haitians did when they first came to Canada. A thriving new West Coast jazz movement was born. But real estate developers confined black families to a carefully delineated corridor of land, in the South Central part of Los Angeles. The police patrolled the borders of this zone, making sure blacks did not enter the gentrified " white" areas. It is during this period that major black "clubs" were formed. These clubs, similar to gangs, were mostly based on prestige and social rivalry, involving a lot of fistfights over girls: mostly harmless and not very criminalized.
Throughout the 50s and the 60s, police brutality increased in Los Angeles, blacks were frequently pulled over for no apparent reason. Arbitrary arrests became a common occurrence. On August 11, 1965, Marquette Frye was pulled over by police officer Lee Minikus for drunk driving, in the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Watts.
Marquette was indeed under the influence, but the problems began when Minikus refused to let Marquette's brother, Ronald, drive the car home and decided to have it impounded instead. A scuffle broke out. Soon, onlookers started getting involved, and violence escalated into what is now known as the Watts Riots (wiki). The black population of Watts had decided it had had enough. Now, they were fighting with sticks and stones, with the rubble of the very buildings in which they had been confined. Hostilities carried on for five days, before the Coast Guard and the LA police force were able to suppress the angry mob.
The Civil Rights Movement
By the time the Watts riots occurred, Afro-American inhabitants of Los Angeles had already completely lost the hope that had originally attracted them to California. The auto factories that had allowed so many families to enjoy a decent standard of living, were now shutting down one after another, a situation much worse than what Montreal is facing today, especially since the current recession is affecting almost everyone, not just visible minorities.
Confronted with these problems, and also with the necessity to rebuild the community, local leaders started to promote such ideas as "racial pride and the creation of black political and cultural institutions, to nurture and promote black collective interests and advance black values, as opposed to multiculturalism"(wiki). This movement was better known as the Black Power movement, lead by the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers. This movement gave new life to black communities across the United States. New businesses were born, houses were rebuilt, community organisms were created, but mostly importantly, the black youth now had role-models to look up to. But this movement was also perceived as a threat by the authorities, particularly since it promoted self-defence in the face of oppression.
By the end of the 1960s, most of the important figures of the Black Power movement had either been assassinated or imprisoned, as part of a covert FBI operation, lead by none other than J. Edgar Hoover. At the time, the Black Power movement was labelled by the FBI as the number threat to America (Peralta).
The Early Seventies
The next generation of Afro-Angelinos
was born into the failure of the Black Power movement: without role models with
which to inspire itself from, with no points of reference and no jobs, except
possible enrollment in the army, which, at the time, meant being sent being sent
off to Vietnam. By the early 70s, all of the auto industry factories of South
Los Angeles had disappeared (Peralta). This is the hopeless scenario in which
the next generation was born into. Is this from this sterile soil that the
Crips arose, lead by Raymond Washington and Tookie Williams. Originally
Washington, who was 15 at the time, had created a gang called The Baby Avenues
in an attempt to emulate the older clubs and to promote the ideals of the Black
Panthers. But his lack of political knowledge caused him to fail miserably. The
gang later renamed itself the Avenue Cribs. It was only when a Los Angeles
showed a picture of Cribs sporting canes, and spelt the name Crips instead of
the Cribs, that term "Crip" came into existence. Williams founded his own gang
called the Westside Crips. Washington and Williams tried to spread their
"message" by convincing other gangs to join them. But, because of Washington's
lack of credibility, other gangs became increasingly resistant to the Crips,
who in turn began targeting rival gangs with daily acts of violence. The Crip
tide started making its way across the Los Angeles valley, leaving terror in
What this meant, in actual fact, was that street gangs of South Los Angeles were uniting under one massive front, to better control the drug territory. But it also meant one gang was becoming increasingly more powerful than all the others, which made it difficult for other gangs not to become part of it.
One of the gangs that avoided being engulfed by the Crip tide was the Piru street gang. Along with Brims, Black P Stone and other neighbourhood gangs, they began to fight the Crips. This is alliance would eventually come to be known as the Bloods. The conflict between these two alliances is the same one that still goes on today. All of this began in the early seventies.
The Bloods did not only fight to defend themselves against the Crips. Pretty soon their alliance grew, and they began to compete with the Crips for new territory. In this process, the East Coast Bloods became very powerful, taking over major cities and penitentiaries and prisons all over the East Coast, including Riker's Island. Throughout the seventies, the fighting increased, weapons proliferated, and towards the end of the decade, crack made its appearance.
By the eighties and the nineties, the second and the third generation of Bloods and Crips were born into a war that had already lost its meaning. In the 40 years this war has lasted, it has claimed more than 15 000 lives, more than the conflict between the Catholic and the Protestants in Northern Ireland (Luhrrsen). Today, the Red and Blue banners have spread across the United-States and Canada.
The Inception Street Gangs of Montreal
Montreal's first black street gang, Master B, was created in the 1980s by Beauvoir Jean, aka Maître Beauvoir (Master B), as a reaction against racist skinhead and neo-Nazi gangs, which were fairly prevalent at the time:
"At the beginning, I didn't create a gang. When I first came to Montreal in 1980, it was very racist. We, the blacks, were a minority. We really couldn't move around and do what we wanted because the whites would rough us up. When we went to school, they would hit us. The Master B, we were like a group of defensive knights. " (Elkouri)
This gang, mostly composed of Haitian Canadians, quickly turned into a criminal street gang involved in prostitution, drug trade, extortion and robbery. It spread throughout Montreal North, St-Leonard and Rivière-des-Prairies. Basically, the eastern point of the island, including Anjou, Pointe-Aux-Trembles and Tétreauville (Larouche 2006). Things happened much faster than in the Los Angeles in the fifties and the sixties, although on a much smaller scale. However, according to Gerald Ducheine, who grew up in Montreal-North, the perception in the community, to this day, that the Master-B's have always remained protective towards the members of their own community, and never caused them any harm. They also gave Montreal-North its "gangsta" reputation, which may have had some benefits, in terms of safety, and in terms of criminal prosperity, but also has had its negative side effects, for example, scaring away the public as well as business owners: economic conditions have constantly deteriorated in Montreal-North since the 1980s (Toussaint). After an important trial involving members of the Master-B gang in 1992, ex-members stopped using the name, to avoid unwanted attention from the police.
The Bo-Gars, a street gang, which is still very much active today (Cherry), also originated from Montreal-North. But originally the Bo-Gars were not gangsters; they were just kids fighting in the chool yard. Gerald Ducheine was one of these kids:
"Bo-Gars was the name of a game we invented in the school yard. It was basically a fight club, in which team members rotated. One day someone was in your gang, the next day he was your enemy, and if you didn't watch yourself, you might just get punched really hard in the back, or something of the sorts. But it wasn't a criminal gang of any sort, just kids play fighting. The name Bo-Gars basically meant the guys were part of the fight club were the good looking guys in school. So basically, most of the young bucks of Montreal-North were Bo-Gars of sorts. But at some point, a small pocket of the kids grew up, and started committing robberies, identifying themselves as Bo-Gars. Needless to say, the game stopped. This was in the early nineties. Chénier Dupuys was the first person to assume leadership of this gang."
The Master-Bs remained very active during the early nineties, and the budding Bo-Gars acted as their soldiers. They were the younger generation. Throughout the nineties, internal conflicts between Master-Bs and Bo-Gars frequently erupted. It was the classic case of the pupil trying to overtake the master, in this case, Master-B. During this period, the gangs of Montreal-North and Rivière-des-Prairie began to reap palpable benefits from their notoriety, extending their influence to areas of Laval and the South Shore.
The neighbourhoods west of Montreal-North, St-Michel and Pie-IX, also contained a fairly large Haitian community, that, for the most part, lived in difficult economic conditions. They also contained gangs which were smaller, less organized and didn't enjoy the notoriety of the Bo-Gars and Master-B, the best known being CDP (Crack Down Posse). During the mid nineties, in an effort to rival the Bo-Gars and Master-B, the gangs of St-Michel, Pie-IX, Rosemont and Ahuntsic formed an alliance called "les Bleus", inspiring themselves from the Crips, and also referring to the subway line that ends at St-Michel, the Blue line. It is only at this point that Montreal gangs began to resemble those ofL.A.The "Blues", also made themselves known through particularly vicious initiation rituals, like random drive-by shootouts.
Another fact that deserves attention is
that these gangs were not only black street gangs, but also included Latino
gangs such MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha). At first, the affiliation with the Blue
colour was only symbolic, once again, as part of an effort to rival the
reputation of the Bo-Gars, who in turn adopted the Red colour, much like the
Bloods who refused to become part of the Crip alliance. Latino also gangs also
became part of this alliance.
It was only in the late nineties that actual affiliations with the Bloods and Crips became real. It is also during this period that the Hells Angels began supplying the Blue alliance with drugs, a very significant alliance, which obviously did not favour the Bo-Gars. The factors that lead to this are complex and somewhat mysterious: jail affiliations, family ties in other cities like Toronto and New-York, criminal ties through other criminal organizations like the Hells Angels. For example, it is a fairly accepted that American Bloods and Crips that get deported out of the United-States have always been accepted by their Canadian cousins. Yet according to Gerald Ducheine, it is also fairly common, and accepted, for deported American Crips to be greeted by family that lives in a Red area, such as Montreal-North, and for them to change sides, and vice-versa.
Since the mid nineties, the two sides have been competing for territory, the Blue alliance having easier access to the lucrative downtown area, and traditionally having closer ties to the Hells Angels. The Bloods traditionally had ties with the Rock Machines, the Hells sworn enemy. When the Hells Angels won their war against the Rock Machines, it was a hard blow to the Red alliance. But the Bloods maintained their territory and their activities.
Boyz II Men
In the late nineties, veterans from the Blue side formed a new gang very closely affiliated with the Hells Angels and took over the entire downtown area. Strangely, their leader, Gregory Wooley, was a former Bo-Gars. Wooley was also the first black person In Canada to become a fully patched member of the Hells Angels. He was a member of the Nomads, a Hells Angels chapter, before becoming the leader of this new gang.
The shady Syndicate dealt with gangs on both sides of Pie-IX and did the Hells Angels' dirty work, facilitating distribution of drugs all over the island, and overseeing prostitution rings. They were basically an intermediate that allowed the Hells Angels to control the divided Blue and Red alliances. In return The Hells offered them Police protection, drugs and exclusive control of the bars in the downtown area.
The Syndicate's unspoken goal was to supersede the bikers and the Mafia. The struggle had become more complex, it was now Red, Blue, and White.
While the downtown area remains Blue to
this day, the Bloods lived on, reinforcing their influence all over the Laval
area. Over time the downtown area became the playground of rich gangsters who
began acquiring legitimate businesses all over the downtown area, particularly
strip bars. Profitability progressively became more important than clan
loyalty, at least for the downtown area.
Nowadays, while younger gang members are willing to risk their life to defend their colours, veteran members of the Blue and Red alliances, also known as OGs (Original Gangsters), are often seen mingling and doing business together in bars all over the city: "One thing is for sure, lately, we see more and more members of both alliances together, they seem to be chatting and to get along just fine. It is bringing us to think there is an evolution, says Sgt detective James Paixao, a street gang expert" (Larouche 2010). One example of this is the Temptation strip bar on Ste-Catherine street, where members of both alliances were often seen discussing with mobsters and bikers (Larouche 2010). The bar is officially owned by Joseph Vallera, whom the police believed to be acting as a straw man for Richard Goodridge, who is in conflict with Ducarme Joseph for the leadership of the 67's, an important gang in the Blue alliance. Ever since Goodridge's men tried to assassinate Ducarme Joseph in 2010, and killed two of his bodyguards in the process, the Police have feared retaliation, and decided to shut down the Temptation. Particularly since Joseph tried to have Goodridge killed earlier that same year. Since, pressured by the police, Vallera has agreed to cease his activities and shut down the bar.
Ducarme Joseph owns 1.3 million dollar house in the west end, as well as 5 cars, including a Lamborghini, a Bentley, a Mercedes and a Land Rover.
This goes to show the volatility of the current picture, and how allegiances can be fleeting in this context. Nowadays, it seems the Red and Blue banners are mostly used as a recruiting device for the young (Larouche 2010). Veterans are concerned with profits and power.
In the new millennium, with a high number of Mafioso's and Hells Angels being jailed, such as Mom Boucher and Vito Rizutto, and a good number of them simply getting old, the balance of power in the Canadian criminal world is shifting from the Mafia and the Hells Angels to affiliated black street gangs. On November 10th 2010, mafia godfather Nicolo Rizzuto was shot and killed in his own home. But no one really knows who did it.
Where to Go from Here: The Situation
Before resounding an alarmist cry, it is important to note, that even though street gang activity has increased in Canada, while it has declined over the same period of time in the United-States, the murder rate South of the Border still remains twice as high as in Canada. The combined precincts Brooklyn North and Brooklyn reported a total of 222 murders for the year 2010 (City of New York), compared to 37 for the city of Montreal during the same period of time. The gap is, indeed, enormous.
Yet, exclusion and the economic gap between the boroughs of Montreal is very real. According to census, in 1981, 72% percent of immigrants were employed, which was slightly more than residents born in Canada (Toussaint). By 2001 that number had dropped to 60%, while the percentage of employed residents born in Canada increased to 82.4%. Furthermore, in 1981 the average salary for an immigrant was $39 400. By 2001, that figure had dropped to $31 000. In Montreal-North, 38% of the population lives in poverty (29% in Montreal) and 25% of families depend on government support (Toussaint). In many ways we have to consider ourselves lucky Montreal's street gang problem is as benign as it is, or so it seems.
Even though its murder rate is very low, Montreal remains Canada's undisputed sex capital. Strip bar can be found everywhere, with practices often bordering on prostitution. In downtown Montreal, businessmen and tourist spend large amounts of money in strip bars on a daily basis. This is a state of things, which is tolerated by a majority of the population. Yet, in recent years, street gangs have been buying businesses all over the downtown area. A large proportion of the money which is being spent in strip bars, and on prostitutes as well, is going directly into the pockets of rich gang members. The strip bars are also a major outlet for the sale of cocaine.
Stella, is a non profit organization that promotes the safety of sex industry workers, and works to help them on a case by case basis. I called to get their impressions on the ties between sex industry workers and street gangs in Montreal. The response that I got is that they didn't know, even though spend a lot of time working in strip bar dressing rooms: "The girls that are controlled by gangs don't open up to us, either out of loyalty or fear. It's impossible to get any numbers because prostitution rings are very organized, and very secretive."
I truly believe that the only way to prevent the proliferation of street gangs is to begin in primary school through mentor-ship programs. Education is the way out. It is much cheaper and accessible in Canada than it is in the United States. In order for mentor-ship to be possible, we need to involve reformed ex-gang members in this process, as most young gang members won't trust anybody else, particularly someone who is not from the community itself. These children need to be kept busy something else than committing crime and they also need positive role models, not just Luck Merville. Montreal doesn't have its Barack Obama or its Kobe Bryant, but we need people like George Laraque to step up more than they have so far. We also have to create a viable media outlet for the local Hip-Hop scene, such as a commercial radio station. We also need to invest more funds in local sports leagues and social programs; we need more social workers and police officers working in their own neighbourhoods.
The Police force needs to be more representative of visible minorities. It is also important not to specifically target visible minorities with police repression.
Ironically, I was conducting a phone interview Gerald Ducheine, who has been working at CIBC's credit department for seven years, when he told me the police had been tailing for a few minutes before I could get hold him. Yet, Gerald is an upstanding citizen and a good father. He is in no way a criminal. But this goes to show how disconnected the police are from the reality it's dealing with.
Street gangs and communities are two entirely different entities, and an increasing number of youths from diverse backgrounds have now become part of the gang picture, including native French Canadians, Arabs and Italians. While repression is obviously necessary for hardened criminals, prevention and socio-economic empowerment will definitely be more effective with youth gangs in economically depressed areas, such as St-Michel.
When Stephanie Pilotte testified gang activity had increased in Montreal-North to the point where it became difficult to do her work, perhaps it's because she should never have been sent there in the first place because her knowledge of the areas cultural fabric was too limited for her to be able to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. In other words, it's not because someone is dresses in Hip-Hop gear from head to toe that he or she is in a gang....Beauvoir Jean is one illustrious ex-gangster who decided to become part of the solution by joining the team of social workers at le Café-Jeunesse Multiculturel, a community outreach center where he organizes activities, sports teams and also acts as a gang intervention specialist. When I tried to obtain an appointment with him, I felt a certain amount of suspiciousness on the part of the receptionist, as if I could have been an investigator of some sort. In the DVD Bloods and Crips, Made in America, gang members who seem to feel any attempt to solve the problem is an attack against Black people and an attempt to crack down on gangs convey that attitude.
There is a lot of truth in that because there are no easy solutions to this problem, and a lot of people just don't want it to affect them. As well, any information, which is obtained, might actually incriminate those who share it. At one point, this type of investigation becomes police work, and the Police might not be willing to share this information either. That is why it is so important for people who are trusted in their communities and who are to obtain the trust of gang members, to be part of the process: "You really have to go get those who are in the street, who are part of gangs, says Beauvoir. Me, the advantage I have, is that they know me all. I was with them. It's easier for me. If they see someone else approaching, they'll say: Hey!! It's the police or an undercover agent!" (Elkouri).
Gerald, who worked as a social worker in St-Michel feels that the social service network isn't adapted to the needs of the communities and to its particular context. For example, Gerald is a well-known member of the Montreal-North community. Yet, as a social worker he was assigned to a gang ridden area of St-Michel, posing an increased risk to his security. People that are in tune with these communities need to be part of the planning as well as the groundwork itself. In this light, it is my opinion that the government should invest more funds into the development of social programs so that they are more adapted to the specific needs of these communities.
Another major obstacle is unemployment, which is rampant in Montreal, at 9.7%. It does not only affect members of ethnic communities. Without credentials and lots of experience, it has become increasingly difficult to find decent work in this city. Salaries have not followed the increasing cost of living. Most of the work, which is available for unskilled labour, is in the service industry, more specifically in customer service. Montreal is the uncontested customer service champion in Canada. Why? Because so many people are bilingual and it is mandatory for Canadian enterprises to have customer service in both official languages. This is what protects the jobs of a large number of people in this city, and prevents their jobs from being outsourced to foreign countries. It is also my case. Over the years, many of the laws that protected the labour conditions in this sector were modified, with the consequences that schedules are unpredictable and the workload is constantly increasing.
This prospect is not very appealing to youths who sometimes see their parents working long hours and being unable to conduct conventional family lives. Kids with absent parents are often those who join gangs, in an endeavour to be part of a community or a family. Others simply don't see any future in honest hard work, except for a mediocre mind-numbing existence. On the other hand, the opportunity for rapid gain through gang activity is very real and very alluring. The sad part is that these youths, who still have the opportunity to get good education, fall into the "gangsta" train of thought. The appeal is magnified by the fact the number of gang related deaths in Montreal is very low compared to a city like LA. Jail sentences are much shorter than in the United-States. The risk is not very high. Except the risk of going to jail, usually for a short amount of time, which is a consequence many are willing to accept in exchange for quick, easy cash. Beauvoir Jean illustrates this state of things very well: "If you try to tell him that crime is not good, he will answer: "As far as I'm concerned, up until now, it's working out for me, I have my money, I have my ride." Until the day he gets arrested and goes to jail...Then he will understand. When you make quick cash, you always think it's so easy. But that money, you never have it for long" (Elkouri).
Perhaps we should inspire ourselves
from Unity One, a L.A. foundation that employs ex-gang members in its street
intervention teams. Founded in 1992 by ex-gang member Bo Taylor, shortly after
the Rodney King riots, Unity One promotes autonomous economic development as
well as social reinsertion. In August 2011, Taylor passed away after a long
battle against cancer. He will always be remembered as the man who championed
the West Sides Cease-Fire Agreement. Unity One's current executive director,
Cornell Ward, spent most of his youth involved with activities that led to the
demise of his community. Thus, his athletic talents, ease for sports and
coaching, has given him a vehicle to send over 700 youth to Division I, Division
I AA, Division II, Division III, and NAIA schools around the country. Although
Unity One is the most important entity of its type in the Los Angeles area, it
isn't the only one. Other organization such as Kush, Great Beginnings for Black
Babies, and a Better L.A., to name a few, work in close collaboration with
Unity One. For example, a Better L.A., founded by USC football coach Pete
Carroll, collaborated with Unity One to create Moonlight Basketball, a league
that features players from South Central Los Angeles. Here is a brief overview
of the services Unity One offers (list taken from the Unity One web site):
Community passage to peace
Unity One provides Community Conflict Resolution, Crisis Intervention and Social Services to over 150 individuals and families daily through the Community Passage to Peace project. In collaboration with the Federal Probation Department in Inglewood, the Community Re-entry program currently facilitates 16 weeks for both male and female ex-offenders returning back into the community.
In collaboration with Los Angeles City Council Member Herb Wesson of the 10th District, Project Save offers a cross town inter neighbourhood sports league. This mechanism restores healthy physical activity while developing strong community ties.
Niche leadership skills curriculum
Unity One's 10 lesson Niche Leadership Skill Curriculum widens organizational professional ability to build sound, harmoniou s relationships with self, others and in a variety of social conditions and effectively solve problems.
Since 2006 crime has gone down by 8% in Los Angeles. Between 1993 and 2008, the murder rate in the city has gone down for 21.1 per 100 000, to 9.6 per 100 000: an astonishing decrease. In January 2011, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced there were 297 homicides in Los Angeles in 2010, a huge drop from the more than 1,000 slayings in 1992, and the lowest number since 1967 (Del Barco). Unfortunately, the fact that so many people are being sent to jail in the U.S. has a lot to do with these numbers. But it remains my firm belief, that foundations like Unity One have had a profound impact on their communities.
Just like Chicago, New York and L.A.
The youth in Montreal have not been hardened by slavery and racism like Afro-Americans have. More murders are often committed in one zip code in a week than in the entire year in Montreal. There are often no businesses other liquor stores. There is no comparison. If these cities were able to drastically reduce gang violence, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to do the same thing here, in Montreal, by developing mentor-ship programs, sports teams, by hiring social workers adapted to the gang environment, by promoting autonomous economic development in these areas and by making the police force more representative of Montreal's visible minorities.
In order to avoid any other Fredy Villanueva's to get killed, it is important to distinguish hardened criminals from youth gangs, who do not pose a significant threat. What we do have to avoid is for children to be recruited in a war, which benefits a small group of greedy adults. We need to offer these kids to possibility to achieve greatness, without compromising their humanity.
Cherry, Paul. Bo-Gars gang just won't go away, globalmontreal.com, The Gazette: Wednesday (2011).
This article relates ongoing Bo-Gars activity.
City of New York, Crime Statistics, nyc.gov, 2011.
Del Barco, Mandalit, L.A.homicide rate lowest in four years, npr.org,April 15 2011.
Atircle that discussesL.A.declining crime rate.
Elkouri, Rima Elkouri. De Bo-Gars à Bon Gars, cyberpresse.ca (2008).
Interview with Beauvoir Jean, ex-Master B gang leader.
Handfield, Catherine. Une photo montre les Villanueva faisant des signes de gang, cyberpresse.ca (2010).
Article which discusses the Villanueva's ties to street gangs.
Heisz , Andrew. Le Canada et ses villes mondiales :
Conditions socio-économiques à Montréal, Toronto et Vancouver,
This articles provides hard numbers for criminal activity in Canadian cities.
Larouche, Vincent. Les gangs de rue se partagent Montréal, canoe.ca (2006).
This article provides information on gang territories.
Larouche, Vincent. Gangs de rue : des gros noms des Bleus et des Rouges main dans la main, ruefrontenac.com, 2010.
Lotfi , Mohamed. L'autre face cachée des gangs de rue..., ledevoir.com (2006).
Real life testimonies from ex-gang members.
Lortie,Marie-Claude. Le Bronx? Pas encore, cyberpresse.ca (2009)
Lortie comparesMontreal's gang problem with that of American cities.
Luhrssen, David, Crips and Bloods, expressmilwaukee.com, 2009.
Montgomery, Sue. Montreal North like the Bronx, cop says at Villanueva inquest, www.montrealgazette.com (2009).
Article in which Montreal police officers compare Montreal-North to the Bronx
Mourani, Maria. Gangs de rue inc. Leurs réseaux au Canada
et dans les Amériques, www.editions-homme.com (2009)
Information on gangs in Canadian penitentiaries
Myles, Brian. Bleus, Blancs, Rouges, Noirs, ledevoir.com (2006)
Article that reviews new alliances between enemy gangs.
Myles, Brian. Les Noirs dans l'oeil de la police, www.ledevoir.com (2010)
Article that reviews police racial profiling.
Popovic, Alexandre. Série : Un an après les émeutes de Montréal-Nord (2ème partie) De la stigmatisation à la rébellion, www.cmaq.net (2009)
In depth analysis along the lines of my research paper.
Rodriguez, Patrice, Fontanet, Jean-Marc. Étude sur les besoins et les aspirations
des résidants de l'îlot Pelletier aruc-es.uqam.ca (2009).
Socio-political analysis of the îlot Pelletier neighbourhood in Montreal-North
Santerre, David. Gang de rue: un vétéran coriace attend sa sentence, ruefrontenac.com (2010).
Interview with Beauvoir Jean
Claudel Toussaint. L'évolution démographique locale et le développement
de politiques publiques et de programmes:
La situation de Montréal-Nord, www.metropolis2010.net (2010)
In-depth socio-economic analysis of the Montreal-North area.
Touzin, Caroline. Gangs de rue: confessions d'un tueur, www.cyberpresse.ca (2010)
Article on Ziad, a reformed gang member whose story was written by street gang expert Vincent Larouche. Ziad is serving a life sentence for murder.