Skip to comments.Fear, Death Rule 'Doomstown' (The Jamaican Gangs of Toronto--Long)
Posted on 01/18/2003 8:46:52 AM PST by Loyalist
Fear, death rule 'Doomstown'
Christie Blatchford National Post
Leon Boswell is accused of second-degree murder in the June 15, 2001, murder of ...
Reid was shot to death in Toronto's Jamestown neighbourhood, a.k.a. "Doomstown," where graffiti testifies to the ongoing battle between different segments of the Crips gang.
CREDIT: Carlo Allegri, National Post
Wayne Reid, 26, was shot to death in front of this Jamestown complex on June 15, 2001. Police allege the murder was the result of a bloody gang battle that has raged since 2000.
CREDIT: Carlo Allegri, National Post
Police say Jamestown is among North American communities that have fallen victim to Jamaican gangsters, whose modus operandi is to recruit local young people.
Crosses decked out in Crips bandanas memorialize two victims of gang violence in Jamestown.
TORONTO - See and blind; hear and deaf: These are the six words central to knowing the dark heart of the murder trial of Leon Boswell, the toxic world out of which he emerged, and the dirty little secret, a tiny slice of the nation's largest city, that is sometimes called Doomstown.
The phrase was born in Jamaica -- fittingly, for Mr. Boswell's case is rife with Jamaican influences and references -- out of the Rude Boy gangster thuggery so pervasive there it led one of its native sons, British author Geoff Small, to write that violent crime is to the small, warm island of his birth "what gambling is to Hong Kong: a cultural institution."
The term refers explicitly to the widespread refusal of Jamaicans to tell police what they know of the mayhem that routinely explodes on their streets, often under their very noses: They see, but feign blindness; they hear, but affect deafness.
The phenomenon is already alarmingly entrenched here, with the same consequences -- a small segment of the citizenry so enmeshed in the violence themselves they cannot talk to police, a much larger one so fearful of violent retribution they dare not, the result that the gangsters are in the modern lexicon "empowered," murders go unsolved and the entire vicious cycle escalates inexorably.
At the trial of Mr. Boswell, the testimony of one reluctant witness was actually interrupted, and then deemed valueless, after a moving last-minute admission to Toronto Police in which the witness -- describing threats to "be careful what I say, keep my mouth shut, or else" as well as the dangers and utter bleakness of life in Doomstown -- wept softly and whimpered throughout a 45-minute videotaped statement.
A close relative, whose statement was also taped, confirmed what the witness said, with the added fillip that he had learned the witness was going to be subpoena-ed by Mr. Boswell's lawyer to come to court before the subpoena was even delivered -- evidence of the efficacy of the criminal grapevine and the menace it poses to the integrity of the justice system.
The videotaped interviews left the lawyers who saw them shaken, and Ontario Court Justice David McCombs plainly stricken.
"My heart goes out to the witness," he said late last month, sorrow creasing his long, gentle face. "No one should have to go through what this person went through."
The jurors in Mr. Boswell's trial, who midday yesterday trooped off to begin their deliberations after about five weeks of evidence, were themselves -- deliberately if defensibly -- rendered blind and deaf as a function of pre-trial rulings from Judge McCombs that saw mention of Mr. Boswell's membership in a violent Crips' crew, the ongoing gang war that infuses the background to this case, and even the word "gang" banned.
Indeed, shortly before jury selection began last November, prosecutor Laura Bird had to carefully excise from her cardboard file boxes, which she kept beneath and behind her counsel table, all labels that read "Gang Evidence," lest the jurors catch a glimpse of what came to be called, in their frequent absences, "the G word."
Though Judge McCombs ultimately concluded he had to exclude the gang evidence -- deeming it ruinous to Mr. Boswell's right to a fair trial, he allowed jurors to hear only euphemistic explanations of "the cultural values of a high-crime urban area" -- he himself worried the subject like a dog on a bone.
With the jurors safely out of the room, he frequently fretted they were getting a "sanitized" version of events, just as at the pre-trial, he once told Mr. Boswell's lawyer, Paul Slansky, "I guess what I'm concerned about is that if the jury goes off to deliberate without a clue about -- let me just take a minute to find the language -- without a clue about what matters in this subculture, then without expert explication about how the subculture works, there is the danger that your client will be acquitted not because the evidence doesn't support conviction, but because the jury was left in the dark about how the subculture works, and that would be a miscarriage of justice as well."
So prevalent was the editing at the trial that Toronto Detective-Constable Richard Bobbis, who is an authority on the criminal street gangs and was presented here as an expert, could refer to only a fraction of his impressive curriculum vitae because it is -- understandably -- laden with references to gang conferences and seminars he has attended.
But for the fact Det.-Const. Bobbis is unusually articulate, he might have appeared to the jurors as barely more qualified than a passing stranger off the street.
In the larger scheme, blind and deaf also is a fair description of the state of awareness -- not to mention the civic discourse -- that exists around the problem of black-on-black gun violence in Toronto and in particular the little neighbourhood that is its grim poster child.
For all the gang-related gunfire that has been regularly erupting in the city for more than three long years, only two small and beleaguered groups -- those doomed to live in Doomstown and areas like it and those tasked with policing them -- fully grasp either the breadth of the toll or the degraded quality of life that exists there.
During the pre-trial, Judge McCombs -- with endearing self-deprecation he once noted, "I'm a 59-year-old white male, so I'm hardly in a good position to understand these cultural subtleties" -- described the situation as "a terrible, terrible tragedy that's happening in our midst."
On another occasion, he asked rhetorically, "This is a cancer, this gang problem in our community, isn't it?"
Yet despite his prediction that the case might become "a bit of a media darling," beginning as it did smack in the middle of another round of highly publicized gun violence in the city, the trial drew little attention.
The judge's comparison to cancer may have been more apt than he realized. Like many cancers, black-on-black violence is stealthy, poorly understood, late in the diagnosis and only grudgingly faced: Even in one of the most media- saturated markets in the country, Mr. Boswell's trial was only ever covered by two outlets -- the National Post and the Toronto Sun.
Mr. Boswell, who celebrated his 21st birthday in the prisoner's box last month, is accused of second-degree murder in the June 15, 2001, shooting of Wayne Reid, a slim 26-year-old who had a winning way with the ladies.
It is alleged by the prosecutor, Ms. Bird, that on the night in question, Mr. Boswell was in the company of Jermaine Grant, Mr. Reid with his friend Shaun Sharp.
All four spent part of their formative years in and around Doomstown, or Jamestown, as this narrow sliver of Rexdale is better known, the name in fact coming from one preposterously short street -- a half-kilometre long -- called Jamestown Crescent.
While Mr. Reid's death -- he was hit at close range by five bullets, one severing his aorta -- was obviously the focus of the trial, he was hardly the only dead man in the case.
There are 18 other young products of Jamestown -- relatives, friends or associates of one or another of the central players -- whose names came up either at trial or during pre-trial motions held on the gang evidence.
Nine of them -- Rueben Grant, older brother to Jermaine; Sheldon Bailey; Hani Othman; Lloyd Dean; Craig Palmer; Tyrone King; Osvaldo Ahumada; Amar Young and Gavin Hunter -- are dead, all by the gun. The oldest two were 23, the youngest, Mr. Othman, just 16.
Six were killed before Mr. Reid was, their deaths the subject of a special police probe called Project Alliance, which was formed to try to find at least one witness who would come forward to testify in court against the alleged killers, and which utterly failed.
The remaining three men -- Mr. Ahumada, Mr. Young and Mr. Hunter -- were shot to death after Mr. Reid.
Another pair -- Oliver Willis and Leighton Hay, who was himself wounded in the double slaying of Mr. Palmer and Mr. King --are now facing murder charges of their own.
Of those still alive, at least two men -- Mr. Boswell's cousin Fitzroy Myrie and Marcus Cave, accused in an armed robbery -- are facing lesser offences.
Even that does not complete the death links, for not counted among this list of the fallen -- for he was not killed in Jamestown, and was not involved in gangs -- is 34-year-old Paul Watson. Mr. Watson was gunned down with his 29-year-old friend Michael Lewis on July 24, about five weeks after Mr. Reid. Both men are considered by police to have been innocent victims of mistaken identity or misguided retribution.
The connection is that Mr. Watson's sister is Rosalee Reid, Mr. Reid's pleasant mother, who at the time of her brother's murder had scarcely finished burying her oldest child.
Mr. Reid, Mr. Boswell, Mr. Sharp and the two Grants have very much in common with the 18 others affiliated with this case.
Virtually all of these 18 are, or were, young black men.
Eight -- including six of the dead, among them the late Tuffy Grant, who was shot in the neck on April 5, 2000 -- were themselves born in Jamaica. Another four were born in Toronto of Jamaican parents, with the remainder reflecting the fabled Canadian mosaic, one each arriving from Saudi Arabia, Chile, Mexico, Ethiopia and Somalia.
As the younger Mr. Reid was called "Beef," and Mr. Grant is called "J-Bug," Mr. Sharp "Cookie" and Mr. Boswell "Bluenose," most of the other men had nicknames, though not all are known to police.
Still, there were enough -- Tuffy, Egypt, Blurdie, Snoopy, Nitty or Crazy, Poncho, Green Eye, Smiley, Santa or Dough Boy, Twinky and Screech -- that at the lengthy pre-trial, a chart was prepared of the most-mentioned names for Judge McCombs so that he might keep them all straight.
It was akin to a family tree, except that where normally such a record would have the dates of birth of the various members, this one had dates of death.
Another key common denominator among the young men is that most have, or had, criminal records, are either gang members themselves or are linked to gang members, and are long well-known to police here.
Cruelly, the key exception appears to have been the amiable Mr. Reid, who, though a veteran dealer of crack cocaine and marijuana, had no history of violence or particular gang association.
Beef Reid was primarily a businessman obsessed with women and expensive clothes -- especially shoes, according to an old friend of his who often attended Mr. Boswell's trial and said the last time Mr. Reid was kicked out by a girlfriend, he showed up at his place with no fewer than 42 pairs. Mr. Reid was known to treat even his crack customers kindly, such that, his old friend says, after his death, some of them came forward to voluntarily kick in for his funeral costs.
Detective-Constable Craig Peddle, one of a handful of Toronto officers who testified only at the pre-trial, is a 13-year veteran now attached to the force's eight-month-old gang squad.
He told Judge McCombs there are probably "20 or so" different gangs in Toronto sharing the name of the notorious Crips, a criminal street gang that originated in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. That number, he said, doesn't include the Crips' traditional rivals, the Bloods, whom Det.-Const. Peddle said are outnumbered in the city about 10 to one.
The public perception is that Crips and Bloods sets, or crews, shoot one another -- and indeed, in Los Angeles, other U.S. cities and in Toronto, they sometimes do.
Mr. Boswell, for instance, had just turned 18 when, on Jan. 28, 2000, he was arrested with a youth and charged in a dangerous midday shooting at an entrance to the Sheridan Mall in nearby Mississauga that left a young man with a potentially life-threatening wound to the abdomen.
After a nine-week jury trial last year, Ontario Court Justice Emile Kruzick found the youth guilty of attempted murder and Mr. Boswell guilty of aggravated assault for having held open a door to facilitate the shooting.
Though the judge made no definitive finding in his July 26, 2002, "Reasons for Sentence" that either Mr. Boswell or his gun-toting friend were Crips, he said, "given the evidence at trial" that they were wearing Crips blue, their victim Bloods red, "I cannot but conclude this event is rooted in the rivalry that exists between these two groups."
He noted that eyewitnesses at the mall "testified of their terror" and made particular mention that one of them said that after the shooting, the 17-year-old "was smiling as he ran past him." Judge Kruzick sentenced the youth to nine years in prison, less 2 1/2 years for time served, and Mr. Boswell to five years.
Though he was in custody for the shooting of Mr. Reid, Mr. Boswell nonetheless was given credit for a year of time served over the objections of the prosecutor that doing so would allow him to "double dip."
But that shooting, sparked as the judge found by Crips-Bloods antagonism, is an exception in Jamestown, where virtually all the gunplay is among various Crips crews, of which there are at least six established sets -- the MNMs (Mother Nature's Mistakes); Jamestown Crips; Mount Olive Crips; Ghetto Boys; NBCs (New Born Crips); and Junior Crips.
As Det.-Const. Peddle explained it at the pre-trial, "If you look at the National League and the American League in professional baseball, you have two different leagues, so to speak. You have the Bloods and the Crips, but within each of those divisions you have teams that compete against each other. So if you look at it in those terms, National League and American League, Bloods and Crips, different teams are fighting."
J-Bug Grant, now 19, was identified by Det.-Const. Peddle and Det.-Const. Bobbis and others at the pre-trial as a member of the New Born Crips, a Jamestown crew, and in fact, when arrested shortly after his 18th birthday for possession of a restricted weapon -- a loaded Colt .45 semi-automatic handgun -- Mr. Grant conveniently was carrying Polaroids of himself posing with the gun.
Mr. Boswell was similarly identified at the pre-trial as a member of the Jamestown Crips and its affiliate, the Ghetto Boys.
While neither Mr. Sharp, the prosecution's flawed but engaging eyewitness, nor Mr. Reid were alleged to be gang members, Mr. Sharp was associated with some of the most feared members of the Mount Olive Crips, including Richard (Screech) Baker.
Jamestown Crescent and Mount Olive Drive are just a stone's throw one from the other -- five minutes apart on either side of the main street of Finch Avenue West -- but gang members talk about the two areas as though they were at least as distant as New York City and L.A., perhaps a measure of the size of the rift.
The two groups have been locked in battle, a series of officers told Judge McCombs at the pre-trial, since August of 2000, when one of the Mount Olive side, Lloyd (Blurdie) Dean, was shot three times in the back at the townhouse complex where Mr. Boswell then lived with his mother, Karen, his younger brother Gilbert and their two sisters.
The Mount Olive-affiliated Crips then embarked upon a bloody course of vengeance.
It is in this violent conflict where allegedly lie the seeds of the reason for Mr. Reid's shooting.
It was in the late summer of 2000, in the midst of the simmering war, that Mr. Sharp said he walked through Jamestown with Screech Baker, the highly regarded Mount Olive Crip, though Ms. Bird was able to describe him for the jurors only as Mr. Sharp's friend from Mount Olive.
There, Mr. Sharp saw Mr. Grant -- and because it was his turf -- duly nodded out of respect.
But Mr. Grant either didn't see the nod, or found it lacking, and over the course of the next months, his growing displeasure allegedly blossomed, turning at some point to overt hostility, with Mr. Sharp soon convinced Mr. Grant meant to kill him.
Thus, in June of 2001, with the two groups still at war, and the police regularly finding gang members wearing bulletproof vests whenever they arrested them, the table was laid for trouble. On the night of June 15, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Reid were in Jamestown -- mostly to hustle girls and to party, as was their wont, but perhaps also to sell crack -- and allegedly found themselves suddenly confronted by Mr. Grant and Mr. Boswell.
How it was that Mr. Reid, not Mr. Sharp, ended up bleeding on the pavement -- and how it is that it is Mr. Boswell, and not Mr. Grant, who is now accused of murder -- requires complicated background information, most of which was never presented to the jurors.
They were told only a little about the importance of "respect" in "high-crime urban areas"; how a missed nod or failure to properly "hail someone up" could result in death, and that because Mr. Reid was older, and had known Mr. Grant as a boy, he respected Mr. Reid enough to back off when he told them he was "bigger" than them because he had been in Jamestown longer.
All Ms. Bird was able to say was that Mr. Boswell didn't know Mr. Reid, thus had no innate regard for him and was furious when Mr. Reid stood up for Mr. Sharp and demanded he be left alone -- and so allegedly Mr. Boswell promptly shot him.
It was better than no explanation at all, certainly, and was the compromise Judge McCombs wanted -- enough information, he hoped, to inform the jurors without jeopardizing Mr. Boswell's fair-trial rights by flooding them with prejudicial information.
It was also considerably more than the jurors ever heard about the singular glaring hole in the witness list -- Mr. Grant, who was, after all, the other supposed eyewitness.
About his absence, nothing was said at all.
He has vanished from view, in fact, and ongoing police efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful.
The full answer to the question Mr. Slansky posed to the jurors in his closing address -- "Where does Leon Boswell's motive to kill come from," he asked, then said, "On the face of it, Leon Boswell has no reason to hurt, let alone kill, anyone!" -- is buried within six massive volumes of transcripts from the pre-trial hearing, ordered from the court reporter by the Post.
It was Det.-Const. Peddle who first told Judge McCombs about the concept of "putting in work," a benign-sounding term for the chilling way that an ambitious gang member, low on the totem pole, can quickly move up in the ranks.
"Putting in work," Det.-Const. Peddle said, "quite simply could be selling drugs, it could be stealing a car, it could be shooting somebody, it could be stabbing somebody, it could be doing a purse snatch. It's something you have to do to prove your fellowship to the gang and, you know, to the greater government of the gang."
The sort of work that moves a gangster up the ladder depends, he said, on the nature of the gang -- some, called scavenger-type, are loosely organized and don't last long; some are territorial, usually claim a symbolic piece of jewellery or clothing as their own, and are spontaneous but dangerous; hard-core criminal street gangs have defined rules of engagement and membership and a clear hierarchy. Most Crips sets in Toronto, he said, are an amalgam of the latter two, committing "robberies, assaults, extortions, murder, home invasions, drug trafficking, theft from auto, theft of auto," and in these gangs, Det.-Const. Peddle said, "Homicide, absolutely" may put a low-ranking gangster on the fast track.
In other words, there was an arguably more plausible motive for Mr. Boswell to allegedly have shot Mr. Reid -- not because he bore him any special animus, though he might have been angered by his disrespect, not because of the omnipresent gang war, not over drug turf, but rather because in Jamestown murder is, well, generally good for the reputation.
It was another officer, Detective Kurt Diener, from whom the jurors heard in what became the normal abbreviated way, who at the pre-trial provided Judge McCombs with some graphic illustrations of the brutal havoc casually wreaked upon gangsters by one another.
Det. Diener worked for 18 years in 23 Division, which encompasses Jamestown and Mount Olive in Rexdale as well as other notorious developments, and often walked through the rabbit warren of dark lanes and parking lots around the low-rise townhouse complexes -- it is all public housing --which appear to have been designed for the express purpose of facilitating drug dealing and crime.
Trafficking was rife, he said, and guns standard issue.
He also grew up in the area, bought his first house there, "and know it like the back of my hand," he said.
He knew many of the 18 young men linked to this case: One he arrested for armed robbery with a sawed-off shotgun; Mr. Myrie, he once found wearing a bulletproof vest; another, Jose Alvarez, he said, was in early 2001 "pistol-whipped ... [and] stripped naked in the winter and beaten up", but when he went to interview him, and found him with blackened eyes he could hardly see out of, Mr. Alvarez would tell him nothing.
Det. Diener had also, he told Judge McCombs, once encountered Mr. Boswell, found him unusually nervous and giving "huge attitude," and spontaneously reached out to pat him to see if he was carrying a gun; Mr. Boswell, he said, just bolted at his touch, running away with a hand on his stomach "like he was holding on to something."
He told the judge the Boswell townhouse, on nearby Martingrove Road, functioned as an unofficial headquarters for gang members. Det.-Const. Bobbis went further and said it was also used as a safe house, where gang members could flee either from rivals or the police.
This is common in such complexes. Late last fall, I toured another such development -- a few miles east along Finch on Ardwick Boulevard -- with an officer from the gang squad.
Though the local housing authority had just recently cleaned up gang graffiti -- something staff at all the projects try to do regularly to discourage the practice -- some remained (CK, for Crips killer), and on the sidewalks and pathways, there were freshly painted arrows, red because the area is Bloods turf, pointing directly toward several safe houses. Gangsters on the run, I was told, can enter these houses without knocking, the residents, often single mothers, long ago intimidated into acquiescence.
On Feb. 28 last year, 17-year-old Justin Campbell was shot to death outside 9 Ardwick Blvd., and the sodden remains of a memorial to him were still in place. At the ceremony when it was erected, one officer said, "Everyone wore something red, out of respect. Even little babies in their mamas' arms wore red."
Now, the newest graffiti in Jamestown reads "L g C," which stands for Little Gangsta Crips, a so-called "clique," or offshoot, of the Jamestown Crew; such cliques are artificially created subdivisions of gangs based either on age, sex or the sort of crime in which they specialize.
But after Blurdie Dean's shooting in Jamestown in August of 2000, it was two wreaths, entirely composed of blue flowers and decked out in the blue bandanas that denote the Crips that went up on the north fence of the townhouse complex where Mr. Boswell then lived.
They were, Det. Diener told Judge McCombs, in honour of Mr. Dean and Mr. Grant's brother Tuffy, who had been killed three months earlier.
"They remained there for several weeks," Det. Diener said, adding that when a resident of the nearest townhouse was watering his grass, accidentally wetting the crosses, he was promptly threatened by gang members.
Gangs often also decorate mourning walls, or "R.I.P. walls," in memory of fallen soldiers, Det.-Const. Bobbis told Judge McCombs; pictures of a couple of these, including one that went up in Jamestown for Snoopy Palmer, Nitty King, Egypt Othman and Tuffy Grant, were made exhibits at the pre-trial.
Because of the fluid nature of gang membership, the sheer number of them and their ever-shifting names -- not to mention, the near-cartoon quality of the gangsters' bristling machismo -- it is tempting even for police to see their emergence in Toronto as somehow disorganized.
That's a mistake, according to British writer Geoff Small, whose 1995 book -- Ruthless, The Global Rise of the Yardies -- lays out in authoritative detail evidence that the spread of uniquely Jamaican gang violence, with its emphasis on the highly public bloodbath, is anything but happenstance.
The Yardies, or Rude Boys, got their start in the gritty world of island politics, Mr. Small writes, with each of the two main parties, the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party, recruiting young thugs into what he describes as "active political service either to help preserve or to attack" the political strongholds of the other, especially at election time.
Leading politicians on both sides employed Rude Boys as bodyguards and occasionally attended gangster funerals, with the result that the establishment effectively gave both the lawless and the lawlessness a bizarre kiss of approval.
The Rude Boys' rise happened, Mr. Small says, about the same time that the island's farmers were coming to the realization that marijuana, or herb as it's called in Jamaica, was a lucrative export, and Rudies were soon in place in key positions.
In the ensuing years, the mix of marijuana and criminality grew potent and lethal, and ordinary Jamaicans, fed up with the violence that turned out to be child's play compared to what they now endure daily, demanded action, and in the 1980 election, Edward Seaga led the JLP to office with a pledge to crack down on the gangsters.
That sparked, Mr. Small writes, an exodus of Rude Boys, especially those affiliated with the losing PNP, to foreign parts -- sometimes helped by their former political masters, who sent them on their way with "letters of recommendation" directed to foreign embassies.
U.S. authorities, Mr. Small says, were "slow to recognize the posse violence for what it was -- inter-gang feuding over drug turf," but by 1987, the federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agency estimated there were 70 gangs nationwide, with as many as 40,000 members.
He quotes a federal report from the late 1980s that put the death toll at the hands of the gangsters he calls "narco-terrorists" at 1,048 people in 1985-1987 alone.
"Murder to the Rudies was the same as spinach is to Popeye," Mr. Small writes, "a source of physical strength and confidence."
Whether in the United States, Britain or Canada, the Jamaicans' tactics were invariably the same, according to Mr. Small: They would infiltrate well-established local communities of law-abiding immigrant Jamaicans and effectively use their hard-working brothers as cover; muscle out local drug dealers until they ran the turf; employ obscene levels of violence if met with resistance and, eventually, begin to recruit in earnest local blacks -- the idea being to insulate themselves by using locals as vulnerable upfront men.
Even the penchant for nicknames is deliberate, Mr. Small says, because if a gang boss is known by a different name to virtually everyone, and a busted low-level dealer ponders squealing to police, he will be able to identify the leader only as Crayfish, Blinky or some other meaningless moniker.
It was in the 1990s, Mr. Small says, that the emigrant Rude Boys -- under growing pressure from U.S. officials who had begun to use the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act, which allows for a single person to be declared a criminal enterprise -- "redoubled their efforts to conquer neighbouring Canada."
Here, federal law requires a membership of three and "material benefit" before a gang can be deemed a criminal organization, and specifically excludes those groups that form randomly for the immediate commission of a single offence -- the very tactic sometimes used by Toronto gangs, who may come together for the express purpose of carrying out an armed robbery or home invasion, then promptly disperse.
Mr. Small devotes a complete chapter to this country, and on page 344 of Ruthless writes, "During their residence in Canada, the Rudies have totally transformed the complexion of the national crime scene. In what is a genuinely placid and law-abiding society," he says, "they have single-handedly introduced public displays of gun violence, wholesale crack-dealing and related addiction, and general mayhem."
And he writes that, as in the United States, the Rudies "have inculcated indigenous black, and Jamaican-born, Canadian youth with their nihilistic values, and set them off on the road to violent criminality."
This is precisely the same phenomenon that Monica Willie, the outspoken president of the Caribbean Association of Peel, described for Post readers after the particularly ghastly spate of gun violence in Toronto last fall.
This two-week period was bookended at the start by a Bloody Sunday weekend over Oct. 26-27 when in less than two hours, four young men were slaughtered in three different shootings across the city, and at the close by the methodical assassination of one of those alleged perpetrators at high noon in a little strip mall in Scarborough busy with families and children.
This is what, in the new movie Gangs of New York, the violent charmer Bill (the Butcher) Cutting, the fictional 19th-century character so magnificently played by the actor Daniel Day-Lewis, describes with a slow grin as "The spectacle of fearsome acts."
Yet in Toronto last fall, only Ms. Willie called it for what it was.
"What [we] should be paying attention to," she snapped back then, is "the initiation process that is going on," with gangsters from Jamaica "getting Canadian-born children trained. They're putting guns in their hands. They send novices out to do the murder; that's how they operate."
The pattern described by both Mr. Small and Ms. Willie appears to fit what is visible of the gangs' modus operandi in Toronto: Youngsters of nine and 10 are routinely used as lookouts in the housing developments, alerting dealers to arriving police, and graduate as young teens to far more serious and violent crimes.
And of course, in this country, youths under 18 have something else in their corner -- they're protected by the federal Young Offenders Act, which among other benefits grants them anonymity, prohibits any media reference to youth records and is geared unashamedly toward second (and arguably third and fourth) chances.
Even a recent development, detailed at the pre-trial by gang squad boss Detective-Sergeant Greg Getty, appears consistent with the Rudie-inspired way of doing business -- that is, curiously considered.
This is the move away from semi-automatics, with their nasty habit of spewing telltale shell cases, and back to revolvers such as the one that killed Mr. Reid and whose spent cases conveniently remain in the gun and thus out of police hands. Where a few years ago, almost all crime guns seized by police were semi-automatics, Det.-Sgt. Getty said, now the split is about 50-50.
And while there are still plenty of Jamaican-born criminals being killed or arrested -- in fact, Jamaica and Canada are forever trading such gangsters back and forth like bad baseball cards, with one being deported back to the island only to commit some fresh outrage there, while another, like O'Neil Ricardo Greenland, the disc jockey called Heavy D who was slaughtered in broad daylight at the Scarborough strip mall, leaving Jamaica to embark on a crime spree here -- so are there more and more Canadian-born gang members, as well as new immigrants from other lands.
Perhaps the best measure of how successful the gangs are, whether they are the product of as orchestrated a phenomenon as Mr. Small convincingly argues or not, is in the utter dearth of witnesses they leave in their wake.
Most shootings, in Jamestown and elsewhere in the city, take place before at least some bystanders, and many are carried out in crowded, highly public places, from dance halls to parking lots, before people who may have grown up with the gunmen and know them intimately.
Yet few talk to police afterwards, and those who do usually will speak only informally and often only for their own gain.
For instance, Mr. Boswell's wiry mother, Karen, who sports a gold front tooth, is notoriously hostile to police as a general rule, but once phoned for help when she heard one of her son's Jamestown Crips friends had been stripped naked and "gunbutted" by some Mount Olive Crips and was fearful they were now about to kill Leon.
Only a minuscule number of witnesses get anywhere near a courtroom.
In fact, the only Jamestown slaying other than Mr. Reid's that has ever made it that far is the April 23, 2000, shooting of Sheldon Bailey.
It is considered only partially solved, in that only one of the two gunmen who shot Mr. Bailey, and only one of as many as four involved suspects, was ever arrested -- and only after extraordinary work by homicide squad officers Ken Taylor and Mark Saunders, who spent days persuading a relative of Mr. Bailey's, a terrified eyewitness to the murder, to come forward. That in turn resulted in Garfield Graham last year pleading guilty to manslaughter and being sentenced to five years in jail.
Yet homicide Detective-Sergeant Al Comeau, who headed Project Alliance and testified at trial in a limited way about it, told the Post last week, "We knew who the [alleged] killers were in all six" of the Jamestown slayings the probe targeted. But after nine months of non-stop effort and some unusual measures -- the detectives were regularly pressuring the most violent gang members by arresting them on other charges -- no one was convinced to talk.
Det.-Sgt. Comeau's most lurid example, which he was not allowed to cite at trial, involved a gang member who had himself barely survived a shooting.
"We met with him and his family on 17 different occasions in an attempt to gain his confidence and convince him to testify against the people he told us had murdered his friend and shot him," Det.-Sgt. Comeau said.
Despite repeated offers to put the man and his family in witness protection, "He refused, and the reason he said he wouldn't ever testify was because if he did, the gang members would kill him and all the members of his family."
It is in such discussions about witness protection -- both gangsters and witnesses sometimes flirt with the notion before demurring -- that a poignant glimpse comes of the stunted imagination and dwarfed ambition common to the world shared by the violent criminal and those upon whom he preys.
The witness protection officers, Det.-Sgt. Comeau said outside court one day, are always braced for someone to demand the impossible -- relocation in a place such as glamorous Vancouver, or perhaps Montreal. "But the farthest they ever even dream," he said, "is Brampton [Ont.]."
There's a reason for that, and nowhere was it more evident than at the trial of Mr. Boswell.
Cookie Sharp, for example, despite having spent a good chunk of his life in Toronto, had never been downtown until he went there, a few days after Mr. Reid's death, to belatedly describe for homicide Detective Gary Giroux the shooting he had originally denied seeing.
Neither did he know, until recently, that the city even sat on Lake Ontario.
His life before he came forward, and left Jamestown forever for an unidentified location outside of Toronto, was stultifying in its smallness and deadening in its prospects.
His days were the same: in his own words an endless routine of sleeping in, drinking beer and chilling with friends, selling crack and hustling girls -- by a less charitable description, these were days composed of equal parts indolence, irresponsibility, crime and promiscuity -- all of it carried out usually within the narrow confines of Jamestown/Mount Olive, an area of about two square miles.
Mr. Sharp didn't work, and neither did most of the men his age. Jamestown boys, as Mr. Reid's old friend told me one day during a court break, considered that real jobs were for suckers. He and Mr. Reid once worked for $9 an hour in a store at the Square One mall in Mississauga, but "our pagers kept going off, and finally Wayne couldn't stand it any more -- every one of those pages was worth $150 [in crack money]."
Though obviously bright, Mr. Sharp didn't go to school, having dropped out in Grade 10, which was absolutely the norm in the neighbourhood, he said. J-Bug Grant, for instance, has a Grade 8 education.
At 20, Mr. Sharp was still living with his mother, his sister and his stepfather, as indeed most of his friends and acquaintances did -- full-time fathers are as scarce as hen's teeth in Jamestown -- and often they also have a series of stepbrothers or stepsisters.
Like any other healthy young man in the area, Mr. Sharp already has children -- two little girls -- and that most winsome of Jamestown accessories, the "babymother," a Jamaican term originally coined for the unwed mother of a Rudie gangster's children. Mr. Boswell's younger brother Gilbert, just 19, has acquired one of each -- child and babymother -- as has Mr. Boswell himself and J-Bug Grant.
Mr. Reid, by my count, had two different babymothers, a beautiful 19-year-old girlfriend, Turunesh Coombs, then pregnant with his child (she ended up losing the baby), and was literally in the act of trying to hook up with a new girl the very moment before he was shot.
A series of these babymothers came to court, either as witnesses or observers, and if they were of an attractive piece, it was their children -- glorious, alert toddlers with their soft hair in tiny cornrows and gorgeous fat babies -- who stole the show.
In a country like this -- with high school education and health care virtually free, even college and university not beyond the grasp of most and opportunity around every corner -- the world should be these children's oyster.
But if they are raised in Jamestown, or any of the places so like it across Toronto, it will be a struggle, and unless things change, they will be essentially left to make it on their own.
Once, at the pre-trial, Judge McCombs asked Det.-Const. Bobbis, "What if somebody just wants to go to school and stay out of trouble? Do you get shoved into one [gang] side or the other? Is it possible to avoid being stigmatized?"
And Det.-Const. Bobbis replied, "I think it would be very hard to, for your own personal safety. I think it's very hard, and it's unfortunate because there are good people who live in the area, but because of surrounding circumstances, they're forced to choose.... I would not want to be a young male in these areas just wanting to go to school. It would be very dangerous to your well-being, your safety."
Det.-Sgt. Getty put it more furiously when I interviewed him late last fall.
"The problem is," he said, "there are too many political and commercial agendas. The problem is, everybody pays it lip service. There are great people in these communities trying to do great things, but it's one piece at a time."
Dr. Fred Matthews, a psychologist who heads Central Toronto Youth Services and almost a decade ago wrote a rather prescient report called Youth Gangs on Youth Gangs, says many youngsters from places like Jamestown "do make it." But he agrees that it takes stubborn grit and more than a little luck, though not always so much more.
I told him about Gilbert Boswell, who testified in his brother's defence as a so-called alibi witness -- one of a series who claimed that on the night of the shooting, Leon Boswell was not in Jamestown with J-Bug Grant, but rather at a party in Scarborough with, among others, his babymother and Gilbert.
Astonishingly, I said, given where and with whom he grew up, Gilbert appears to have still a boot in each camp, one firmly planted in his troubled brother's footsteps, the other, rather more tentatively, in goodness and light.
While Gilbert is now facing charges stemming from an incident in Brampton last July when he was arrested and found with $1,125 in cash and 21/2 grams of crack cocaine hidden in his mouth, he also remains in Grade 12 at Thistletown Collegiate, where, among other things, he works on the school yearbook committee. And as the prosecutor, Ms. Bird, cross-examined him about the drugs charge, I told Dr. Matthews, I swear I could see Gilbert flush with shame.
"A hundred adults," he replied quickly, "can break the heart of a child, but one can turn it around. We overlook extraordinary resilience in these kids. That's why I always tell people when I make speeches that every single second we as adults spend in the company of a child or youth, we send a ripple into our future history. Treat them poorly? That's what's coming. Treat them with dignity and kindness? That's what's coming. Treat them indifferently? That's what comes back."
He is full of ideas for Jamestown and its carbon copies -- a black youth corps, where successful young people could show others how to land on their feet; getting business involved in a jobs scheme so there is a lawful way to earn money for nice things; day care at high schools so the legion of babymothers have a safe place for their offspring and can go to class; abolition of user fees for recreation facilities and the like.
But at the moment, as Dr. Matthews said, the gang violence, with all its lethality, is largely "happening below the public's radar screen, below the social policy radar screen."
As the Bill the Butcher character remarked ruefully in Gangs of New York, and it is as true of Jamestown's Crips now as it was of that city's real-life Bowery Boys and the Irish immigrants they engaged in brutal battle, "You can always get half the poor to kill the other half."
© Copyright 2003 National Post
Michael Moore says that gun control has made Toronto so safe that everyone leaves their doors unlocked!
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It's long been said that the effective government of an area is that entity which maintains an effective monopoly on the use of force. With gun control in place, the gangs are the effective government of sections of Toronto
If ALL the residents of Toronto were armed, the gangs would be outnumbered and outgunned by the non-gang-members. Black elected officials continually advocate gun control. Could the reason be that the only entities in the inner cities with the cash for campaign contributions are the gangs?