A Little Background
for those of you not familiar with it, is a statutory holiday in Canada
(as well as the UK, Australia and New Zealand) that takes place on
December 26th. While folklorists have debated its origins for years,
it’s associated with post-Christmas bargain sales these days. Stores
typically open early and sell their wares at sale prices, often at
drastic markdown. Most stores keep the sales going all week, but Boxing
Day marks the start of the bargains — and the crowds. Sales-wise, what
the day after Thanksgiving is to Americans, the day after Christmas is to Canadians.
The Yonge/Dundas intersection
has been big hangout for Accordion City teens since I was one. It’s
right on top of a subway station, which makes it very accessible.
There’s an H&M, a Gap, and an Old Navy all within falling distance
of this intersection, and if you walk a block south, you’ll also hit a
Roots, Urban Outfitters and the entire Eaton Centre shopping mall.
Walk a block north to Yonge and Gould,
and you’ll be at the an intersection featuring HMV, Sam the Record Man
and Sunrise Records, a Foot Locker, Pizza Pizza, Future Shop and a
number of other clothing and electronics shops. For a teenager who’s
flush with a little extra Christmas gift cash, this is one of the go-to
spots downtown (the other being my old neighbourhood, Queen Street
Needless to say, this intersection is always jam-packed
with people on Boxing Day. During the unemployed Christmas of 2002, I
busked the corner on Boxing Day and made $250 in about five hours.
the afternoon of boxing day, a drive-by shooting took place at Yonge
and Gould. Witness reports say that two men in a BMW were seen leaning
out the windows and firing towards the sidewalk on the west side of the
street. Although they were apparently firing at members of a rival gang,
a number of innocent bystanders, including an off-duty police officer
(who didn’t have his sidearm with him, since he was off-duty), were
injured. Worse still, a fifteen-year old girl, Jane Creba, was killed. She is the 78th homicide victim this year, 52 of which were shootings.
The two men who are believed to have been in the BMW were arrested some distance away from the shootings at Castle Frank station. One of them is 17 years old and under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, cannot be named. The other is 20-year old Andre Thompson, whose background reads like a character from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas:
Mr. Thompson, who remains in custody until his next court
appearance, was released just before Christmas from Maplehurst prison
near Milton, Ont.
He had served 30 days for his role in a convenience-store robbery.
For most of the past two years he had been staying with his cousin,
Marsha Grant, 27, who has two young children and lives in a public
housing complex in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood.
Mr. Thompson, the father of a one-year-old boy, had been working at a nearby restaurant as a chef.
Fresh from the joint, there’s a “baby mama” somewhere in the picture, of no fixed address and couch-surfing in one of Toronto’s most notorious ‘hoods. This bodes ill.
end of the article would be laughable if the story behind it weren’t so
tragic. Thompson’s cousin, with whom he was staying, can’t quite bring
herself to believe that he was involved…
Ms. Grant said she was shocked to learn that he was caught up in the
events on Yonge Street on Boxing Day, but she strongly doubts that he
was the shooter.
“Andre would not be so stupid as to fire a gun into a crowd like that,” she said.
…but at the same time, was kicking him out because the cops were keeping an eye on him.
She last saw him on Christmas Eve, when she told him he was no
longer welcome to stay with her because of the constant police interest
in his movements.
lady, I know that sometimes one gets undue heat simply for not being
white, but your cousin just finished 30 days for robbery and has been
released into the community. It’s the police’s job to keep tabs on him.
An Inspiring Rant
I know got started on a rather long-winded rant about the recent spate
of shootings here in Accordion City, how immigrants were just taking
advantage of our open society and how unsafe he felt since coming back
from New York.
The “immigrants were just here to take advantage”
remark was easy to tackle in his case. The reason he’d come back here
from NYC was that he’d been deported.
After living there illegally for the better part of a decade, he was
stopped at the border after a quick visit here, unable to provide any
sort of proof that his primary residence was here in Canada. (If you’re
wondering about what this person was like, I can summarize him without
compromising his identity: caucasian of Anglo descent, works in
marketing — not the sort of person who gets charged with “flying while
brown”). He may not have entered the country hidden in the back of
cargo truck or started the work day by waiting for a truck to pick him
up to take him to a below-minimum-wage odd job, but he was an illegal
immigrant, there to take advantage just the same. In debate clubs
everywhere, this sort of self-contradiction on the part of your
debating opponent is called a “gift”.
He did me a favour by ranting, however: he inspired me to go and dig deeper.
I’d been looking up homicide statistics for Toronto when my acquaintance began his rant, so I decided to expand my search to include New York City. At the same time, Wendy, who’s from Boston, was remarking that her hometown experiencing a record number of homicides,
so I began to look up Boston’s numbers. Then, in order to get a better
comparison, I decided to look up the same stats for an American city
that is often said to be comparable to Toronto in terms of area and
population: Chicago. The table below shows the data I was able to gather:
Homicides (1998 – 2005)
(Sources are listed at the end of this entry.)
|2005 (so far)
Calculus prof used to always say that many math problems become much
simpler if you “draw a pretty picture”. I concur, so here’s the tabular
data above, plotted as a scatter graph with lines (click the graph to
see it at full size):
New York and Chicago in the picture, the y-axis scale which counts the
number of homicides) is so large that the Boston and Toronto graphs
look almost flat. To better visualize the data, I’ve made another
scatter graph showing only the Boston and Toronto data (once again,
click it to see it at full size):
numbers took some time to gather. It seems as though many police
departments are reticent when it comes to posting crime and especially
violent crime stats online. In the end, I found that Googling newspaper
articles for end-of-year crime tallies turned out to be my best
I’ll probably go over the
numbers and would like some discussion over the next little while, but
here’s a quick analysis based on the numbers and a day or two’s
thinking about them.
New York has remarkably improved over the
past 8 years. As you can see in the graph, there’s a steady downward
trend in the numbers. In the period covered by the graph, the number of
homicides there has dropped by 44%. If you were to go back to 1990,
this drop becomes way more dramatic: the drop from 1990’s homicide
count of 2,254 represents a decline in murders by over three-quarters.
Chicago has also improved, with 37% fewer homicides between 1998 and
Toronto and Boston are experiencing the opposite: both
cities are showing an upward trend in homicides. Over the same period,
Toronto’s murders have increased by 39% and Boston’s by 108%.
course, these numbers would be more meaningful if applied as a ratio of
homicides to population. Murder rates are most often measured in terms
of murders per 100,000 population. Based on metropolitan populations
(taken from Wikipedia), Toronto’s 2005 murder rate to date is 1.5,
while Boston’s is 1.2. In the meantime, Chicago’s is 4.8 and New York’s
So far, we have the “what” behind the story. The “why”, and more importantly, what I like to call the “Gideon Strauss Question” — “what is to be done?”
is going to take more time. I’ll post more thoughts later, but in the
meantime, if you have any opinions or even better, data, please feel
free to put in your two cents in the comments.
Appendix: Where the Numbers Came From