The Boxing Day Shooting

by Joey deVilla on December 29, 2005

A Little Background

Boxing Day,

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

West).

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 Shooting

On

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.

The

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.

Look,

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

Someone

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.

The Numbers

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.)

Year Boston Chicago New York Toronto
1998 34 704 924 56
1999 31 641 903 49
2000 39 631 952 61
2001 66 665 646 61
2002 60 648 575 60
2003 41 599 596 61
2004 64 448 572 65
2005 (so far) 71 444 515 78

My

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):

With

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):

The

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

approach.

Quick Analysis

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

now.

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%.

Of

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

is 2.3.

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

Boston

Chicago

New York

Toronto

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous December 29, 2005 at 5:06 pm

The why.

I’m sure this will get dumped on as a typical anti-US attack, I believe that one of the factors in TO’s gun-crime problem may be a cultural one.

Wait, let me finish. More and more, US culture, and in particular, the gangsta-rap thing, predominates youth culture (and not just in Canada, of course). So, perhaps the combination of that, with its mythicization of gang violence, and hard-poverty, produces real results on the streets. The hard-poverty is not new, and nor are the guns, legal or illegal. Might it be a cultural sea-change that is tossing TO and other places around?

Anonymous December 29, 2005 at 5:10 pm

The positive thing about a tragedy like this is that it heightens people’s determination to have it stopped.

What I wonder is, how come this same level of outrage didn’t happen when four-year-old Shaquan Cadougan was shot four times; another innocent victim of a drive-by shooting.

You don’t suppose that his being a black kid living in the Jane-Finch area had something to do with it, do you?

Anonymous December 29, 2005 at 5:14 pm

The only problem with the “Gangsta-rap Theory” is that, judging from the number of hours Joey spends playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, he should be the most likely person in all of Toronto to bust a cap in your ass.

Anonymous December 29, 2005 at 9:54 pm

What I wonder is, how come this same level of outrage didn’t happen when four-year-old Shaquan Cadougan was shot four times;

I do agree with you to some extent that the fact the victim in this case was an attactive, white, blonde girl probably does give it more play (as Joey’s indicated by the national paper’s front page, that picture is getting A LOT of exposure) as cynical as that sounds.

However, that this shooting took place on the busiest shopping day of the year, on the busiest street in Canada, at 5 PM, involving multiple persons/shots/victims makes it astoundingly brazen.

Anonymous December 29, 2005 at 10:25 pm

I think part of the outrage can be attributed to a sense of “it could have been me”. Joe-Average doesn’t wander through Jane and Finch too often unless they live there. Yonge and Dundas, especially on Boxing Day, is a place that any Torontoian could plausibly have been. I had put off going down there myself because I felt like sticking around the house that day.

I can’t figure out what the hell these thugs were thinking, doing this in such a public place. Was it to get noticed? Or was it to prove they aren’t afraid, that their enemies aren’t safe anywhere? Such a stupid stupid thing to happen to anyone.

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 7:51 am

Sure, Yonge and Dundas is no Jane and Finch, but this was the THIRD such shooting there this year. How come the previous two incidents didn’t scare people away?

As for Boxing Day being “busiest shopping day of the year,” I think anyone who actually went shopping that day (I did) would agree it may well have been the quietest one in history. Not just downtown but everywhere.

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 11:16 am

I remember from high school these ridiculous (but if I remember correctly violent) white kids who called themselved the untouchables used to hang about Eaton Centre, making it a pretty dangerous-seeming place for a teenager.

Remember getting “rolled” for your docs?

Perhaps violent movies etc are not to blame, but every action movie out there involves shooting into crowds or driving like a maniac with no collateral damage. Is it naive to suggest that in addition to the social programs that get so talked up around election time, these “kids” need solid media education?

-Adina

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 12:39 pm

This year has been particularly sad & violent.

I get the feeling that many people perceive the increase behind youth violence as a lack of consequences for one’s actions.

The Young Offenders Act is seen as having no teeth.

The YOA was a way to insure that youthful stupidity didn’t taint the chance at successful life.

It’s sad that through the actions of a small group, the YOA will begin to be dismantled.

It has good reason for being, yet has been abused so much in a relatively short period of time.

I don’t know if prison time works as a deterrent.

I remember watching an interview with one of the investigators of the Sharon Tate murders.

He pointed out that following incarceration, Manson’s followers standard of living actually increased.

… a roof, a place to sleep, exercise, 3 squares, etc.

This may not be true for these recent T-DotGunBabies, but the court system obviously isn’t serving as enough of a deterrent.

I kind of like the way the Indian elders used to deal justice.

You are unfit to live in our civilized society.

You are exiled.

We could start a community in the wilderness of Nunnavit.

Hey, it kind of worked in Australia…

Carson

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 1:05 pm

Let’s face it.

The only solution is that everyone needs to watch more Star Trek: The Next Generation

Ah, if only Picard were here. He’d figure this mess out.

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 9:54 pm

reply to gary: you don’t suspect any black youths were involved in the dec. 26th shooting do you? the press is doing an admirable job of hiding the ethnicity of the two perps in custody.

with regard to media attention to black murder victims. of course we could point out that most common murder victims in T.O. are young black men but that would be racial profiling, so we will just ignore this fact and talk about “the community,” and the need for more neighbourhood basketball courts.

prima facie, I am sympathetic to a victim like amon beckles. but then i think about the circumstances and I begin to think that the kid had it coming. ignoring any choices that he and jamal hemmings may have made which led to jamal’s murder, amon’s decision to leave his freinds funeral TO HAVE A SMOKE is a demonstrative lack of self-discipline. i would expect that a good friend would stay for the service but perhaps Mr. Beckles thought “damn guy, this is mo’ drama, i’m a get me a smoke.”

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 11:16 pm

Ah, yes, “The Untouchables”.

For those of you not familiar with Toronto in the 1980s, “The Untouchables” were a notorious gang of young, mostly white and affluent teenagers who named themselves because they believed the Young Offenders Act made them relatively “untouchable” by the law. Around that time, everyone knew the word-of-mouth warning that travelled across the city: “Don’t wear your Doc Martens at the Eaton Centre, or the UT’s will take them!”

I never met an Untouchable, but I had a run-in with a “Soc”.

The “Socs” (pronounced “Soashes”, or for the singular, “Soash”) named themselves after the gang in the S.E. Hinton novel The Outsiders, or more accurately, the movie based on that novel. A girl attending a dance at my high school had somehow gotten into the Soc’s bad books and they were waiting for her outside the dance, presumably to rough her up. I was one of the organizers of the dance and offered to sneak her and her friends out the back and give them a lift home. We were spotted at the last minute, and one of the Socs tried to make a run for the car, but we were already moving. I ended up running over his foot, and the last I saw of that little bugger, he was lying on the parking lot, clutching his shoe.

As far as a solid media education goes, I think that should be part and parcel of a larger subject that all students should be taught: critical thinking.

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 11:21 pm

It takes a while for a place to gain or lose a reputation. I’m sure that there a number of people who still associate Avenues A, B, C and D of New York City with “Assault, Battery, Concussion, Death” or think of Brooklyn as a particularly dangerous place.

Perhaps Boxing Day wasn’t busy this year (Wendy was ill, so I stayed home), but I remember wading through crowds of Asia-like density during previous Boxing Days.

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 11:23 pm

That reminds me of a Dick Cavett line: “There’s so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?”

Anonymous December 30, 2005 at 11:27 pm

I’m not familiar with the differences, but the Young Offenders Act was phased out a couple of years ago and replaced with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Looks like I’ve got some reading to do.

Anonymous December 31, 2005 at 1:17 am

I think there is a bit of a difference between comedy and gangsta Violence.

Here’s where I think it deviates:

If you have a comedian making jokes, that’s one thing, people can make jokes but it doesn’t really impact their lifes.

If people though don’t have a perspective, but are bombarded with the images and ideas that if you are a gangsta you can become someone….. Well, I guess chances are good that some people think that may just be an idea.

I think it comes really down to options and perspectives, someone who has the ability to make a living and not starve is probably a lot less likely to join a gang or try to “force” his riches.

Someone who has nothing (or perceives it that way), may be a lot more likely to actually take “matters into their own hands.”

No, the Gangsta Rap thing alone isn’t the problem, such problems are way more complex than that, but I am sure we’ll find politicians who’ll throw themselves at it with vigor.

It is already starting anyways, they talk about putting up security cameras now downtown, right, as if they would have prevented the shooting.

Anonymous December 31, 2005 at 4:03 am

Let’s just say it was a strange year for Christmas-time shopping.

The Wednesday before was nuts. You could feel the tension in the stores, and on the streets. I saw more bad driving that day then I had all year. But by Friday it had cooled down considerably. One of my stops was the main Canadian Tire near Yonge and Bloor and I had NEVER seen it so dead. For the first time in history there was no line-up at the cash register.

Christmas Eve was even stranger. I was downtown early, expecting the usual rush and — not to be callous — you could have fired a machinegun in any direction and not hit anyone. Except maybe me, of course.

On the other hand Future Shop hadn’t opened yet. That was the place that always seemed bursting with shoppers this year.

Anonymous December 31, 2005 at 10:23 am

Right on!

Anonymous Bosch.

Anonymous December 31, 2005 at 6:26 pm

Exactly my thoughts.

I think that parents are solely responsible for teaching children this skill.

Anonymous January 1, 2006 at 12:40 am

Thanks for this thoughtful look at things.

I have a million things to say about this given that I spend a enough time in Jane and Finch and a bit in Rexdale to know that there are lots of people fighting for the health of these communities. It would be nice if people outside of the communities would give more support to them as brothers and sisters rather than thinking of an entire neighborhood as something to be scorned or distanced from.

Nobody wants to hear it but the root problems in the rise in this violence is years of provincial policies that took social programs out of the most vulnerable neighborhoods and changes to the education system that had children being expelled from school as early as kindergarden. Longer jail terms don’t prevent crimes from happening giving children hope does. I believe research has shown that every dollar invested in preventative measures (ie. social programs) saves 3 in policing and punishment (not to mention the money lost to the business affected by crime).

We need to rethink some of our approaches.

I just wanted to point out that one factor to the massive drop in murders in NYC in 2001 was the attacks on the WTC. It was widely reported that crime took a massive nosedive immediately after this occurance.

There is some amount of humanity in almost everybody that can be reached IF WE TRY. We are the lucky ones who haven’t come to believe that life isn’t worth living or that the lives of others are worthless. Let us take a little time to show strangers that someone cares and that living in a particular neighborhood doesn’t mean that you have to join a gang.

NatTurner

P.S.: My friends and I used to listen to and love Cypress Hill, NWA, Tim Dog etc. and we never ever would’ve or have touched weed or guns. We had positive influences, let’s all be a positive influence in someone’s life, even people who don’t live in our own ‘hoods. (I live in Mississauga)

Anonymous January 1, 2006 at 5:53 pm

AG,

Thanks for making an effort to really think about this. Too often, our reactions to these events are pure emotion. Not the best starting point for sound public policy.

Re your quest for data — with some analysis too — the Globe & Mail ran an article comparing Toronto and Boston this weekend. It includes stats on the 2004 murder rates for Toronto and major U.S. cities.

Anonymous January 2, 2006 at 4:08 pm

AG if you read this you’ll see that the murder-rate in Boston is actually closer to 5 times that of Toronto. The City of Boston has a bit more than 500,000 people while The City of Toronto is over two and a half million.

Quote from the article:

Last year, however, the Boston metropolitan area had 61 killings. Though well below the 150 homicides registered in 1990, the figure reflects a steady upward trend. This year, the city has seen 75 homicides, and shootings are up 77 per cent from three years ago. By contrast, Toronto, which has five times the population of Boston, has had 76 homicides so far this year, including 50 involving guns.

Anonymous January 3, 2006 at 8:06 am

Hey, Nat!

This is a case of what I like to call “Statistical Gerrymandering”.

Bostonians are much bigger on the demarcation of areas than people in other places. For example, you and I would porbably say that M.I.T. and Harvard are in Boston, but many Bostonians would insist that they are in Cambridge, which is on the other side of the Charles River. Using this distinction and counting only the people in the area formally called “Boston” gives you a population of 500,000. This sort of counting in Toronto terms is like counting the population of Toronto but excluding Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York, which were technically cities of their own prior to amalgamation.

If were instead to look at the populations of Boston’s and Toronto’s metropolitan areas, they’re quite close; Wikipedia reports that Toronto’s metro population is 5.6 million and Boston’s is 5.8 million.

That’s the tricky thing about counting murder rates for cities: where does the “city” actually end?

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