Austerity, racism and structural violence: Putting the Scarborough shooting in context

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A recent town hall drew attention to the need for jobs and services for Scarborough. (Photo: HiMY SYeD / photopia)

Politicians from all levels of government have reacted with statements about Monday night's horrific shooting in Scarborough, Ontario. Federal government Ministers Julian Fantino and Rob Nicholson took the occasion to promote the Conservatives' crime bill and other "tough on crime" legislation. While the Harper government promotes their own agenda in the wake of this tragedy, we are sharing this reflection that situates the shooting in its wider context of austerity, racism and structural violence. 

The Scarborough shooting in the Morningside neighborhood late Monday night has left the community shaken to its core. Shyanne Charles, 14, and Joshua Yasay, 23, were killed at a block party on Danzig Street, near Morningside Drive and Lawrence Avenue. 26 others -- including an infant -- were injured after an altercation led to an exchange of gunfire.

As Toronto has begun to reflect on this terrible tragedy, a profoundly racist discourse has emerged in the public discussion of the event, with social media buzzing with various forms of victim blaming. It's the fault of absent black fathers and the lack of a traditional family in the black community, some say. It's the result of a romanticized 'gangbanger' attitude and therefore their own fault for participating, say others.

In each different variation, people are blaming the victims of Monday's gun violence, arguing that it's an inevitable result of people 'embracing a ghetto lifestyle.'

Less overtly racist responses have tended to focus on either the movement of illegal guns across the border, or on the lack of police presence in the Morningside community. But as one Toronto resident tweeted, "Poverty is the proximate cause. Not border control, not gangs, not the police."

Scarborough is being left behind, and one only has to take a quick look at the numbers to understand the unequal conditions that are giving rise to these forms of gang violence. According to United Way statistics, from 1981 to 2001, there's been a 136.6 per cent growth in poor families in Scarborough. As of 2001, 83 per cent of poor families are families of colour, while 64 per cent are immigrant families.

In the Morningside neighbourhood where Danzig is located, 51.3 of individuals 15 and older are classified as low-income, and 56.6 percent in neighbouring West Hill. All of these statistics were collected before the economic crisis that began in 2007-8 recession, and the inequality in these neighbourhoods has likely only grown more acute.

According to Respect Scarborough, a grassroots organization formed in 2011, "Large factories which once provided well-paying, permanent jobs have been closing up, going bankrupt, or shifting production south of the border (or overseas). Good jobs are harder and harder to find because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the rising value of the dollar, and globalization." Low-paying part-time and temp jobs have increasingly filled the void, and immigrant workers in particular are often forced into extremely poor working conditions.

As we begin to search for answers to Monday's shooting, it's crucial that we connect the most visible forms of violence that we witness with the deeper, structural violence that may not be as visible, but that gives rise to these more visible ones all the same.

With unemployment and poverty on the rise, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford voted last January to cut funding for youth outreach workers, and only last month voted against every one of the city's development grants programs. Harper and McGuinty are also implicated in this deeper violence, as their austerity budgets have hacked at the social programs these communities depend on with quality jobs so scarce.

And quite recently, the Toronto District School Board announced that it was closing eight Toronto schools, two of which are in the Morningside neighbourhood: Heron Park Junior Public School and Peter Secor Junior Public School.

It's within this context that Monday night's shooting occurred. The racists and Harper and the "tough-on-crime crowd" have their perspective, but we need to focus the discussion on the systemic reasons for this tragedy. As Scarborough begins to heal from Monday's trauma, we owe it to the victims and their families to fight for real solutions to gun violence.


Evan Johnston is a graduate student, writer, editor, and socialist activist based in Scarborough. This article was originally published in Socialist Worker and is reprinted here with permission. 

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