A former gang member told a community-police forum that the gang lifestyle equals prison or death.
Andrew Bacchus, an ex-leader of the Vice Lords gang in the Jane & Finch community, has morphed into a gang expert with special expertise in gang exit and reunification.
He was one of the panelists at 42 Division’s second annual crime conference on Oct. 20 at L’Amoreaux Community Recreation Centre.
The theme was Gangs and Youth: Understanding the Gang Culture.
Bacchus, who started dealing crack cocaine as a teenager, spent several years incarcerated.
“After I came out of prison, I connected with the Jamaican Canadian Association, which had a counsellor, Horace Wright, who took me under his wing,” Bacchus recalled.
“He told me that I had more to offer to society than just crack cocaine.”
Bacchus also hooked up with the defunct Youth Clinical Services (YCS) which sought his advice on how to deal with troubled young kids.
“After a while, the executive director told me that my advice worked and she offered a job paying $10.25 an hour,” he recounted.
“I was still in the drug and gang game at the time and I told her I could be making so much more than she was offering… At around the same time, I found out that some of the friends who I grew up with were planning to rob and kill me. In addition, I had a baby that I wanted to be around. I got tired of the game and going to jail and I decided to take that job.”
He spent seven years counselling youth through YCS and now coordinates gang exit and intervention programs with the Astwood Strategy Corporation.
“Over the last five to six years, I have buried about 16 young men and none of them died from sickness or natural causes,” he added.
“I spoke at about seven of these funerals and the reason is their parents asked me to say something about their sons because they didn’t have anyone else to call on to say something positive about them.”
Other panellists included D/Const. Nelson Barreira of the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force, Karim Grant of East Metro Services and Stephen Linton of the city’s community response crisis team.
“What we do is cover the whole city looking at critical incidents and crisis,” Linton said.
“Essentially, we are mandated to respond to shootings, stabbings, swarmings and gang-related activity… As a department, we have responded to concerns parents have brought to us that children as young as seven years old are getting involved in criminal activity.”
Linton said more young people are being recruited to gang activity because they are told they are few ramifications to their actions.
“The unfortunate reality that we deal with is that there is a rumour out there that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is easier to navigate as a child than when you go into adult court,” he said.
“The perception is that you may commit a crime, and then you get a slap on the wrist and you go back out in the community again. Or you can commit a crime, do an extra-judicial sanction and volunteer hours and then you are back in the community.”
Linton showed a 20-minute movie, Mouse, depicting how easy young children can be influenced to become gang members.
Last year’s inaugural crime conference dealt with bullying.
Supt. Kathryn Martin, the Division’s unit commander, said the Community Policing Liaison Committee (CPLC) chooses the topic based on relevance to the city and the Division.
“They are an intermediary between the citizens in our Division and the police and what they bring to the table in terms of policing is a unique point of view and, in terms of this, putting on an afternoon like this gives a different blend than your typical police officer would look at things,” said Martin.
42 Division is the largest of the 17 police divisions with nearly 80 elementary and 15 high and alternative high schools.