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posted June 10, 2005

Girl gangsters

[ed: the following story was taken from the friday night supper notes for June 10, 2005.]

To those market friends who are worried because of the 30 or so youth who were arguing and threatening each other by the oven during the market between 4 and 5.15, here's the story. Some girls from the St.Clair area, several with their faces covered by bandanas, plus a cheering section, came to get revenge on an enemy girl at the park. The enemy girl and her many supporters (both male and female) did not want to fight. So there ensued lots yelling, cursing, attempts at provocation etc. My attempt to get the youth to leave mainly led to them including me in their abuse. Eventually if became clear that the girls would continue to try to step up their nonsense. Park staff called police but that rarely brings timely results. After an interval, police were called again, and still no results. My two attempts to ask market customers with cell phones to call the police as well (to strengthen our requests) were unsuccessful. (The customers were unwilling to act without more detailed information -- not a good time to give it). However, Alvaro of Plan B, as soon as he became aware of the problem, also called 911.

The threat of police led the several groups to move toward the main path and continue their cursing, mocking, provocation. Eventually my patience ran out and I took hold of sleeves and backpacks and pulled the girls toward the edge of the park. This led to increased threats and shouting and eventually, shoving me around. At that point some of the basketball regulars intervened energetically and made it clear to this rude posse that they must leave immediately and not touch me again. They finally left and did not return.

Later on, the police arrived, but by then the problem was over.

I found it astonishing that this big scene could play itself out right beside the market with me not being able to rally more help from the people at the market. It seems clear to me that a park must have standards of behaviour or it won't be a good place to come to. Youth problems have a history in our park as elsewhere in Toronto and decisive action is needed when there is unlawfulness. I am mulling over the events, but for now, I am grateful to the basketball youth for supporting me when I needed it (wholeheartedly, grasping the situation). I think that market users don't need to worry about their safety, but may need to think about everyone's role in how a park becomes safe.

Jutta Mason

A couple of letters to the editor on this topic:

I'm sorry I wasn't at the market this week. Thank you for intervening because I know ACTION is necessary to stop mounting violence. I do think this is worth discussing and perhaps we could start with a web dialogue and then a market day event. I was just at a conference in Malvern last weekend where gangs were addressed at a forum. Dealing with gang behaviour is necessary because it IS everywhere- not just in Malvern. And girls are as bad as boys! Thank goodness for those basketball boys coming to your rescue. (another example of why kids need places to belong).

Laurie Malabar

I remember the first thing in Psych 101 that they talk about is that people are less safe in a crowd, where others can imagine that the responsibility is spread around, and that they themselves don't need to intervene, whereas one or two bystanders can see that if they don't intervene, no one else will. I also remember in Bronze Cross training that they emphasized the same thing. One phrase that I will remember til I'm old, "You in the red shirt, yes you, call 911 and then come back here immediately!"

Georgie Donais

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