On a mission to curb gun violence

Louis March at a 3-on-3 basketball tournament in Malvern. Photo credit: Tracey Bowers-Lee

The summer of 2018 was dubbed the ‘Summer of the Gun’ with 51 people shot and killed by guns in Toronto, according to the Toronto Police Service. Already there have been 10 deaths by gun and 96 shooting incidents in the city this year – statistics that concern Louis March and many others.

March is the founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement (ZGVM) in Toronto, a not-for-profit organization. He’s frustrated with the lack of progress to eliminate guns, particularly in black communities.

March’s mission is to educate those who have the power to make change and to help them realize this issue isn’t one they can avoid.

He is driven by his passion and love for his community – and will talk to anyone who will listen. He wants the mayor of Toronto, the premier and the prime minister to understand that the job of repairing what’s wrong in some black communities starts by listening to them.

He says they need the government’s support and resources, but not for politicians to take control and think they have all the answers. He says it is also up to communities to make a difference.

“The people, not the leaders, are the solution,” says March. “When I was growing up, I had ten mothers and ten fathers. I don’t know where they all came from, but they all had this belief that they had to look out for my well-being, to ensure that I stayed on the straight path. So, if I did something bad, somehow, I had to answer to them all.”

He says there’s no such thing anymore. March says values have changed and rules have changed

along with them. He says gun culture has also changed.

“In the last ten, 15 years, things have changed dramatically,” he says. “In 2015, there used to be one and two guns in the community, and they used to be shared, borrowed or rented. Somebody had a gun and you knew who to go to get it to do a job and there was a price on it. In 2018, kids have one and two guns themselves. The access to guns has changed, the age of the people using the guns has changed.”

Gangs used to regulate who had guns and who you could shoot, he says. He explains in the past gangs didn’t want publicity, they weren’t bold, they weren’t brazen. There were rules and codes.

March finds today there are young kids with guns who are not part of a gang, have no gang affiliation, and no gang structure. He says these young people are out on social media bragging, name calling and triggering feuds.

“When you put a message out there it’s out there forever and somebody is going to respond,” he says.

There are many aspects to the issue of gun and gang violence, according to March. The access to these guns. The reasons for the increase in supply and demand. The age of the individuals using the gun and the calibre of the guns.

“When kids are saying it’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a job, we have a problem,” he says.

Justice Donald McLeod of the Ontario Court of Justice says to get at the problem the community has to start at the source.

“It’s hard to intercede when you are now in a chronic situation,” he says, “which means the only safeguard that our community has that this will stop is if we are able to start at the root.”

He says the root is education, economic empowerment, and marginalization.

“Systemic discrimination is the umbrella,” he says. “Very few people of gun violence or perpetrators of gun violence have a university degree. Very few who are in the criminal justice system have gone on to post-secondary education.”

He says there’s a need for programs to help these kids see the opportunity and value in their lives. “We have to start understanding our self-esteem and our personhood. This means we have to begin to like ourselves,” he says. “Because what we are doing is, we are committing communal suicide.”

The Federation of Black Canadians (FBC), founded by McLeod, is a non-profit organization driven by black groups across the country. FBC assists with improvements to the social, economic, political and cultural interests of black Canadians. McLeod says these are the organizations that are needed most.

Last year Toronto mayor John Tory said all three levels of government would pledge $15 million each in an effort to curb gun violence and to support plans aimed at preventing youth from gang influence.

March and McLeod both agree that to break the cycle it has to start with the kids.

“We cannot wait for others to tell us what the problem is with us,” says McLeod.