Theodore Roosevelt lived by the maxim “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – a revolutionary idea in mid-century American politics. Fast forward to the Danforth in 2015 and take note of the ground swell of community pride visible at coffee shops, restaurants, farmers markets and anywhere along the lengthy sidewalk. This is in some parts due to the work of the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) that has in some ways adopted Teddy’s philosophy: they’ve done what they could, with what we have here on the east end of Danforth. To make it a safer place, to make it a better community.
And it truly felt that way until recently.
Last week, our favourite pizza place Gerrard Pizza & Spaghetti won the new DECA Gems contest. During the festive celebration at Ethiopian restaurant Hirut, Gerrard Pizza owner Vito Greco held his crystal “Stanley Cup” trophy up high with a grin on his face looking forward to the future of his business and his neighbourhood.
|Photo Credit: Austin Delaney / CTV Toronto|
Yesterday, it was a new reality. Vito was sweeping up shards of glass from his front patio. A bullet ripped through his front window and a man was dead after being shot and killed only two doors down from Gerrard at a late night middle-eastern dive called Rotana. The second time in two years that police tape has cordoned off his stretch of Danforth because of a violent crime. Vito is fed up and so is the neighbourhood.
Ironically, during the celebration at Hirut last week, Pioneer and Vito got onto the topic of neighbourhood history. This isn’t the first time that there has been tension in the neighbourhood (and it won’t be the last). During the 1940s and 1950s, there was so much post-war tension amongst multicultural groups along the Danforth that violence would break out frequently and with terrible results. Vito’s elderly father, who has been running Gerrard since 1959, says that groups of young Italian men were not allowed to “congregate” and would be asked to ‘move along’ by uniforms.
Pioneer put in a call to 54 and 55 Division to ask them about their response to Monday night’s violence, and quite simply, will they be asking people to ‘move along’ from the Coxwell parkette, from out front of the many, many dive bars, from the alleyways and parking lots?
Staff Sergeant Mullin from 54 Division and Constable Morrice at 55 gave us a resounding yes to this question. Although both units have been making an effort over the past few months to do evening inspections of liquor licenses and scanning for associated issues, they are changing their strategy quickly to adapt to the overwhelming need for police presence.
- They will be partnering with Municipal Licensing & Standards (MLS) to put businesses in this area under the microscope, and making sure business owners are taking accountability for the kind of clientele they host. It has worked in the past and they’re hoping it will work again.
- They’ll be reallocating their resources and moving more officers to cover the wee hours of the morning. Taking a closer look at how they are policing the Danforth.
- They’ll be beefing up police presence. This is a common policing strategy that works to deter crime by having visible uniforms. This will also keep people ‘moving along’, by leaning on bylaws like prohibiting consuming alcohol in parks and public spaces.
- They’ll partner with TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Strategy team) on community initiatives.
Overall, both Sergeant Mullin and Constable Morrice confirmed that our crime rate in the neighbourhood is actually going down. Although it may seem as if it’s increasing, the number of high-profile violent crimes is bringing some bad PR and outweighing the gentrification and general reduction of the seedy element.
As a community, a lot of people are asking what we can do to combat these incidents. There is no simple answer. Wrapping yourself in Teflon bubble wrap is not the solution. Reporting crimes, calling in suspicious activity and keeping your eyes open is one answer. Get involved with the BIA or with DECA on projects that will help promote a safe neighbourhood – there are lots of volunteer opportunities for community activism. Get to know your local businesses and shop at them. Be smart. Don’t feel bad about turning in the drug dealer that lives above Morgan’s.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. “