For the sake of a murdered son
400 sign mom's anti-gun petition
Change `starts with the parents'
The Toronto Star
Jan. 17, 2006. 01:00 AM
Banning handguns, tougher sentences, stricter border patrols, more youth programs.
They are political promises made on the campaign trail, strategies announced in the wake of the Boxing Day shooting that left a 15-year-old Toronto girl dead and six other people wounded.
But the promises mean nothing, says the mother of a murdered son, if they aren't kept.
"There are too many young offenders using guns and getting away with it. They still have blood on their hands and they are back out on the streets," said Joan Howard, mother of youth worker Kempton Howard, who was shot to death two years ago.
Kempton was trying to make a difference, counselling young people and helping to show them a lifestyle free of drugs and gang activity. The 24-year-old was a dedicated coach who worked and volunteered at the Eastview Community Centre. When he was shot in the head on Dec. 13, 2003, he had plans to become a physiotherapist.
Three suspects — including a teen — charged with first-degree murder in his death, are currently before the courts.
Banning handguns, as proposed by Paul Martin and the Liberal Party, won't solve the problem, said Howard, nor will tightening border security, as suggested by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
"If people want to get a gun, they will get a gun. Guns are like candy on the street. ... We have to reach our younger generation and they have to know they won't get away with it," said Howard. "Really, it starts with the parents."
"Ministering, mentoring and monitoring" are key for making change in the black community where the majority of gun-related homicides occur, Rev. Eugene Rivers told local leaders during a three-day visit from Boston last week.
One of the architects of the so-called "Boston miracle," which dramatically reduced gun crime there, Rivers was brought to Toronto by the city's faith community in an effort to seek solutions for the increase in violent crime.
The faith community needs to be leaders in the solution, said Rivers, adding government cannot take on the responsibility alone. Politicians should provide the backing for community-based programs, he said, and community leaders should come together to work in vulnerable communities.
Although the federal candidates have talked about sinking money into more social programs, Howard believes without a heavy emphasis on parenting, nothing will improve.
Parents need to know what their children are doing and with whom they are associating. Parents have to walk their children in to the police station when they break the law, she said.
"If you are 16 and carrying a gun, why do you have it? Why carry a gun unless you have intentions of using it?" Howard said.
`I think many of them are using crime to get votes. When they get into office, they'll have other agendas.' —
Joan Howard, mother of murdered youth worker Kempton Howard
Howard, who works in a nursing home, said teenagers know they get little punishment for serious crimes. The single mother, who lives with her 14-year-old son Kareem in the Toronto-Danforth riding, has started a petition in an effort to have young people charged with gun crimes tried and sentenced as adults.
She has been carrying the petition on her way to work, out shopping, and stopping people and asking for signatures. After just a couple of days, she had quickly gathered the support of close to 400 people for what she would like to see named "Kempton's Law."
NDP Leader "Jack (Layton) will take the petition to Ottawa," she said, adding she believes parents of youths younger than 16 should be held accountable for their children's criminal behaviour. Children need to be loved, and parents need to take that responsibility, she said.
"If a child comes from a home with no love, he will find that love on the streets, with gangs, picking up guns," Howard said.
Many of the politicians are using crime as a platform, but Howard is concerned promises will not be kept.
"It took the Boxing Day shooting for them to say enough is enough. That shooting shouldn't have ever happened," she said, adding residents must hold their local representatives accountable. "Right now, I think many of them are using crime to get votes. When they get into office, they'll have other agendas."
Earlier this month, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told the Star he will not be pressured "by the politics of the moment."
With 52 shooting deaths in Toronto last year — an all-time high — Cotler acknowledged recent calls for longer mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes but said such an approach doesn't work. As a law professor, he said everything he read on the issue concluded "mandatory minimums are neither a deterrent nor are they effective."
But Howard said without serious consequences, children won't think twice about picking up a gun.
The Liberals support a proposal requiring people charged with gun crimes to prove why they should be released on bail. Howard would like to go further, denying bail to anyone charged with a serious gun offence.
"If you're carrying a gun, you have intentions of using it," she said.
Martin wants to focus on crime prevention, "to deal with the causes, like poverty and exclusion." Banning handguns, increased law enforcement and investing in community-based programs are among his promises.
Tougher penalties for violent crime and gang violence, doubling mandatory minimum sentences for serious gun charges, and eliminating conditional sentences for serious offences that result in personal injury complete the Liberal platform on crime.
Harper has vowed to "increase mandatory minimum sentences up to 10 years for gun crimes, eliminate house arrest for such criminals and strengthen the Youth Criminal Justice Act, making it easier for cases to be transferred to adult court. Harper also wants to increase border patrols, hire more police officers and eliminate the gun registry.
Layton proposes investing heavily in poor and vulnerable communities through youth mentoring programs, scholarships and recreational activities.
© The Toronto Star 2006
The Toronto Star