Homicide unit commander Greg McLane can’t stand that the Danzig killers could shoot up a community barbecue and think they will get away with it because no one will testify against them.
Police often issue public calls for witnesses to crime, but they’ve intensified their pleas for witnesses against the Galloway Boys gang recently, holding a string of press conferences and urging the community to come forward about the mass shooting at the Danzig Street barbecue and a string of other shootings they’ve linked to the gang.
“They believe that they can walk in there and do that in front of all these people and get away with it.”
Homicide unit commander Greg McLane on the Danzig party shooters
“If they don’t, as a community, step up to the plate and be accounted for in testifying as to what it is they saw, these thugs can continue to walk around that community and inflict terror through intimidation and through violence on them, and it will never end,” said McLane.
Police officers told Metro it can be dangerous for witnesses to testify, but the justice system depends them. As Deputy Police Chief Peter Sloly put it: Police are “not trying to hide from the reality that this is a difficult and sometimes dangerous thing that people do, but it’s a requirement for everybody who lives in any community anywhere where crime happens.”
McLane won’t say how many witnesses have told police what they saw on Danzig Street in July, or how many of them, if any, are willing to testify in court one day.
“We need them to co-operate and if they co-operate, and they step forward as a witness, they may not be alone,” he said.
McLane said witnesses coming forward in droves would prevent violence. “If an offender knows, when he walks into a community, that those people are going to work with the police to bring him to justice then he’s not going to do it,” he said.
He knows witnesses to gang violence are scared, but when asked if witnesses against the Galloway Boys can be kept safe, McLane’s answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
“If they come forward and we’re able to arrest the person responsible and put them in custody, then they don’t have to live in fear any more,” he said.
Kingston-Galloway community does not trust police, activist says
When police call for witnesses to come forward testify against the Galloway Boys, Jam Johnson believes, “It’s never going to happen.”
The community activist and founder of the city-funded Neighbourhood Basketball Association charity, Johnson said the police problem with witnesses from Danzig Street and the Kingston-Galloway community isn’t just people being afraid of retaliation—police have always treated them with suspicion, which is given right back.
“People don’t trust the police because the police have let down the community many times before,” he said. “People are afraid of the police because you come forward you end up getting killed. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again.”
“The people who know the information they could tell, will never tell the police, ever. They’ve been harassed so much. Put it this way: The people who really know the inside scoop will never tell them nothing.”
Mentor/activist Jam Johnson
Police have upped their presence on the streets across the city, especially in Kingston-Galloway, over the summer. Chief Bill Blair announced crime was down across the city between July 26, 2012 to Sept. 9, 2012, from the average of the past seven years, with homicides down 62.2 per cent and shooting homicides down 68.7 per cent.
Johnson said the other result of more police in his neighbourhood is a worse relationship with the community, where more officers are stopping people on the street and asking people for their identification, while handing out jaywalking and trespassing tickets.
“Right now, the neighbourhood is under police pressure. They’re pressuring all the kids, harassing everybody. People don’t want to come out of their house, not because they’re afraid of any gunshots, because they’re afraid of the police harassment,” he said. “There are detectives all over the place. They’re the ones causing all the hell in the neighbourhood.”
The people who open their doors to detectives are scared, he said. “They’re thinking, ‘You’re making me look like an informer, you’re putting me in danger and what are the neighbours going to think now?’”
Through his charity, Johnson uses basketball lessons to get kids tutoring, nutrition lessons and help to get their lives on the right track. He listens to the kids, but won’t “rat” on them to police. He said he hears shocking things from the kids, including rumours of shooting police officers.
“I’m always telling the guys you can’t shoot at the police because it’s going to cause hell up in here and then everyone’s at risk of being shot. The slightest move in this pocket and we’re all going to get shot,” he said.
Improving relations with troubled communities a priority, police say
Toronto Police Deputy Chief Peter Sloly acknowledges there can be some problems with community trust in the police, but said it’s a police priority to improve public trust with youth engagement programs and by putting more officers into communities, instead of behind desks.
Sloly said there isn’t always something they can do to convince someone to co-operate, but said anyone who refuses is “enabling further victimization and further criminality.”
“At some point those chickens come home to roost. It’s simply not good enough for individuals, families and communities—demographic and geographic—to say, ‘We don’t like the police and we’re not going to help.’ What’s the plan B? Vigilante justice? More victimization?”
This is the first installment of a three-part series on witnesses to gang crime. Read part two here.