The new grassroots group’s appeal to Surrey community — stop blaming each other for the increasing gang violence and join hands to find solutions
By Surbhi Gogia
A recent shooting of two young men in their teens left the Surrey community in shock. The shooting was part of serious problem of gang violence, the community has been grappling with, for decades. However, it was the age of the young boys that shook the community inside out this time.
On the evening of June 4, the bodies of 16-year-old Jaskarn (Jason) Singh Jhutty and 17-year-old Jaskaran (Jassi) Singh Bhangal were found by police on the side of the road near 192 Street and 40 Avenue, both having suffered gunshots. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team believed the shooting was targeted. Although the young victims were not known to them and their families say neither had any link to gangs.
As Gurpreet Singh Sahota, owner, Chardi kala Punjabi newspaper, who has been writing about the gang problems for two decades, explained, “Before average age of people becoming target of gang members was between 30 to 35 years. They knew what they were doing. They chose a life for themselves. But now young boys in their teens are becoming the target. These two boys did not chose to die. It is shocking for the community.”
The news spread like fire. The community felt enough was enough. It was time to review what has gone wrong that even young teens who are just blooming out of their childhood willingly or unwillingly are dragged into the drug trade and becoming target of gang violence.
After a few days thousands of parents, government officials and community groups gathered outside Surrey City Hall plaza at the “Wake Up, Surrey” rally to demand end to this gang and gun violence. Although a handful of South Asian media members and few other community leaders joined hands to organize the rally for one day, the response from the community was overwhelming. That one day of awakening has gathered momentum and now turned into a mass movement. Many have joined this Wake Up Surrey group.
“It is a grassroots working group of parents and concerned citizens who are venturing on a new path to prevent youth from gangs,” said Sahota, who was also one of the rally organizers.
He explained that there was no dearth of gang prevention programs, however everyone had a different interest running such programs. “We are a group of volunteers who have agreed to dedicate their time and energy for one year, $1, with no direct or indirect conflict of interest and no political ambition in an effort to help save our youth.
Over the past five weeks, Wake Up Surrey has undertaken an extensive outreach process, participating in approximately 48 focus group meetings with various community stakeholders to listen, learn, document and identify key gaps in combating increasing youth violence and gang activity.
Sahota said that during the meetings it was discovered the problem of gangs does not exist at one level. There are many layers to this problem. Some people blame government and some question parents’ upbringing for this issue. “It is time we highlight the loopholes in the system and start addressing those instead of blaming each other,” he says.
Wake up Surrey group is of the view that there is a need to work both at prevention and enforcement levels to ensure that kids stay away from the gang life and those who are already in it should be rescued. More resources at the school, police and community services level are required. “There is shortage of 400 police officers in the city. School education has one size-fits-all formula. School teachers need to be better trained on how to deal with kids from various cultural backgrounds. Community service programs set up to deal with gang life prevention have limited staff. There is at least 3 to 8 months wait period for your file,” Sahota explained.
“During the meetings each stakeholder demonstrated a spirit of cooperation and teamwork, while expressing grave concerns that it is “paramount the City of Surrey receive an appropriate National Crime Prevention Funding and the allocation process be locally driven under one master plan.” Wake Up Surrey has recommended federal funding investment of $8 million per year for a period of 5 years (total of $40 million) to implement sustainable community-based programs for the four identified categories: youth gangs, youth violence, youth bullying, youth cyber bullying.
As a parent-driven grassroots movement the group feels to responsibly step forward and help promote progressive awareness amongst parents too. Parents’ role is most important in preventing their kids from gang life. “I have talked to so many parents about reasons for youth getting into a gang. The crux is — a happy child will never be a gangster. Only those who face any problems at home, who are sad or depressed from inside, get into this life. My appeal to parents is to keep their kids happy.” Spending money on kids and buying them toys is not what counts as happiness. “It is important that parents understand the difference between raising kids and parenting.” This group will try to take three-way approach to spread this awareness. Participating in school activities, working on the disconnect between parents and kids by communicating more, and stop denying if you are suspecting that your kid has entered a gang life, are three ways, Sahota feels parents can work towards.
The group has also worked to launch of three summer programs in support with the Surrey School District, the City of Surrey, RCMP and Surrey Crime Prevention. “Each of these pilot programs will be functional in the next few weeks and provide further resources for steering at-risk youth in the right direction. At the end of the day, we as parents understand the need to step forward, be a part of the solution and we hope these proactive announcements will demonstrate our commitment to join hands with existing stakeholders to reduce gang violence,” he said.
- Project Seva:
The definition of Seva is “selfless service” or work performed without any thought of reward or repayment. As such, three local gurdwaras in collaboration with the Surrey School District Wrap Program will be providing langar (free kitchen) to the homeless three days a week.
- Youth Empowerment Mentoring Program:
Since the Wake-Up Surrey rally, a number of South Asian youth studying at Post Secondary Institutions have expressed a desire to be “agents of change” and lead a mentoring program this summer in collaboration with Surrey Wrap. Student mentorship programs can foster shared understanding and respect with at risk youth while providing positive role models in building self-esteem and trust.
- Community Safety and Student Mentorship Program:
Surrey Crime Prevention introduced the Community Safety Youth Leadership and Mentorship program in 2013 to support the needs of youth-at-risk and leadership students through partnerships with community partners in Surrey. This valuable program’s application for a Civil Forfeiture Crime Prevention and Remediation Grant was declined and upon learning of this, Wake Up Surrey has stepped forward to raise enough funds to ensure the program is not postponed in 2018.
“We fully understand there is no magic solution to the current crisis and our objective is to engage with stakeholders at all levels relying on accountability, transparency and collaboration,” he added.