In October 2007, the residents of North Point Douglas organized the Make Point Douglas A Crack Free Zone rally. We hoped maybe 50 people would come out. More than 200 people showed up.
Point Douglas isn't quite a crack-free zone yet, but has it ever changed for the better.
The ordinary people of our community have shown they can make a difference. Our area has gone from having one of the highest crime rates in Winnipeg to a very average crime rate. Still much too high, but continuing to show progress.
We are fortunate most crack dealers are pretty dumb.
Our little network of what we lovingly call Invisible Cows and one Raging Bull continually develops new techniques to stay ahead of the criminals. One example was when three wonderful women kicked an Indian Posse ganglet out.
It started with an email from a woman to our Powerline email address: "The Indian posse have moved in next door. I love my apartment but they are pretty scary and are dealing crack." The mistress of the Powerline, indomitable retired kindergarten teacher, my wonderful wife Chris, emails this information to the landlord, a diminutive woman.
The landlord, who thinks she has rented her suite to an elderly woman, immediately drives over to discover five huge guys smoking in her no-smoking suite. She has a short conversation with Powerline and agrees to issue a five-day eviction notice.
Three days later the five big guys have packed up and are loading their worldly belongings into green garbage bags, supervised by the landlord, all 4-8 of her.
This is repeated on Hallet Street, with another property management company, where another group of crack dealers is scaring the neighbours. Another call to the property manager, another five-day eviction notice. Again the bad guys are on the run.
The tenants have the right to appeal but we have found criminals do not like the light of day and rarely appeal, knowing the neighbours are no longer afraid.
While crack sales are the hard-core symbol of crime in the inner city, we have identified out-of- control parties as a major source of violent crime including knifings. We had two party houses on one street. The Powerline distributed a flyer asking neighbours to call immediately if another party started. It's been a month now and no more wild parties.
We noticed bikers were starting to visit a certain address, cruising up with their mufflers wide open, trying to intimidate the neighbours. The Powerline very openly wrote down their licence plate numbers and suggested if they wanted to visit North Point Douglas, they do so with their mufflers functioning because the fine for not having their muffler working is pretty steep. After some wonderful expletives they drove away and we haven't heard from them since.
The people of Point Douglas only do what they can do to prevent crime. We have no power, no authority but we do use our community knowledge to try to prevent crime. It's not perfect but it gives ordinary people here some say in their personal safety. We are all volunteers but have discovered we are smarter than most of the bad guys.
It's been five years since that community rally. Gang members will continue to set up in North Point Douglas. Our community promises them a warm welcome and if they break the law, a quick exit.
Sel Burrows is a community activist who lives in Point Douglas.