When did things get so violent? It's a question I've been asking myself more and more as I read the headlines about shooting and stabbings that take place so often in Winnipeg's North End.
I grew up in the North End and, yes, it was a pretty tough neighbourhood, but most of our differences were settled with fist fights. And when two guys decided to square off, everybody else backed off and said, "Fair fight, one on one!" And when one guy said, "I give (up)," the fight was over. We didn't allow "swarming" or 10 guys giving "the beats" to one guy.
Sometimes somebody pulled a knife but it was just as often a pocket knife as a switch blade, and, as I said, this was rare. Almost nobody carried guns.
First Nations citizens are disproportionately represented in the violent crime statistics today, but I have spent my life surrounded by First Nations and Métis colleagues and friends and I know these people are not more violent than other people.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was this negative image of some First Nations people on Main Street, but the level and type of violence in the toughest bars and hotels along "the strip" wasn't anywhere near what it is now.
I know this because I frequented some of the establishments along Main Street when I worked at the Friendship Centre (some might say "too frequently"). After a hard day's work, we needed a place to unwind, talk about politics and sports, drink and dance. I can tell you that a lot of the leadership we know today spent some time in Main Street bars like the Brunswick, the Savoy and the Manor just like mainstream politicos had their favourite watering holes.
Very rarely would a fight break out, and on weekends, it would be off to a house party or a booze can somewhere in the North End, often after the bars closed. I can remember collecting addresses throughout the night and some of them were in the Lord Selkirk developments where my buddy and I could walk around safely at all hours of the night looking for late, late night parties.
Like most people, my partying days ended and I haven't frequented the North End like I used to since the late '80s. But I like to keep track of my old neighbourhood and, frankly, not much has changed. There is still far too much poverty and unemployment, but there are also some good organizations run by fine people trying to help people cope. Like anywhere else, there is a time to work and a time to play and I imagine there are still some fine house parties like the kind I used to attend.
But you can't walk the streets safely at night anymore. Perfect strangers are accosting people for such minor things as what's in your wallet, pocket change, beer or a cigarette. Or "mistaken identity." And if things get out of hand at some house parties, which they seem to much more often now than they did before, they get settled with a knife or a gun.
When did things get so violent? It seems to have increased with the current generation so let's say it started to change about 20 years ago.
I guess the bigger question is why?
Social workers have some answers, police have others. But I can tell you from my experience it's not alcohol and drugs.
We had plenty of all that when we partied.
Yes, the whole street gang thing has a lot to do with it. You can blame movies and video games, gangsta lifestyles, all manner of social influences.
But no, this is about respect.
No matter how heavy things got, we had respect for other human beings, and their right to an opinion, no matter how different it was from our own. Even their right to be a total ass.
The basic difference is that people have lost that respect that keeps them from harming one another. Like it doesn't really hurt. Like life and death don't matter.
And so it is much easier to stab or shoot someone.
Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer. He regrets that many good, young people of the current generation get painted with a negative brush because of the actions of a few.