The documentary about a bunch of multicultural youth at inner-city Gordon Bell High School made me proud to be a Winnipegger, if for nothing else than the wicked kids the documentary showcased. It also drove home some themes I think about a lot as a reporter, about telling true stories.
In the film, there's a section where teacher Marc Kuly tells students their first assignment in the storytelling group will be to explain their names.
Our names are the first thing we tell others about ourselves, he says, and they are the most basic thing we can share with others about who we fundamentally are.
It hit me hard, and not just cause I have an immediate cringe factor when people frequently call me 'Gabby,' a name that soooo isn't mine. Yick.
So why this warm fuzziness on a post about an inner-city gang that changed the West End into a shooting gallery and runs crack-houses for cash?
The report garnered a lot of attention, even thought the Organized Crime Unit detective who carefully prepared it wasn't chatting with media.
The Winnipeg Police Service usually does not name gangs, presumably to avoid enhancing each gang's street status.
It's one of those 'damned if you, damned if you don't' approaches. By not naming gangs, we're not necessarily undermining their already entrenched street reputations and explaining to the larger world what's going on with patterns of violence/drug trade power struggles.
That's key, I would argue, to providing a nuanced and informed perspective about crime -- rather than one that operates on irrational fear and unexplained spates of violence.
Some other police agencies will name gangs who are linked to crime (think Vancouver and Abbotsford, for example) in the interest of public disclosure. Newsflash: people know who the Hells Angels are, and who the African Mafia are.
Which brings me to the very thoughtful report prepared by Det. Ryan Howanyk .
Among the pearls of wisdom gleaned from the 20-page document?
How do Winnipeg police figure out if someone is a gang member?
There's a six-point validation criteria outlined in the report, based on the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada's approach. A person is considered a verified gang member if they hit two of the six criteria, and an associate if they hit one of the six. They are:
- Reliable source information
- Observed association with known gang members
- Subject acknowledged gang membership
- Involvement in a gang-motivated crime
- Court ruling subject was a gang member
- Common and/or symbolic gang identification/paraphernalia
What is the history of the African Mafia?
- Police first noticed them in 2005 as a splinter of Mad Cow Street Gang (formed in 2004)
- Police allege Evan Murphy Amyotte (a.k.a. Dirt) and Yassin Ibrahim (a.k.a. Ace) formed the Mad Cows, and Amyotte "preyed" on young male immigrants from Africa to join
- Started warring with B-Side gang in 2004 and remain rivals until now
- Eventually, African Mafia forms because B-siders shoot and kill Sirak Okazion Rezene (a.k.a. Shaggy) in 2004, who was associated with Mad Cows.
- Police say many Mad Cows were displeased with Amyotte because they didn't retaliate for Shaggy's murder and felt they weren't getting enough cash for trading drugs. Hence, the formation of the African Mafia by 2005. Those two factions start fighting over the West End drug trade and exchange open-air gunfire, leading to the shooting death of bystander Phillippe Haiart in October 2005. In response, the city kicks off Operation Clean Sweep -- evolving into the Street Crime Unit -- which still exists to this day.
- Today, there are 40 to 50 active members/associates of the gang. Police say tensions between Mad Cows and African Mafia have calmed down, say police, because they want to avoid heat from police and focus on making cash money from the drug trade. There's also two new splinter gangs, called Da Pitbull Army (DPA, 2006) and All Bout Money (ABM, 2008).