Anger, frustration, hurt and heartbreak were voiced at a community town hall at William Whyte School Wednesday night in the wake of the city’s most murderous month in more than two decades.
Thirteen federal, provincial and municipal politicians, as well as representatives from numerous frontline organizations, attended.
They listened to North End residents voice their concerns about the drug abuse and violence that’s plaguing the city.
'These drugs are harsh, they're very violent and they tear apart our people. So if you have a chance to hug your children, to hug your nieces and nephews, do it'— Walter Richard
Also in attendance was Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth, who had a number of speakers direct pointed comments, and criticisms, his way.
"Tonight is for community. Often community’s voice is not heard, or is nowhere to be found, and often you’ll have a bunch of politicians who get all of the space to talk about what they think, what they think needs to be done," said NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine.
"We are here tonight to listen. We’re here to listen to each and every one of you tonight."
Fontaine and fellow NDP MLA Bernadette Smith organized the event in following a brutal spate of crime in Winnipeg, which reached a fever pitch with the horrific attack on three-year-old Hunter Straight-Smith on Oct. 30.
Hunter, who was taken off life-support last week, died after his mother’s on-again, off-again boyfriend allegedly stabbed him in the throat repeatedly.
The event began at 6 p.m. with a traditional Indigenous healing song and stretched on long into the night. Issues discussed included violence and drugs, racism and broken homes, policing and affordable housing.
"We keep hearing that violence is the problem, drug use is the problem, stealing beer is the problem. But those aren’t the problems, they’re the responses to the problems. So I want to talk about racism and colonialism and poverty," said Laurel Cassels, a frontline worker.
"Those are the problems that create the other problems."
Walter Richard, who identified himself as the uncle of a recent homicide victim in the city, urged Smyth and the police service to do more to clean up shooting galleries.
He said his nephew struggled with substance abuse and pointed to a drug house on Furby Street.
He said it’s only a matter of time before more lives will be lost either to violence or drugs, due to what goes on at that property.
"I thought we were done with these shooting galleries, these places where people get high all day... When I went in (my nephew’s) place to claim his belongings, I had a gentleman who stood about 15 yards from me and he was like a zombie," Richard said.
"These drugs are harsh, they’re very violent and they tear apart our people. So if you have a chance to hug your children, to hug your nieces and nephews, do it."
Multiple speakers said there’s a dire need for more community efforts to address issues related to drugs and violence; they called upon others to volunteer.
More than one speaker stressed that holding a single town hall meeting wouldn’t be enough to drum up solutions, and that consistent efforts are needed.
In response, Fontaine briefly took hold of one of the microphones to say that she and Smith had decided they would continue to organize more events in other areas of the city so community members could come together for support.
Community organizations at the event included Aboriginal Youth for Opportunities, the Bear Clan, the Mama Bear Clan and multiple resident associations.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 at 10:13 PM CST: Adds photos
10:23 PM: Updates photo caption.