Her son was killed in a North Toronto shooting over a decade ago, but Shamsa Mohamoud says her surviving children still cannot walk into just any neighbourhood.
The threat of gun violence has galvanized a group of women, including Ms. Mohamoud, who referred to themselves as “black, Muslim, immigrant mothers,” to do something to “save our children."
"They are in the jails … and in the hospitals, and graveyards,” she said.
Members of the Somali Mothers Movement appealed to the Toronto Police Services Board to collaborate on developing solutions for their neighbourhoods. On Wednesday, more than 35 women attended the board’s last meeting of the summer, at which the group presented a plan called “Mending a Crack in the Sky.”
“Every mother is scared,” Ms. Mohamoud said in an interview. Her son, Abdikarim Abdikarim, died in a Lawrence Heights shooting that injured five others. Now, 11 years later, Ms. Mohamoud wants to prevent young men from getting their hands on guns.
She shared her story with board members, flanked at the table by a handful of other women. The group made three recommendations to police. Their proposals come after four years of work by the mothers – supported by Midaynta Community Services, an organization based in north Toronto that provides settlement assistance and other programs for immigrants and youth in need – who meet every Saturday at 7 a.m.
Among those recommendations is to build trust with neighbourhood officers through community workshops and other initiatives that would enable police to be more pro-active about preventing crime.
They would also like an outreach program established to provide crisis support to women and families affected by gun violence, and to combat the social isolation that stems from it. Some of the women said their sons had been involved in crimes themselves, and one member of the group expressed regret for those actions.
“Sincerely, we would like to apologize for our kids’ behaviour around the city, and we feel sad that they are also victims,” Halima Adan, an educator, said in her address to the board.
“I understand that trust comes both ways and it’s hard sometimes, but as a police officer and protector of the people, it is your duty to take that first step,” she said.
The women also want Toronto police to offer community training on the Scorecard system, a new initiative that invites members of the public to offer feedback to neighbourhood-division officers, and evaluate policing in their vicinity every three months.
Ken Jeffers, a police board member since 2015, applauded the “very resilient and intelligent women” for being committed to seeing these changes through.
Mr. Jeffers helped the group prepare for the deputation, and said in an interview that he feels encouraged that the women have come forward with the message that “we are prepared to partner with you, and for the first time, we are going to tell you how we want to be policed and what would be effective for us.”
The board passed his motion to direct staff and members of the anti-racism and mental-health standing committees to draw up a memorandum of understanding with the women. Then, they can draft a plan with implementation costs that can be presented to the board at its next meeting, in September.
Underpinning the discussions regarding gun violence was a broader one about race.
Shamso Elmi’s son was one month shy of his 25th birthday when he was killed in what she called a racially motivated assault in Vancouver.
“Racism killed my son. … We need to work together to end the suffering of families," she said.
Ms. Elmi pointed to justice gaps, including underfunded legal aid programs, and the fact that youth in conflict with each other can end up being sent to the same correctional facilities. Her son had also previously been incarcerated.
"We want a justice system that aims to understand the circumstances that lead our youth to criminal action," Ms. Elmi said.
After the deputations, the board meeting was interrupted by protesters who wanted to highlight the case of Dafonte Miller, a 20-year-old who was allegedly beaten by an off-duty Toronto police constable and his brother. Among their demands were terminating the officer’s employment and financial compensation to Mr. Miller.