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A bullet hole is seen in the wall inside the entrance way at 2468 Eglinton Avenue West were a male youth was shot in the leg during a drive-by. (Anne-Marie Jackson/The Globe and Mail/Anne-Marie Jackson/The Globe and Mail)
A bullet hole is seen in the wall inside the entrance way at 2468 Eglinton Avenue West were a male youth was shot in the leg during a drive-by. (Anne-Marie Jackson/The Globe and Mail/Anne-Marie Jackson/The Globe and Mail)

Globe investigation

Toronto's new murder capital Add to ...

"We're in a vicious cycle," says Steve Tasses, owner of Variety and Video and the local Business Improvement Area leader. A tireless advocate, he takes in stray cats and hosts community barbecues. His activities don't make the news, he pointed out. Shootings do.

"All of the sudden we got pegged, then we got all the attention and then, you know, the stigma. And then we're in the same breath as Jane and Finch."

Many in this tightly knit community have been forced inside by fear of the gangs nearby, says Ms. Di Chicco, a 38-year-old mother who spoke with me after Mr. Tasses drove to her house to deliver a pack of cigarettes..

"They're intimidating people, so people are stepping back and allowing this to happen," she says. "I should be able to run out at night and not be worried I'm going to get caught in the crossfire."

Her community is stuck between four other typically high-crime areas. There are the fabled Rexdale and Jane-Finch neighbourhoods to the northwest and north (Crip and Blood territory, respectively), the Lawrence Heights "jungle" to the northeast and Parkdale to the southeast. In what is perhaps a testament to Chief Blair's prowess, police activity has driven crime out of those areas. But the crackdown has pushed the gangs into York South - Weston. Police call it the water-balloon effect - press down somewhere, another spot pops up. Local city councillor Frank Di Giorgio believes that's what is happening here.

Aggravating matters, gangs have arrived at an area with no community centre and few social services, and experts on crime say that gangs thrive in a place where young men have nothing else to do.

"Weston [and neighbouring]Mount Dennis is still one of the most under-served communities," says Kristy Grisdale, director of Frontlines, a Weston Road youth centre funded by private donations.

The centre's doors are locked all the time, keeping kids in and undesirables out. "We really want the kids to understand they can choose to engage, safely, in a solution."

This ain't no mafia. There's no guy at the top. Matthew Eubank

The murders started last fall, when Stephen (Frost) Barton was shot on Eglinton Avenue. You'll see "RIP Frost" spray-painted all over this part of town. The slaying drew some police attention. Things calmed down. Supt. Smollet thought that was that.

But in January, Kevin (Kasa) Boateng, a suspected Gator, was stabbed outside a Old Weston Road home. (His mother denies he was a gang member.) It was around the time of that death that police searched another home and found illegal guns and a three-foot-long alligator, thought by police to be a Gator mascot.

Jahmelle Grant, who police believe was a 5PG member, was shot and killed at a Weston Road booze can on Feb. 1. After that, Daniel (Dizzle) Da Silva, a 22-year-old Portuguese man who police say had gotten into drug dealing, was robbed and shot inside his luxury BMW SUV. A suspected 5PG member was arrested.

There was Danny (Goon) Lewis, shot and killed off Keele Street. He was Frost's best friend, a suspected General, and into dealing, police say. The gun that killed him was dropped in a dumpster at a youth centre where he'd sought help writing a resume.

A day later, Omar Waite, allegedly a Gator, was gunned down nearby. Mr. St. Remy's death came a week later. Ten days after that, Adrian Johnston, a 14-year-old suspected to be a Gator associate, was shot in a field near Woolner Avenue, still wearing his school uniform.

All told, the violence this year has claimed six homicide victims linked to the Gatorz and 5PGz, the latter of which is also linked to the high-profile killing of Ephraim Brown, the 11-year-old shot and killed two years ago this month.

"My gosh, they [the 5PGz]have done so many things," says Amiga Taylor, Ephraim's sister. "If they have been involved in so many things, why does it take my brother dying for them to be in jail?"

The division has had about a dozen non-fatal shootings, but none since June 29, when a drive-by shooting outside 2468 Eglinton Ave. W. left a 16-year-old with a wounded leg.

Police believe the violence is largely drug-related. "You get shootings, you get stabbings, you get robberies, this is all part-and-parcel of the drug trade," Supt. Smollet says.

Five-year-old Tanya Reynolds was hit in the back by a stray bullet while playing in this backyard. The little girl survived.

Disorganized crime

The gangs are small, basically groups of no more than two dozen friends. Police information shows that the recession is leaving addicts with less money for drugs, with the water-balloon effect driving them into tighter areas.

Gangs are, in turn, fighting for turf in a shrinking drug market. The 5PGz are based at Lawrence-Weston, the Gatorz at Woolner Avenue. Four other gangs lurk, including the Trethewey Gangsta Killaz and Eglinton West Crips, both Crip-affiliated. (Their rival Bloods are north, at Jane-Finch, and east, in Scarborough).

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