People in Metro Vancouver trying to decide which outdoor patio might be best for some food and drink this week have something grim to consider: the possibility of being shot at.
Such is life in La La Land these days, where gang warfare has become part of daily existence. Some months are quieter than others, of course. But right now the conflict is as bad as ever, with gang rivals being brazenly gunned down in public. So far this year, 41 people have been either killed or injured in the feuding, many of them bystanders.
Just in recent weeks, one man was shot to death outside a shopping mall; another was killed at Vancouver’s international airport. A shooting at a Cactus Club restaurant in suburban Burnaby on May 13 saw children and parents ducking for cover as an estimated 20 rounds of gunfire erupted in the parking lot. The body of a 23-year-old known gangster was later pulled from a bullet-riddled BMW. Another well-known gangster was killed outside the patio of a popular downtown Vancouver eatery.
It’s gotten so bad that desperate authorities took the unusual step this week of releasing a poster of 11 of who the police believe to be the most dangerous gangsters in the area. It can’t be called a “Wanted poster, because many among the group aren’t actually wanted for anything; they are just men who the Vancouver Police Department say are associated with various gangs – Hells Angels, Brothers Keepers, Red Scorpions, take your pick – and who allegedly do bad things. If you happen to see any of them, police are advising you to keep your distance.
The reason, according to Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, is that it is “highly likely that a rival gangster will try to target [the person] with extreme violence” – and you, Joe and Jane Public, could be an ancillary victim.
The media has fanned out to get reaction from just about everyone to what is happening. My personal favourite is the wisdom offered by former VPD Supt. Andy Hobbs, who told a local television station: “If you feel uncomfortable, perhaps don’t go to that patio if it’s full of … gangsters.”
I’d say that’s solid advice. Perhaps people will start calling restaurants ahead to see if there are any gangsters there at the moment or if they anticipate any in the next few hours. Or maybe restaurants will start offering rooms behind bulletproof glass for families looking for an evening without drama. Amid the current environment that might be a real draw.
It’s easy to be cynical about what is taking place because it’s been taking place for years. Not much seems to change. The police appear to know everything about these criminals, and yet said thugs seem impervious to penalties. They’re all drug dealers, police tell us, but authorities don’t seem to be able to lock them up for, um, being drug dealers. It seems any time police do manage to put one behind bars, three more pop up somewhere else. It’s the gangster version of Whac-a-Mole.
Programs have been initiated to educate kids about the dangers of the gang lifestyle, but they’re not going to reach everyone. There will always been kids who feel marginalized, who don’t fit in, who are poor and are attracted by the potential to earn easy money with perks such as beautiful women and hot cars. All the lifestyle asks in return is loyalty and an understanding that your career could be a short one.
The many police agencies across Metro Vancouver are trying to put the best spin they can on it all: the public is safe; they’re on to the bad guys; it’s just a cycle that gang violence goes through. Wash, rinse, repeat. And maybe that’s all they can say. Clearly, there are not enough resources to keep tabs on every gang member 24/7. Still, you would think there are enough police to track more than a handful down, and enough popular support for the justice system to deploy tactics such as wiretaps to put them behind bars for a long time.
People I talk to have mixed feelings about it all. On the one hand, they don’t care if gangsters want to shoot one another; it’s no great loss to society. On the other, something is wrong when people can carry on a criminal lifestyle with so few consequences – other than those doled out by a rival gang.
Meantime, patio season has arrived. It’s just too bad people might be feeling queasy about going out and enjoying it.
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