Black Toronto neighbourhoods see more homicides but less support for victims’ family and friends, report finds

Black people are disproportionately impacted by homicides in Toronto neighbourhoods that have less access to scarce support for victims’ family and friends, says a new report from the University of Toronto.

The report, led by U of T associate professor Tanya Sharpe, looks into the how predominantly African, Caribbean and Black neighbourhoods are at increased risk and calls for both the collection of more race-based data and more research that amplifies the voices and experiences of Black survivors of homicide victims.

“We’re talking about a ripple effect of homicide violence for Black communities throughout the diaspora that has been underresearched and unnoticed,” Sharpe said. “We don’t even have enough services to deal with the pain, the grief and the traumatic loss.”

The report, released this month by the University of Toronto Centre for Research & Innovation for Black Survivors of Homicide Victims (The CRIB) — includes an interactive “homicide tracker” showing Toronto’s killings from 2004 to 2020, by neighbourhood.

It depicts high rates of homicide in several downtown neighbourhoods as well as northwestern neighbourhoods such as Weston and Mount Olive, which have comparatively larger Black populations but worse access to grief and bereavement supports.

When Sharpe, the founding director of The CRIB, went looking for race-based data, including rates of homicide by race, she found statistics on the Black community were chronically lacking.

“If we don’t count the number of homicides and show their experiences, then they don’t count,” she said. “Then there’s a lack of policy and resources that go to these communities to help support them and perhaps prevent homicides from occurring.”

According to the report, an average of 232 murders occur in the province yearly, with racialized Ontarians accounting for 75 per cent of victims, 44 per cent of whom identified as African, Caribbean or Black.

The report also explores the key factors that put Black communities at increased risk, such as employment and income inequality and mass incarceration.

Among the list of recommendations is a call for more training for service providers so that programming is culturally appropriate.

Destin Bujang, whose Black Creek neighbourhood is among those with a large Black population and a scarcity of services, lauded the report as a call to action for how to address these systemic issues.

“That’s a good way to represent the challenges vulnerable communities are facing,” said Bujang, co-founder and co-ordinator of the Black Creek Youth Initiative, a youth-led group that provides leadership training and mentorship for young people in the Black Creek/Trethewey neighbourhood. “These communities do not have access to equitable services.”

Angela Brackett said policy-makers should pay attention to the report because “sometimes perception can be like a cloud. When the light shines, who knows what can happen.”

More than a decade ago, Brackett the Mornelle All-Stars Coalition, which started as supervised “safewalk” to escort children in her Scarborough neighbourhood to nearby Military Trail Public School. The program has since expanded to include after-school homework help, a book club and March break and summer camps.

“We had to go out and connect with different agencies to bring in resources,” she said, emphasizing that services are otherwise not readily available, meaning “some communities are left without.”

Sharpe said there’s a problematic rhetoric that Blacks living in certain parts of our city face higher rates of homicide and violence because they’re also participating in things like gangs, guns and drug activity at higher rates.

“Rather than blame the victims, we have to begin to look at the structures that have created systems of inequity, often creating neighbourhoods that are deprived,” she said.

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. Reach him on email: j[email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic