Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vaughan / Oakwood: Profile of a ‘Mixed Income’ Neighbourhood

by Louisa Worrell
Basics Issue#10 (Aug/Sep 2008)

On Sunday, June 1, 2008 at approximately 11:30 pm more than 50 Toronto cops raided the studio/home of hip-hop artist Kama Kazie, allegedly for drugs.

A couple days later the bar/club across the street Town Talk was raided for the same reason.
Neither of the raids were fruitful, no arrests were made and no drugs were found at either site.
A couple days later on June 3, there was a “community” meeting organized by a group known as 5-Points Community Action, regarding a shooting that had happened May 24 on Belvedere, just off of Vaughn and Oakwood.

Although Vaughn and Oakwood’s ethnic make up is predominately Jamaican and Chinese, and is considered a mixed-income neighbourhood, the attendees of the community meeting did not reflect this reality. The meeting was attended by pre-dominantly middle-class white residents who expressed concern about “community safety”. And this is the reality of mixed income neighbourhoods: put wealthy homeowners who are concerned about their property value alongside deeply exploited workers and the unemployed, and what you get is a conflict. It should be clear who the police are going to side with in this equation.

To be sure, the June 3 meeting was attended by the police, with much discussion about the local business Town Talk at 616 Vaughn Rd. People at the meeting expressed concern that criminal activities such as drug dealing were going on at the bar. Only one of the community members who spoke had actually been to Town Talk, but there was a clear sentiment that the bar made people at the meeting uneasy. One attendee, Samantha Goldsilver, was quoted in the Toronto Star saying: “It’s just a bunch of hoodlums hanging out late at night,” she said of one of the bars. “If you drive by at one in the morning there’s people out on the street drinking and people who live on the street feel very intimidated. They feel like they’re walking a gauntlet to come home.”

It’s too bad that some of the hundreds of Jamaican-Canadian patrons of the restaurant weren’t invited to the meeting – they might have had a different opinion.

Tragically, on July 21, 2007, 21 year-old Kimel Foster was gunned down outside of Town Talk and since then Toronto police have heavily patrolled the bar’s vicinity. But a higher policing of the youth cannot be a solution to a problem that is social and economic, such as alienating curricula in Toronto schools and a lack of decent employment opportunities for young workers.

Furthermore, the police routinely set up RIDE programs right down the street from the bar on busy nights, further harassing community residents and patrons of the bar.

5-Points Community Action is currently rallying their members around stopping Town Talk from serving alcohol on its patio, despite the fact the Town Talk already has a license to do so.

It’s clear that the current organizing of middle-class homeowners in the community is suiting the agenda of the police, given that both are working together to marginalize and intimidate the non-white working-class residents of the community. It’s time for Vaughan and Oakwood’s working-class residents to organize as well. We must demand an end to police harassment and intimidation in our own neighbourhoods!