The murder of two Surrey teenagers drew thousands of people to city hall Wednesday evening, with speakers calling for elected officials to help curb recent violence on local streets.
Gurpreet Sahota, organizer of the WAKE UP! rally, said it was the culmination of years of community outrage that drove him and others to host the event.
“Twenty years ago, we were seeing gangsters dying at the age of 30, 35. Now, we are seeing kids not known to police, innocent kids, dying at the age of 16, 17. We have to do something,” Sahota said.
Jaskarn (Jason) Singh Jhutty, 16, and Jaskaran (Jesse) Singh Bhangal, 17, were both found dead following a late-night shooting in South Surrey’s Campbell Heights on June 4.
Police have not linked the murders to gang or drug violence, but are calling the incident “targeted.”
Although the deaths of the teenage boys are two prolific cases in recent memory, they are not unique in a city which has seen many shots-fired incidents.
The double-murder was Surrey’s 22nd shots-fired incident so far in 2018 – almost one a week.
This, after years of double-digit shootings in Surrey: There were 88 in 2015, 61 in 2016 and 59 in 2017.
Sahota said he believed a lack of resources for both the Surrey School Board and Surrey RCMP are contributing factors to the violence the city faces.
In 2017, Ottawa announced the allocation of more than $327 million of federal funding to combat violence and gang activity nationwide, but Sahota says a lack of accountability means this funding isn’t going to where it is needed most.
“When I talk to police officers, they are asking me ‘where is this money?’” he said.
Pravjit Takhar, a Surrey resident of 17 years, said it was his concern over what his community was becoming that drove him to attend the rally.
“The street I live on was once a very safe street,” he said. “I wouldn’t see anyone dealing on the street. Now, it’s just a routine; it looks like it’s part of this city.”
Nikhil Mutti, 16, said he and his friends attended Thursday’s rally to show their support for their community’s efforts to reduce violence.
Mutti said he hoped young people attracted to the gang lifestyle would take heed to listen to what was said by impassioned speakers at the rally.
“People want to have that stuff, but you have to work for it,” he said. “If you take the easy way out by doing the drug and gang thing, it messes your life up. It’s a one-way trip.”
Meantime, a free Youth Empowerment Forum has been organized for Thursday (June 15) inside Surrey City Hall to discuss “youth gangs, drugs and violence.”
The public event is organized South Asian Family Association (SAFA) and has been in the work since March, said one of the organizers Rina Gill.
While some have assumed the event was planned after two South Asian teenagers were killed on June 4, Gill said this event has been in the works since March.
But, Gill noted the issue has “always been a hot-button issue in Surrey.”
A media release notes while “Surrey and other areas have attempted to address the gang violence that is taking place on the streets of Surrey. However, despite exploring means to put an end to this issue, it doesn’t appear to be going away.”
The forum aims to delve into solutions, such as making parents aware of what to watch out for.
“What are some signs that may indicate that a person is involved in drugs and gangs?” a release states. “There are so many leaders in South Asian and mainstream community who can be the role model or facilitator for mobilizing the community to address this need.”
Gill said Andrew Bacchus from the Ministry of Ontario will be keynote speaker at the event, who she said is “considered a national gang expert.”
She emphasized the event is not about “criticizing or judging Surrey, in terms of what is in place, we simply want to know what other cities and provinces are doing to tackle the issue” and brainstorm ideas as a “united front.”
The event, inside city hall’s Centre Stage (13450 104th Ave.), will run from 6 to 9 p.m., and will kick off with Bacchus as keynote speaker.
“Then we will break off into groups which will be led by each of the community organizations involved,” Gill explained, including KidsPlay and Youth Transforming Society. There will then be a breakout sessions and a speaker panel discussion.
“It’s an opportunity for it to be interactive, where attendees can share their ideas, thoughts and suggestions,” she said. “We will compile a report at the end, and submit it to city hall and the RCMP, and present what we think are solutions…. We appreciate experts in the field but we also want to hear grassroots, from the community, from youth themselves. That’s why we took a different approach.”
-With files from Amy Reid