By Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press
SURREY, B.C. – It’s not criminal gangs, but the pursuit of glamour behind a series of shootings in two suburban Vancouver neighbourhoods that has residents worried about who the next bullet will hit, police say.
Half the roughly three dozen shootings in the Surrey and Delta area since March have been linked to a drug feud between two groups involved in “disorganized crime,” said RCMP Sgt. Dale Carr.
“When you talk to some of these low-level drug dealers, it’s really funny how in some instances the first thing they go to is what they own. ‘That’s my beamer, this is my Rolex or my Breitling (watch) or $400 whatever-brand jeans.”
Several people have been injured and one man has been killed in the 18 shootings police have directly connected to the retaliatory gunfire between young people running dial-a-dope operations.
The federal government is spending $3.5 million to expand a Surrey School District anti-gangs program to extract teens from the lifestyle in response to concerns over the violence.
Young people are getting involved for easy money and prestige, say three teenagers participating in the Wrap Project, though they aren’t involved in the dispute and have asked for anonymity.
They say difficult childhoods or absent parents further push the vulnerable toward those who feel like family.
“Everybody wants to be a gangster type-of-thing. When I was a kid, I used to look at a gangster. I’d be like, he’s driving a nice car, he’s wearing nice clothes, he’s got a nice watch on,” said Terrence, 18, whose name has been changed.
“You kind of get lured into it. ‘Why can’t I have that,’ right? You don’t weigh out the consequences. You don’t see what they had to do to get there, how many times they probably went in and out of jail.”
For a period in his early teens, Terrence was repeatedly arrested for cellphone and store thefts. He didn’t get along with his middle-class parents, and instead was influenced by much older friends who were committing crimes.
“I know some guys who are still doing it. They’re good guys at the end of the day, they’re just into the wrong stuff.”
Donald, 18, sold drugs in his early teens. He was raised by a single mother and his older brother was a known gang member.
“Nowadays, kids just want to be cool. When I was a little younger, everyone wanted money and money only, not attention,” said Donald, which is not his real name.
“All the people I know, they’re doing that right now â€” flashing their guns and money and all that.”
Ryan Lucas, a former football player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, now coaches troubled teenagers in the gang prevention program.
“The one phenomenon I’ve found out here that’s unique … is that it’s not just at-risk kids from poor families getting sucked in,” Lucas said.
“More and more there are kids who come from affluent families who have the same draw and pull as the kids doing it out of necessity.”
Megan, 18, was almost caught in one of the drive-by shootings that occurred near an elementary school in late May.
Having gone through her own stage of “following bad people,” she blamed individuals deciding to do “bad things.”
“No one is going to put a gun to your head and say, ‘You’re going to have to do this,'” said Megan, who also participates in Wrap. “You’re the one who chooses.”
The Wrap program, launched in January 2009, steers troubled youth toward the right path by providing genuine mentors and opportunities, such as help with schoolwork and employment.
“They get drawn into the gang life because the people bringing them in make them feel like a million bucks. So that becomes their family now,” said Satbir Jawandha, 26, who also coaches Wrap participants.
“We’re trying to do the exact same thing, but in a positive way. We’re trying to draw them in to say, `There’s a way out of it. There’s a different path.'”
Rob Rai, who runs Wrap, expects RCMP will eventually stem the conflict, but predicted new youth will seek their “moment in the sun.”
“When we take six of the most prolific offenders camping, what happens to the crime rates when they’re all out of the city with us?” he said, suggesting it decreases. “That’s why prevention work is so important.”
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