It was standing room only as more than 200 residents filled a Winnipeg school gym Wednesday evening to share feelings of grief, frustration and importantly solutions when it comes to addressing escalating violence in the city.
The night was put together by the provincial NDP with the goal of hearing directly from residents and grassroots organizations.
“[This] has to be community lead. You can’t have top down approaches… if you don’t have community at the forefront I would suggest to you that it’s bound to fail,” said Nahanni Fontaine, a provincial politician represents the riding of St. John’s in Winnipeg.
Delores Courchene was one of those people.
The grandmother lives in the North End and has witnessed the impact violence has had on family members.
Her granddaughters were related to Jakira Eastman-Moore – the 14-year-old who was killed at a house party last month.
The family is supporting each other, Courchene told APTN News.
“There’s a lot of praying. It’s very difficult for the young mom that lost her daughter… it’s hard to cope,” she said.
“It’s harder when you see [it happening] to the younger ones.”
Courchene said Wednesday’s event was a positive for a community dealing with so much negative, “this is another voice being heard tonight…when we have gatherings like this it’s powerful.”
Winnipeg is in the grips of what police called “unprecedented” levels of violence earlier this week.
There have been 40 homicides in the city so far this year, and 11 of those have been within the past 30 days, including three-year-old Hunter Smith-Straight who was stabbed in his sleep on Oct. 30.
Statistics show that assaults causing bodily harm and endangering life are up over last year.
This has left many wondering who or what is to blame?
One audience member suggested the community look at itself.
“I don’t blame the police department for what’s going on. I don’t blame the politicians for what’s going on. I believe we need to blame ourselves,” Bill Greenwalt said during an impassioned speech.
“We stand out here and watch this happening and don’t do jack.”
One of the major themes to emerge throughout the night was the feeling of disconnect in the city.
Candace Nykiforuk works with Mama Bear Clan patrol.
She said people need to be more open with helping others in need.
“People are really sick. They need help. They don’t need to be shunned or judged…we need to acknowledge and let them know we care and that we’re there for them,” said Nykiforuk.
Mama Bear Clan patrol is a women’s run organization. They patrol three times a week in the North Point Douglas area of the city. The group believes addiction is at the root of violence.
Nykiforuk would like to see more supports for people living with trauma.
“We need to heal from the inside out and I think a lot of us carry anger and hurt in our hearts. If we don’t heal that we’re just going to keep turning to our addictions and not coping in a positive way,” she said.
Throughout the night many mentioned Wednesday’s gathering alone would not amount to much – additional gatherings are needed.
“We have to come together as a community to do it. We can’t just do it by ourselves,” said Nykiforuk.
Fontaine committed to planning more gatherings in the future.
Members from civic, provincial and federal levels of government were on hand at the event, along with Chief of Winnipeg Police Service Danny Smyth.
They didn’t add anything to the conversation and said they were there to listen.