Friday, November 22, 2013
Long before the Toronto Star labeled me the ‘Broker’ in their desperate attempts to obtain a video of Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, I was helping young men in my community negotiate a future that did not involve a life of drugs and gangs.
For more than a decade I’ve been a broker in a struggle for survival among young and vulnerable Canadian born Somali men who live in the Dixon community. I am proud of that accomplishment and I hope to continue serving in a similar capacity long after the Rob Ford story melts from the headlines.
Our community, made up of Canadians born in Somalia or to Somali immigrants, has been marginalized both by politicians elected to help them and by the police assigned to protect them. The media are never in our neighborhood when families celebrate their children’s many accomplishments. Instead, cameras and live satellite trucks are everywhere the morning of a raid or the day after a tragedy. By then we are too busy worrying about our security or grieving for a lost one to offer intelligent commentary on our social condition.
The Toronto Sun profiled me ten years ago and describing the services my friends and I were providing to the community through the Dixon Youth Network, dubbed me the “Peacemaker.” Shortly after the Sun’s profile, my best friend at the time was attacked and hit over the head with an iron bar. Some misinformed thugs apparently did not like what we at the DYN were trying to do. My friend Mohamed Omar, a budding math genius, survived the attack, but the head trauma left him with difficulties learning and remembering new information. Incidents like these are too frequent and they send a chill down the spine of anyone who wishes to help make a difference.
The police was not there to protect Omar when he was attacked and yet today as young Somali men are murdered across the GTA and Alberta, Toronto Police and the RCMP has the gall to say the reason they can’t solve these murders is because no one in the community is willing to cooperate with their investigations.
People who don’t share our experience are often quick to judge us and dismiss our young men as drug dealers and gangbangers. For the record I’ve never been a member of a gang nor have I ever possessed or sold drugs to anyone. I have tried my best to be a role model to young people by becoming a contributing citizen of this wonderful country of ours.
I am still burdened by an incident that took place in 2011. A young man approached me asking for my help with a problem in his life. I was apparently too busy with my own affairs to help him. A few days later 24-year-old Abdikadir Khan was killed in one of the Dixon high-rise buildings. The fact that I could have helped him and didn’t has haunted me and since that day I have made it an unwritten policy never to turn my back on anyone who reaches out to me for help.
When I was approached by a young man in Dixon earlier this year to find a buyer for a video showing Mayor Ford smoking what was described to me at the time as crack cocaine, I asked to see it before agreeing to do anything. When I saw it I thought it was a hoax, a skit or a prank. Unfortunately, it was none of the above.
I asked him what he hoped to gain by selling it. Hey told me he had two videos that would of public interest and he thought the video with Mayor Ford had a monetary value and with it he could perhaps get a head start on a new life somewhere other than Dixon. I believed he was sincere.
The shooting death of Anthony Smith and the injuries that Mohammed Khattak endured in late March outside the Loki Lounge on King St. had a devastating impact on the man who approached me. Little did any of us know at the time that Toronto Police were watching our every move and monitoring our phone conversations.
Whenever I asked how he got the video or what his business was with Mayor Ford, he always changed the subject and kept me at a need to know basis. I had a long list of questions but yet no burning desire to seek out the answers, I knew I had to focus on my task. I was amazed at his entrepreneurial spirit because he did what teams of able journalists in the newsrooms of the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the CBC couldn’t do. Armed only with a cell phone he was about to write headlines around the world.
I recall calling the Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle on Easter morning and then meeting with her with a very unusual proposition. I approached her because she was writing at the time about the mayor’s public state of drunkenness and now she was about to be shown proof of the mayor using what was alleged to be crack cocaine.
The Toronto Star’s coverage of what transpired in the days and week after that phone call has been the cause of much distress to me and many in my neighborhood. I asked for our identities to be concealed. It was not. We expected the places where we called home to be kept out of any future story so as not to endanger the lives of our friends and family. It was exposed.
In the days following the Toronto Star’s report (June 18) men with strange connections descended on Dixon demanding the video and threatening life and limb if they didn’t get it. Others showed up in flashy vehicles with wads of cash offering to pay $80 to $100,000 in cash for the video. Young men from the neighborhood were getting mysterious calls on their cell phones threatening them and their families with death if they didn’t give up the video. The callers identified themselves as police officers and former military personnel’s. Tension mounted as the Star pursued its agenda against the mayor.
To make matters worse I provided the Toronto Star and Gawker with a picture of Anthony Smith and two unidentified men posing with the Mayor against the garage door on the driveway of 15 Windsor Dr. With the intention of not being published. The objective of sharing the picture was to place the mayor at the house where he was allegedly smoking a crack pipe. I hoped once the video was obtained the photo would not be published.
Nevertheless, the media plastered the picture on front pages and online as proof the mayor was consorting with “gang members” and “drug dealers.” The only reason the identities of the two other men were concealed was because the media had no idea who they were. The picture became a placeholder for an alleged video and when Mohammed Khattak and Monir Kasim were finally identified, their families had to endure a barrage of reporters knocking on their doors and calling their homes at all hours of the day and night.
The friends of Anthony, and there are many in Dixon because he was well liked and respected, were angry and upset that he was “thrown under the bus” and called a gang member and drug dealer. Unable to understand why anyone would do that they vowed to take revenge and were looking for the men responsible.
Then came the Project Traveler raids. I too was arrested and charged with gun possession and yet I have never owned a gun in my life. I plan to defend myself against these charges in court in the months to come.
In the eyes of our elders the raids were connected to reports of the crack video a month earlier. The real trauma of the video, to invoke Bill Blair’s descriptive word, was experienced by mothers and grandmothers in Dixon on the morning of June 13 when hundreds of law enforcement officials descended on Dixon as if it was a shanty town infested with gangsters. Yet again, the Dixon neighborhood was making headlines around the world as a community for all the wrong reasons.
Now that Mayor Ford has ‘fessed’ up to his actions and more videos are beginning to surface of behavior deemed to be unacceptable for an elected official, my community still has to carry around the negative labels of being a ‘hood’ where a life of drugs, guns and gangs thrives.
I don’t hold out much hope for change. I expect our youth will continue to struggle to get jobs even when they have excellent qualifications. Unemployment in Dixon is about four times the national average. High school drop-out rates for Canadian born Somali teenagers will likely continue to hover just under 40 percent if action is not taken soon to stem the bleeding. The lack of resources and facilities for our women, elderly and youth will continue to go unaddressed if politicians refuse to intervene and help alleviate the situation.
My intention for coming out and telling my story is to shed light on the hypocrisy of a system that punishes the vulnerable for minor misdemeanors while the rich and powerful are protected by the same laws for crimes that are much more egregious. Is it not time yet for our elected officials to take action that would lift my community out of a state of distress and give its youth a chance to prosper?