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Etobicoke's Somali community calls for end of violence among their youth

Friday, July 13, 2012

In just over a month, three young Somali Canadians have been gunned down in Toronto

With three of the city's last six murder victims identified as their own, members of Toronto's Somali community gathered on Dixon Road in Etobicoke this week to call for a ceasefire among their youth.

"I want to appeal to the young people: please, I beg you, stop the violence," said Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who has lived at 340 Dixon Rd. since coming to Canada from Somalia as a young teen in 1989. "Enough is enough. To all the young black kids that are involved in black-on-black violence, Somali-on-Somali violence, all Canadian youth-on-youth violence...stop killing one another."

In just over a month, three young Somali Canadians have been gunned down in Toronto: 24-year-old Ahmed Hassan was shot dead in the food court at the Eaton Centre on June 2; on June 23, Hussein Hussein, 28, was gunned down on the ninth floor of a North York condo building; and just last Thursday, July 5, 25-year-old Abdulle Elmi was killed in a hail of gunfire on a quiet central Etobicoke street.

That toll, advocates said at Thursday's ceasefire summit at Kingsview Park on Dixon Road, will only rise if things don't change soon.

"Why do these kids feel they have to be armed to the teeth? The thing is, they feel vulnerable if they report crimes to the police because they have a perception of the police as 'the enemies,'" said anti-violence community activist Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo, who co-ordinated Thursday's event. "I'm encouraging young people to begin reporting crimes and not take the law into their own hands."

Toward those ends, Omololu-Olunloyo is advocating for the establishment of a Somali Canadian Community Safety team that work with Toronto Police Service for strengthened witness protection programs, gun amnesty programs whereby citizens can turn in guns without fear of repercussions, and an extensive community relations program between Somali youth and police officers.

But according to Abdullahi Mohamed, 38, the biggest piece of the anti-violence puzzle is the opening of opportunities for young Somalis.

"The Somali youth, they live in two Canadas: one white, one black - separate and absolutely unequal. That's the message they have," said the Dixon Grove Junior Middle School and Kipling Collegiate grad. "When I was young in elementary school...I was told by my teachers 'if you stay in school, if you stay out of trouble, if you don't join gangs, if you don't sell drugs and don't have any criminal record when you finish high school - in this country, you'll have a chance to get a job. And if you finish university, you'll have a chance at the Canadian dream.' That was a lie."

To demonstrate his point, Abdullahi Mohamed used his own story as an example of how the system fails young Somalis.

A straight-A student at Kipling Collegiate, he went on to gain degrees from both Brock University and - after a failed application to the Royal Military College, he claims was based on his name - a law school in Australia.

With two degrees and few job opportunities here in his adopted country, Abdullahi Mohamed found himself recruited to join Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked al Shabab.

"When the invasion of Ethiopians came in (2006), a lot of young people of Somali origin, that were born and bred here in Canada, the US, and the UK, went back to Somalia to fight the Ethiopians," he said. "That's how we ended up fighting for al Shabab, but that doesn't mean we were part of the ideology."

He parted ties with the group based on those conflicting ideologies, and upon his return from Mogadishu in 2009, Abdullahi Mohamed said he seized the opportunity to speak to youth against recruitment into the terror group.

"I told them 'you can be a patriot without being a terrorist. You can love Somalia and help by educating people, helping the young people, building the country up,'" he said, "but you don't have to join Al Qaeda or al Shabab.'"

That was three years ago, but still, Abdullahi Mohamed said, the options for young Somalis remain few and far between - and the draw of gangs and al Shabab still strong.

"I have two degrees, and what am I doing? Security. Why? I don't know; I'm trying really hard. But I'm 38. What about the younger generation?" he said. "The young man sees on his right, there's gangs. On the left, they're recruiting him to join al Qaeda. There's no third option, there's no opportunities. What we need is that opportunity to say there's a better way...what we need is one thing: jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. That's all we need."

Amran Osman, a mother and 340 Dixon Rd. resident, agreed.

"We came from a war-torn country and we came here for a better life. None of our kids came here to say, 'oh, we're gonna be drug dealers,' or 'we're going to sell crack,' or 'we're going to get murdered.' None of us ever came here with any of those hopes and dreams. We came here to better our life, to better our future," she said, noting she now fears for the future of her eight-year-old daughter.

"Ask any child that is Somali what they want to become, and they'll tell you: I want to be a doctor, I want to become an engineer.' They have so much motivation and passion. We need to nurture that."


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