Metro Vancouver gang conflict won’t be solved by blaming racialized communities: commentator

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — With increasingly brazen incidents of violence connected to the Lower Mainland’s ongoing gang conflict, a local commentator says stereotyping racialized communities doesn’t help.

Harpreet Mander is the host of the Brown Girl Guilt Podcast and has extensively studied gang activity in Metro Vancouver. She explains that members of the South Asian community are frequently stigmatized as being involved with gang violence, which is not the case.

“Gangs are not a South Asian issue. Gangs are not a Lower Mainland issue. They’re also not even a B.C. issue. Gangs are a Canadian problem. It’s members of the Canadian population, the Canadian society that is failing to succeed in forming their identity.”

Over the weekend, two fatal gang-related shootings occurred.

One was in Burnaby and one at YVR, however, Mander says a reaction that has occurred time and time again, is the public still assumes the problem with gang violence is affiliated with Surrey.

“It’s easier to stereotype an entire community to say that Surrey is dangerous. Well, the people who are living in Surrey are predominantly people of colour. So it’s easier to say that the people living in Surrey are the ones causing the danger. Surrey is so big, and there are so many different kinds of people here. But it’s easier for us to focus on the negatives and focus on the stigmatizable characteristics of a community,” she explains.

Mander adds there needs to be a focus on preventing youth from getting involved in gangs by creating a dialogue with kids in schools and at home.

“Ask them what it is that they feel is lacking, like support and resources in the community instead of having a top-down approach and thinking that force is gonna solve everything,” she says.

“I think as adults, we like to think that we hold to all the solutions, but often, if we just sit down with the kids and ask them what it is that they’re actually lacking, I think that that might be a great start.”

“And I’m not saying that everything else that we’ve been doing currently isn’t the right approach. But clearly, it’s not working.”

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Mander says it’s difficult to conceptualize why so many young people are joining gangs but some of it has to do with forming their identity.

“When you’re 14 and 15, you’re kind of in a phase where you’re forming your identity, and you’re starting to understand who you are. And what we’re finding is that a lot of the men who are joining gangs from the Lower Mainland are coming from identities that are hyphenated. They’re either coming from South Asian communities, or they’re coming from other coloured communities,” she explains.

“When you are an immigrant community, or a community of colour, or are a hybrid identity, which means that your half is like your parent’s ethnic identity and then your half is this more Western Canadian identity, when you’re forming your identity, and there’s so many multiple competing forms of identities that you’re supposed to pick and choose from. Some people will succeed at kind of forming who they are, but some people will fall through the cracks, and then they’ll fail. And unfortunately, going into gangs, becoming affiliated with gang activity, can all be seen as a result of not being able to form your identity fully, and then falling through the cracks.”

It can also be difficult for young men navigating a patriarchal, sexist society, Mander adds. She says that doesn’t allow for them to share the troubles that they’re experiencing in forming their identities.

“They feel like they can’t be vulnerable, they feel like they can’t be open about their mental health. They feel like they can’t necessarily form solid relationships with their parents or their family members or their friends. And so it becomes a very muddled, complex, multifaceted issue, which the idea of young boys going into gangs is.

“I just find that we’re not necessarily probing enough at all those different elements of this issue as well.”

While many people in Canada can pride themselves on being an accepting place for people with different backgrounds, Mander says it’s not always the truth. She says the country as a whole continues to have a problem with racism and creating a safe and accepting environment for BIPOC communities.

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