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Taking It to the Streets

When bullets started going off in my community, I discovered I had more power than I realized to do something about it.

It took two minutes to sink in. The pops my son Christopher and I had just heard weren't the back-firings of a balcony BBQ from the grimy apartments we always passed on our way to the park. They were bullets being fired.

Someone in or near those apartments was shooting, not very well mind you, at four strapping youths who were running across Winona Avenue and up Vaughan Road past Vaughan Road Academy, ignoring traffic lights, uncaring of the cops around the corner who happened to be standing in front of the apartments. They didn't see me, Christopher, or the other pedestrians about to cross Vaughan Road as the traffic lights changed.

One youth went down; he'd been hit. I heard his expletives and saw the concern in his comrades, who all turned and ran back, helping him to his feet and taking off again. The cops around the corner clued in. Two drew their guns, big and iron gray, as they caught up with the youths.

"Get down with your hands behind your heads! Now!" one police officer said. The youths were cornered and forced down. And all the time, bullets were still being fired from the building.

I quickly plopped Christopher into his stroller.

"We're not going to the park today," I said breathlessly. As I turned around to head home, I looked down. A bullet case glinted up at me. Gotcha! it seemed to wink.

My knuckles went white as I pushed Christopher's stroller away from the intersection.

"Christopher could've been shot. I could be dead!" I sucked the words in, hoping my son hadn't heard. I walked blindly past the turnoff to our street, desperate for my ears to stop ringing, for my legs to feel like they belonged to me again, for my heart to slow down. The metallic whirr of blades overhead snapped my numb focus: police helicopters were out now.

The Earth Is the Lord's

Three weeks later, a 17-year-old died on Winona Avenue, 500 steps from my doorway. And this time, he hadn't had a chance. Three of the five bullets had hit home.

When the TV news broke the report, every word punctured the shellacked complacency I'd never known I'd worn so well—or so proudly: teachers and lawyers, artists and contractors, quiet Portuguese families and stay-at-home moms lived on my street. We all expected bullets and blood in north Toronto's Jane-Finch corridor or Regent Park's deadly streets in the city's east end—rough neighborhoods where "they" lived. Bullets and blood happened to them, not to us.

Not this time. My tears and prayers for the mother of that slain teenager didn't come easy and couldn't soothe. My prayer, "Thank you, God, that nothing happened to Christopher," provided hollow relief. Perhaps it was the proximity of the shootings. Perhaps it was as simple as being a mother for the first time. But after that second shooting, I prayed as I'd never prayed before: "Lord, what do you want me to do?"

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Renee James

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