A necessary change of focus

Nearly four years ago, as a stolen van sped towards Const. Rowena Edey, her partner Const. Steve Darnley made a split-second policing decision to save her life.

Shots rang out in the parking lot and the van came to a violent halt against a tree.  Fifteen-year-old Duane Christian was dead in the driver’s seat.

Four years later, we must realize the tragedy did not start there.

It is possible in the wave of outrage that seems unavoidably linked to a boy being killed by police we have missed the most important issue at hand here.

Why was Duane Christian out in a stolen van at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning with a stash of cocaine and marijuana in the seat next to him?

Christian could have benefitted from the proper supervision of institutions in this community.  He was killed only two blocks from East Toronto Storefront, an organization that prides itself on connecting local teens with services and opportunities here in Scarborough.

Or perhaps the barrier between Scarborough teens and the police was at the root of Christian’s death.

A bond between police and teens like Christian is in the making with the opening of job opportunities at police stations for teens in priority neighbourhoods. Teenagers and police working to establish trust would remove the fight or flight mentality from the minds of Scarborough youth.

With due guidance, Christian would have never found himself in the fatal situation. His criminal action would have been avoided and Const. Darnley’s bullets would have remained in his gun. His family and friends wouldn’t have to cope with the tragedy they’ve dealt with for four years since.

But the young man’s family are not the only living victims of Christian’s death.
Const. Darnley and his family would have never heard the word “killer” attached to his name.  We must look beyond the badge to see the human being — he is a victim in this too.  He has to move on knowing that Christian’s actions forced him to end the boy’s life.

It is unfortunate that Christian was not mature enough to realize the impact of his actions, but he could have been taught.  He could have been steered by his family and community away from crime, and away from what ultimately cost him his life.

The most effective preventive measure in deaths like Christian’s is not a change in policing policy, and it is not a painful audit of the thought process of officers at the scene.  Prevention, in this case, begins with the environment in which Christian was raised.