The following is from Jeff Holubitsky, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal
Monday 14 February 2000
Aboriginal gangs fight bloody street war
Inner-city residents caught in middle of violent turf battle
He sneaks into the bar with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head to obscure his face.
A few heated words are spoken. A fight is taken outside to the street. There's a flash of a blade and the body of another young man is carted off to the morgue.
Though some elements may vary, it's a scenario which has repeated itself several times in a violent gang struggle which has been seething on downtown Edmonton's grittiest streets since last summer.
It's being fought with guns, knives and intimidation.
Officially, police may question whether there's an organized fight at all -- they must judge each case on its own evidence and say the fighting might simply be between individuals.
But talk to the people on the street. Inner-city homeowners, people who work with the poor, former gang members, youth workers and business people.
They all have their own take on the situation, but nobody denies it.
The real victims are often naive kids who believe that the quick buck of a cocaine deal and the so-called solidarity of a gang will protect them in the tough neighbourhood. Or protect them if they're caught in crime.
It's a protection that evaporates in the face of trouble, say insiders.
At stake is the reputation of fear, because it takes the fear of instant and harsh retaliation to control a drug gang -- to be a king of a beer parlour in a hotel that rents rooms for $20 a night.
"The buzz in the community is that there is turfing going on," says Karen Bruno, a youth and young adult outreach worker at the Boyle Street Co-op.
"Everybody is frightened. You either get recruited and sort of live under their rules or you don't get recruited and you move to a different territory.
"You virtually become a part of it because sometimes you have no choice. I think it's getting to that point and that is why you see all of this retaliation as they make themselves established and known in this community."
The "they" she's talking about are two gangs which started almost as aboriginal benevolent societies in Winnipeg -- the Manitoba Warriors and the Indian Posse, commonly called the IP.
Drawn to Alberta's healthy economy and conveniently transported to Edmonton via Canada's penal system, they've both established a foothold here in the past couple of years. In the process they've also become rivals with Edmonton's own more loosely organized Red Alert.
When Manitoba gang members are sent to a maximum security penitentiary, they go to Edmonton Institution. When they're released, they don't have to go home.
"It's our own people victimizing our own people," says Bruno.
"We've been victimized as aboriginal people for years by other organized crime, but it's a warped sense of native people thinking they are going to take care of their own, but in a sense it's no different than any other organized crime."
Ben Kabbero owns and operates the International Hotel, just across the street from the Edmonton City Police station. In mid-January, a man said to be affiliated with the Manitoba Warriors was stabbed to death on the sidewalk outside the bar. A Canadawide arrest warrant has been issued for Calvin Giroux.
"The police and the liquor board are doing their jobs and I believe they are doing a very good job É with what they have to work with," Kabbero says.
"They cannot sit here and watch the people going in and out and the person we're talking about, he's an in-and-out thing. He knows exactly who he's going for."
Kabbero says most of his clientele is peaceful and he knows many of the regulars by name. Any problems of violence, he says, rest with a small group.
"We haven't had any real problems until last summer and I've been here for 18 years. But not any more than most bars in town."
Kabbero says he's not sure who, if any, of the people who drink in his bar are gang members.
Several years ago he worked with other bar owners and city police to start a no-knives policy in bars. His staff confiscates weapons when they see them and they ban troublemakers from the premises.
"If we see them carry it in, we take it away, but if we don't see it, what can we do?"
Edmonton city councillor Michael Phair concedes that some of the violence at bars might be gang related, but not all.
"I am convinced that bars and hotel bars within that area of the city can take measures to ensure that customers are safe and that the kinds of things that go on just don't happen."
He says some bars have very little trouble, because of the way they are managed or the way they present themselves.
"The violence is not new, it's only being perpetrated by new people."
Kabbero argues that increased competition from seven to eight times the number of liquor outlets -- compared with pre-privatization days -- have hurt his business in the past several years, forcing him to reduce staff.
Ed Kowalchuck, owner of the York Hotel, a block north of the International, also thinks gangs moved into the area last summer, but it's tough to say for sure.
"You really got to look close because some of them are fairly discreet. They don't come in as gangs, they come in as friends and I have personally told a few I don't want any problems in here.
"The thing is, if you try taking the law into your own hands, you can't win with them. If the police can't, how are we going to?"
Edmonton police say they have several gang-related investigations under way, some involving the Manitoba Warriors and IP.
"They've made their presence felt here, that's for sure," says Det. Rick Stewart of the serious offence section.
But he discounted the idea that the gangs might be fighting for control of the inner-city.
"The only territory you could say they are fighting for is for the almighty dollar and how are they going to do that? More often than not they are going to look at the control of various drug or distribution networks."
Drugs -- cocaine, crack, Ritalin and Talwin and heroin to a lesser degree -- are the financial backbone of the gangs.
One longtime inner-city homeowner, who refused to be identified out of fear, has had five break-ins since last summer after going years without any trouble. The homeowner suspects the increased crime relates to increased gang activity.
While the business of drug dealing is often controlled by prison-hardened male adults, it's usually teenagers on the lowest rung of the crime ladder who handle distribution to customers.
"One of the things that makes it attractive to young people is the opportunity to make a couple of hundred bucks in the course of an evening," says Stewart.
They also take big risks.
"The dealer is not going to show up in court, at the hospital or in the police station and say 'Excuse me, it's not his or her fault, that's my fault.' "
Stewart warns against applying ethnic stereotypes to gangs.
"The violence is just a symptom of the abuse of drugs and alcohol and a whole bunch of other factors that these people have experienced that leads to the lifestyle.
"It's a whole litany of tragedy."
A GRIM TOLL:
- Jan. 10: A man reported to be a member of the Manitoba Warriors was stabbed to death near an inner-city hotel.
- Dec. 10: The man's uncle was charged with second-degree murder outside a nearby hotel after another stabbing death. Relatives were reported as saying they think the December and January killings may be related.
- Oct. 26: A man is stabbed to death on a crowded inner-city hotel dance floor. At the time, police information officer Annette Bidniak said he was a member of a local aboriginal-based street gang.
'Crack' by Leo Knight
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