People like me: reporting on “at risk” youth

The Humber River, where the boy was found. Photo by Gary J. Wood

My throat felt dry when I first heard about the teenage boy who had been found dead in the Humber River.

The proximity was startling. My family lives only minutes from the river. And, as I soon discovered, the boy had gone to the same high school that my sister now attends. He later transfered to my cousin’s school.

Reporting on the story was difficult. It literally hit home.

I was about 14-years-old when I moved to Rexdale. Although I was scared of the neighbourhood at first, I have come to appreciate it — despite its stigma as a troubled community rife with crime and despite some of my own encounters with its grittier side.

The terrible things that have happened in the area do not define it as a community.

Now, this 17-year-old boy has been shot and pushed into waters I know well.

My inner skeptic reminds me of how much I hated the way these stories were covered in the media before I, too, was part of the media. He’s young and he’s black and he’s from Rexdale. Let’s just say I was doubtful that he’d get the attention Jane Creba did.

This, too, is a tragedy.

No one should be attending a funeral for such a young kid. No boys should be on trial for killing their peer. As one of the boy’s classmates said, “No one knows what happened. People shouldn’t assume.”

It’s true. We don’t know what happened. The Sun has reported that the suspects were best friends with the victim, and an unnamed witness said they were all playing ball the last time he saw them. Everything seemed fine.

At the end of the day, it’s just heart-breaking.

In a post called ‘Rexdale, the beautiful‘ I wrote: …every time a story of hope is dropped in favour of yet another fear-inducing slogan; every time a young person is looked upon with tenuous suspicion; every time moral crusaders cheer when society gives up on a young offender. . . Rexdale endures another shot to its ever pulsating heart.”

I had to negotiate all these thoughts when assigned the task of covering homicide number 33 for the paper. One of my editors searched my eyes and said, “Are you emotionally attached to this story?” I think it’s more accurate to say I am invested in this all-too familiar narrative. When I wrote about it for the Toronto Star, I tried to avoid the frame of fear and blame. This is how I ended my article:

Although the investigation is ongoing, his friends hope the public won’t pigeonhole the teen.

“Don’t stereotype him as just another kid from Rexdale that got gunned down,” said Broglio.

Diana Alves, Dowden’s classmate from Michael Power, agreed.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, just like you can’t judge a child by where he comes from,” she said

I asked these kids to reach out and trust some unknown reporter to tell me about their friend. They said he had an infectious laugh, and that he was someone you could really talk to. He leaves behind families in two homes, including a number of siblings.

He would have been entering his last year of high school had he not died this summer.

(As you may have noticed, I haven’t mentioned the slain teen’s name in this post. This is because he may be the victim of other teens, who cannot be identified under the Young Offenders Act, and I’m uncertain about this point of law. One of my editors told me we can continue to name the victim but some television news organizations have stopped. Just a reminder, though: the three teens who have been charged with first degree murder have not been convicted. And as the Toronto Sun is reporting, they have their own stories.)

I leave you with a beautiful song by one of Rexdale’s own, and the song for which I named this post.

Heaven, is there a chance that you could come down
And open doors to hurting people like me?
People like me, people like me
People like me, people like me

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2 thoughts on “People like me: reporting on “at risk” youth

  1. Pingback: How sensitive can a journalist be? « The Fab Files

  2. Pingback: AWAKE and answer this: Are you your brother’s keeper? « The Fab Files

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