COVER

‘VIOLENCE IS NICE. HONESTLY'

LIFE IN THE GANGLANDS OF THE YOUNG

PAUL KAIHLA May 22 1989
COVER

‘VIOLENCE IS NICE. HONESTLY'

LIFE IN THE GANGLANDS OF THE YOUNG

PAUL KAIHLA May 22 1989

‘VIOLENCE IS NICE. HONESTLY'

COVER

LIFE IN THE GANGLANDS OF THE YOUNG

The floor vibrated to a deafening beat as black and white teenagers wearing baseball caps, polo shirts and expensive running shoes swayed to the synthesized strains of “House”—a form of black disco music that originated in Chicago. Across the room, a drunken male teenager grasped a railing and vomited near a group of girls wearing wide-legged dress pants. The girls laughed. It was a typical Saturday night at Club Focus, a discothèque for young people located near Toronto’s City Hall. It was there two summers ago that the city’s most notorious youth gang, The Untouchables, arose after about a dozen middle-class high-school students fought off an attack by a larger group of skinheads. According to a founding member of The Untouchables, one of his friends turned to the rest of the students that night and said: “Hey, they can’t get us. We’re untouchables.” Since then, The Untouchables has become

the largest youth gang in a city where gangs of all types are rapidly proliferating. While The Untouchables still exists and has about 200 members, a number of independent youth gangs have adopted the so-called preppie Roots and Club Monaco clothing styles—and the name—of The Untouchables. As well, police officers say that about a dozen other youth gangs have sprung up in their wake, with a total membership of about 1,200 youths. They include mainly white gangs with such names as The Impossibles and The Dreadnox and predominantly black gangs that emulate the style of the Jamaican drug trafficking groups known as “posses.” They include the B&E Posse and the Jungle Posse.

According to police, gang members have used Club Focus as a meeting place to plan the “swarmings”—mass attacks on fellow teenagers or adult victims—vandalism and lootings that have swept Toronto during the past two

years. Now, police say that gang violence could escalate as the result of rivalries that have developed among several white youth groups, black posses and skinheads. Bouncers at Club Focus began using metal detectors to search teenagers for weapons a month after a 17-year-old was stabbed to death in March during a gang-related fight at a club owned by the same management. Meanwhile, the growth of gang activity has sent a wave of fear through a city accustomed to safe streets and civic-minded teenagers. “What motivates us?” asked a 17-year-old black gang member. “We like the violence and all that. Violence is nice, man. Honestly.” Revolver: At 17, Willy is a veteran of the gang life. A white student at Toronto’s Danforth Technical School, Willy already has a criminal record for theft, assault, attempted theft and possession of a deadly weapon—a .38calibre revolver that he says he never used. He spent two weeks in jail for two of those convictions and is scheduled to appear in court this month on a new charge. He is also missing two front teeth as the result, he said, of being headbutted by a skinhead who picked a fight with him in the school yard two weeks ago.

Willy also said that he was one of the first of The Untouchables and that founding members now call themselves The Originals. Although he is no longer an active member, Willy still has the characteristic Untouchables look—Vuarnet-style sunglasses, black Doc Marten boots, a stylish hooded sweatshirt and a crew cut. “We were immature,” said Willy of his days as an active gang member. “It’s the young kids who are causing the trouble now because they want to be like us. We’re their idols. But we get blamed for everything because we are known as gang members.”

Punched: For their part, Toronto’s black gangs have begun to descend on the city in force on Tuesday evenings, when some movie theatres offer reduced ticket prices. “We call this ‘Nigger Night,’ ” said Robbie, a 15-yearold black high-school student who joined about 50 other black teenagers outside a movie theatre at the downtown Eaton Centre last week. Many of them wore elaborate “flattop” haircuts and numerous gold chains around their necks with rings hanging from them—a fashion favored by drug dealers in the ghettos of large U.S. cities. Some of the teenagers were gang members, and their growing numbers in downtown shopping centres have spawned even more violence. In the first three months of this year, security guards at the Eaton Centre broke up several gang battles. One guard said that he was punched in the head

after being swarmed by 60 youths, and that in another incident he was bitten in the chest. Since then, extra plainclothes security guards have been hired for Tuesday nights, and parts of the Eaton Centre have been blocked off with portable steel barricades.

At other times, the activities of gang members are focused on theft. According to police officers, some stores have lost up to $80,000 in merchandise in two minutes after marauding gangs of youths invaded their premises. The lootings frequently occur after late-night concerts in the downtown core. Members of a black teenage gang from a low-income suburban neighborhood speak in heavy Jamaican accents and call themselves The Markham Massive. They claim a total gang membership of about 70.

One member, who sported a brush cut with stripes shaved across the back of his head, said that the gang had looted stores during the past year. “We’d break the window, then around 20 guys would go into the store at once, grab up the stuff and go home,” he said. “We’d take Walkmans, cigarette cartons, or hit leather stores.”

Drugs: Another member of the same posse, who wore a leather pendant with a map of Africa painted on its face, said that he dropped out of school and now earns a living by selling drugs. “We don’t need no career,” he said. “We can make more runnin’ drugs in one day than most guys can in a month.” He boasted that his leather jacket cost $500, and displayed a row of 14karat gold rings on his left hand. “You think I buy this from workin’ at McDonald’s?” he asked.

Gang rivalries are another source of potential violence. Last week, when members of the Markham posse congregated in the Eaton Centre, they claimed that a fellow gang member had died in a fire set earlier this year by an arsonist from a rival posse. Now, they said, the Markham gang members are determined to pick a fight with the enemy posse to exact revenge. Other gang members said that after they have settled that score, they plan to start a war with Untouchabletype gangs. “See this color,” said a posse member, referring to his black skin. “This color is dangerous. Untouchables are nothin’, man. We’re gonna make this place look like New York.” Another member said: “You guys ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’m talkin’ about Untouchables. They are garbage, man—plain and simple. Untouchables are beatin’ up innocent people. We gonna finish them off, man.”

In spite of their rivalry, black posses and white youth gangs appear to share a hatred of Toronto’s estimated 1,000 skinheads, most of whom embrace right-wing and neofascist ideologies.

The skinheads’ most dedicated opponents include one of the strangest factions within Toronto’s youth underground—a loose association of about 100 punk youths called Bunch of F—ing Goofs, who are centred around a local punk rock band of the same name. The Goofs

function like an urban commune, with some members living in a run-down Toronto warehouse, which the five band members also use as a recording studio. Many members sport Mohawk-style haircuts and wear studded leather armbands and vests and deliberately ripped Tshirts. “We could have been good white folk,”

said Steve (Goof) Johnston, who is the band’s lead singer. “But we made the choice to be a visible minority. We fit right into Toronto’s multicultural society because we’ve created our own ethnic group.”

To the Goofs’ expressed dismay, many

members of the public regard them as part of Toronto’s criminal youth gang scene. In fact, members of the commune insist that they are promoting social justice by opposing racism and dangerous drug practices ranging from glue-sniffing to heroin use. As well, the Goofs are enemies of The Untouchables and their imitators. “They are just a bunch of cheap criminals,” said Johnston, who worked as a real estate agent before he helped found the Goofs in 1983. “Life should be about co-operation.” Still, group members have engaged in numerous brawls with skinheads during the past five years. Said one group member: “The last time I saw a skinhead was two weeks ago in my backyard. He sicked his pit bull terrier on my pit bull and then he started swinging a chain at my head. So I grabbed a two-by-four and cracked him over the head.”

Transients: Despite their unpopularity, the skinheads are the originators of many of the fashions that other gangs have adopted for themselves. The skinheads’ uniform usually consists of heavy Doc Marten work boots with red laces, black bomber jackets, white T-shirts and jeans with rolled cuffs. Many skinheads are unemployed transients, who regularly steal to survive. If they have a home at all, it is likely to be in a run-down rooming house. But as the number of youth gangs hostile to the skinheads has multiplied during the past two years, police say that the skinheads are now keeping a low profile. Like many of Toronto’s law-abiding residents, they too are afraid to walk the streets at night.

PAUL KAIHLA