A rally against gang violence in Surrey that comes a week after two teens were killed in what police called a targeted shooting has attracted over 1,000 people near city hall.
The gathering at 13450 104 Ave. follows the discovery of 16-year-old Jason Jhutty and 17-year-old Jesse Bhangal, who were found dead with gunshot wounds near 188th Street and 40th Avenue last Monday.
Bhangal’s parents were at the rally.
Speaker after speaker addressed the crowd including retired Surrey RCMP Staff Sergeant Jack Hundial.
“We need to change how we respond to gun violence in Surrey, we need to change the role of the police officer in our schools to one that is more meaningful, we need to change how parents can access resources concerning their children when they’re in need,” he said.
Hundial also said that schools need more RCMP liaison officers, and that there are roughly only 20 for over 150 schools.
Saima Naaz is principal at iLearn DL Secondary School.
“Let’s wake up… there’s a huge problem if our kids don’t feel safe here.”
“We got 100 new policing positions. Where are they? We’re not seeing them on the street necessarily,” Hundial said.
Mandy Bhangal, the aunt of murdered teen Jesse Bhangal, was also in attendance.
“The police department needs to be stricter, the law needs to be stricter so people think twice doing something like that,” she said.
“We have lost our son. He had a bright future he wanted to be a mechanic. He loved working on cars and now we are left with nothing.”
Cynthia Allaire-Bell, whose 19-year-old son Devon died after he was attacked by several people while playing soccer, shared her grief and dismay that his killers walk free on the streets of Surrey.
“Our government needs to wake up, our justice system is a joke. Does it take violence in their lives for them to start doing something?”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth was among the numerous politicians at the rally.
“There is no sweet pill, there is no magic wand that is going to end this, it’s a complex problem,” he said.
People at the rally told Global News there could have been as many as 1,200 in attendance.
Several resolutions were agreed to in a vote of the crowd, including everything from a federally-led round table discussion on gang violence to putting more RCMP liaison officers in schools.
Speaking on CKNW’s The Lynda Steele Show, journalist and rally organizer Gurpreet Lucky Sahota said the theme of Wednesday’s rally would be a call for the community to “wake up” to the issue.
“We are waking up ourselves,” he said.
“Ourselves means parents living in Surrey, we are waking up the politicians, we are waking up the mayor and council and we are waking up police.”
Sahota said the youth of the latest murder victims is alarming, and that in his decades-long career covering Indo-Canadian gangs, the ages of those involved have traditionally been much higher.
“The community wants to know why it’s happening, where the problem is,” he said.
WATCH: Families appeal to end culture of silence
Sahota said one of the key problems in addressing the growing gang violence is convincing the city’s South Asian community to admit that gang culture has infiltrated its youth.
“Most of them are in denial mode. They are not admitting that this is a problem and we have to wake up,” he said.
“There are some parents who don’t believe that my son can be wrong. And they think the police is the first tool to call, but actually it’s the last tool. When they call police things are already out of hand now and it’s very hard to bring them back.”
Sahota pointed to the murder of Kalwinder “Kris” Thind, a Vancouver nightclub worker who was fatally stabbed back in January.
He said despite there being at least 50 people present at the time, no one has come forward to cooperate as a witness.
But Sahota argued that tackling the gang problem will take more than just winning over the community.
WATCH: Surrey gang prevention program
He said police need more resources, comparing the City of Surrey with its approximately 800 RCMP officers to the City of Vancouver, which has a similar population and about 1,300 officers.
While Surrey added 100 new officers last year, he argued that two-thirds of them were new recruits, not seasoned officers.
Sahota said he’s hoping to start a movement, with volunteers who can help him pressure all levels of government to direct more energy to the issue.
“Each layer has to work,” he said.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province is working with municipal governments to put education and prevention programs in place, as well as enforcement, and that it is looking to set up tools that can help it go after people engaged in violence and the drug trade.
- With files from Rumina Daya