Dozens of Surrey residents walked through the streets Saturday morning to protest the rise in gang violence and drug abuse in the city.
The Walk for A Drug and Gang Free Surrey took demonstrators from Surrey City Hall to Holland Park, where booths were set up by community groups and Surrey RCMP to promote programs designed to keep people out of gang life and addiction.
The walk was organized by the Progressive Intercultural Services (PIC) Society, which runs some of those programs and focuses on building more inclusive communities.
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The society’s CEO Sadbir Cheema said he and his members are growing increasingly concerned about the rise in violent crime in Surrey.
“Everyone’s frustrated: every parent, every teacher, every community leader, every student — we’re all feeling it,” Cheema said. “We all need to get together and figure out solutions.
“We want to send a message that enough is enough, and something needs to be done about this.”
Cheema said residents have spent years pushing for at least 300 new police officers to be hired in the city, and called on governments at all levels to find a way to increase funding to make that happen.
Police and local governments have been focusing particularly on young people and ensuring they don’t start down a path that can be difficult to escape.
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Stanley Price, a former gang member who now talks to high school students about staying away from crime as a speaker for KidsPlay, said he’s hopeful more people are getting the message.
“People and movies glamorize the gang lifestyle, and it’s really not what it seems,” he said. “It’s horrible. It ruins lives.”
High school student Esha Cheema and her mother Satnam were also at the walk. Esha said she knows many people who “maybe don’t do what’s right.”
“The gangs make them feel like they’re a part of something, when in reality they should be looking at things like extracurriculars and clubs and sports,” she said.
“If kids have a lot of time and they don’t have stuff to spend that time with, that’s how they can fall into these bad habits.”
She said more funding is needed to help schools create more clubs and extracurriculars for students.
Surrey RCMP last month released statistics that showed a 43 per cent increase in violent crime during the first months of 2019, including targeted shootings and homicides.
In March alone, a joint anti-gang police task force set up in Surrey and Abbotsford led to 59 arrests and multiple criminal investigations, proving the Lower Mainland gang conflict is still going strong.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, who spoke at the event, said he was pleased to see that eliminating gang violence remains a concern for the community based on the large turnout.
WATCH: (Aired Dec. 18, 2018) What more can be done to prevent deadly violence in Surrey
“This isn’t just a Surrey issue, it’s a regional issue. In fact it’s something that’s right across the country,” he said. “What we want the community to know is we’re standing with them.”
Farnworth said recent legislative initiatives like the proposed province-wide witness security act and upgrades to civil forfeiture laws will “make life harder and more difficult for those engaged in the gang lifestyle.”
He also threw his support behind municipal and provincial youth programs like WRAParound and ESCAPE, and said more can be done to support additional programs.
“It’s a multi-pronged approach,” Farnworth said. “It has to be, in order to take the guns and gangs out of this community and every community in the province.”