People Like Me
By Fabiola Carletti
My throat felt tight 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 that river and, as I soon discovered, the boy had gone to the same high school that my sister now attends. He later transferred to my cousin’s school.
Reporting on the story was difficult. It literally hit home.
I was about 14 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.
But now I know that the terrible things that have happened in the area do not define it as a community.
Still, I have to come to grips with the fact that 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 since before I, too, was part of the media. The victim is 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.
But 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 blog 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. While I was trying to reach family members, 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 finally wrote about it, I tried avoid the tired 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.
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
Fabiola Carletti is a Toronto Star radio room reporter and graduate student at the UBC School of Journalism. She recently graduated summa cum laude from York University, having earned an honours double major in Professional Writing and Communication Studies. Her digital footprints are all over the internet, but you can learn more about her by reading her blog, or chasing her around on twitter.
Photo credits: by Flickr user Gary J. Wood