Six unsolved murders in three years haunt a grieving community
Clemee Joseph remembers getting the call about her son.
“When the police called and said Jarvis was shot, I never in my wildest dreams thought Jarvis was dead,” she said. “I got dressed, I was ready to go out the door, I thought maybe he was shot in the leg, maybe in the arm, I’m going to go take care of my son. But the detectives said, ‘Don’t leave, we’ll come to you.’
“And I had to identify my son’s body in a bag.”
That night was May 1, 2009. Jarvis St. Remy, an 18-year-old who had come to Canada from St. Lucia five years earlier, was playing video games at a friend’s house across the street from 4020 Dundas St. W., a housing complex known as Cooper Mills. Afterwards, waiting at the bus stop for the 30 Lambton bus to go home, he was on the phone with his girlfriend when two hooded men emerged from the bushes and shot him to death.
His murder has never been solved.
“To my knowledge, my son was not in gangs, he was not in drugs, he had no police record, never got in trouble with the law, he was a good boy, going to school,” Joseph said. “I have to live my life everyday in fear because up until now I don’t know why they shot my son, the police haven’t found anything.”
St. Remy’s murder was just the first in a trend that has gripped the area around Cooper Mills.
Since then, there have been five more murders in the immediate area, two more on nearby Woolner Avenue just off of Jane Street, and two driveby shootings: one on Bernice Crescent and the other on Christmas Day 2010 at the strip plaza on the first level of Cooper Mills. A bullet hole still marks the latter scene.
Of the eight murders in and around Cooper Mills in just over three years, only two have been solved. Of the unsolved murders, all are gun-related.
With a citywide homicide solve rate between 60 and 70 percent in recent years, why does the solve rate for the Cooper Mills murders languish at just 25 percent?
Toronto Police constable Scott Mills, who knows the area well, says it’s like any other neighbourhood.
“The vast majority of people there are really good,” he said. “It’s basically a minority of thugs that have decided they want to do the wrong things and one of our challenges to get these guys off the street is people are scared to say what they know and who they know is doing what, for fear that they’ll be next.”
Though he admits many residents are gripped by fear and many others follow the street code of “no snitching,” Mills said there is one simple way to crack that code without retribution.
“One of the messages that I want to get out is you can get anonymous information in to Crime Stoppers[/url] that will be relayed to the police officers and no one’s going to know it’s you who sent it in,” said the social media advisor for Crime Stoppers International.
Contacting Crime Stoppers by phone, online, through text and even Facebook are all anonymous.
Det. Sgt. Wayne Banks, lead investigator in two of the murders, those of Delano Coombs and Jermaine Smith, said he’s seen how a community gripped by fear can affect police work.
“As in the case of Jermaine Smith at the barbecue last year at 4020 (Dundas), we knew from speaking with witnesses that there were probably anywhere from 150 to 200 people and yet we had a handful of people come forward and talk to us,” he said. “So on that case, yes, it was frustrating knowing from what people told us how many people were in the area, and then yes, we had cooperation but it was nowhere near the amount of what we’d hoped.”
Outspoken crime victim advocate Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo, who recently launched a “start snitching” campaign and is also known as the “snitch lady”, looks at the Cooper Mills murders and sees something else in common with the six unsolved murders: all the victims are black.
Though she says she has been labelled a racist by people of all races for pointing the finger at the black communities for not talking to police, she maintains she’s just speaking the truth.
“The white cases got justice because people spoke and got the killers off the street,” she said, pointing to major cases like that of Jane Creba. “So don’t keep saying the police aren’t looking for who killed the black person. All of you need to start doing what everybody else is doing. If you don’t want to be a witness, call Crime Stoppers, give them a direction to go to.”
At the same time, she recognizes it’s difficult because people are afraid to talk. However, that’s instilled from a young age because of rap and hip hop, she says.
“Our streets are very musically, hip hop-themed, and it goes with the program: don’t snitch. That mentality is there for them as young as 10, 12 years old,” Omololu-Olunloyo said. “The black streets of Toronto are coached never to snitch.”
While there doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to why these murders continue to happen, the wheels are getting into motion to try to prevent more homicides at Cooper Mills.
“What has to be done at 4020 Dundas is a community meeting,” she said. “I would like to have a community meeting with 11 Division officers and the community itself, meaning everybody at 4020 Dundas and I want to get to the councillor. I’m talking about doing this soon.”
Councillor for the area, Sarah Doucette, agrees.
“I’m available to them whenever they need me,” she said. “I think the community is the best people to listen to. They’re the ones who live there, they’re the ones who’ve experienced this, they’re the ones we need to follow the lead from.”
A community safety walk or extra lighting could be a good place to start but more certainly needs to be done, Doucette says.
“I see this community the same as all the communities around here; we can work together and listen to people and see if we can come up with some solutions,” she said. “I think a community meeting is the best way to listen to suggestions.”
Mills, who aside from being a social media specialist with Toronto Police, is also a BMX bike enthusiast, believes giving the kids in communities like Cooper Mills more activities and options is also a key to ending the violence.
“I’d love to put a BMX bike park right in Cooper Mills. Let’s go, let’s get it done. There’s room for it,” he said. “We’ve got five tractor-trailer loads of BMX ramps that are sitting there not being used. Let’s do it. Give me a call. We’ll have the ramps over there in two days.”
The only hurdle to overcome, he says, is getting funding to pay some of the kids to run camps and show other kids the ropes.
Regardless, Mills wants all hands on deck from both the police and the community to engage kids in positive activities.
“I really think we need to stop calling kids ‘at-risk kids’,” he said. “If you tell kids they’re at-risk kids, they become at-risk kids. If you tell kids they’re kids at-promise, they elevate themselves.”
And positivity is something that Clemee Joseph has seen help her cope since her son’s murder three years ago.
“After Jarvis died, I decided I really and truly did not want to have any more kids because it’s heartbreaking to raise your kid and see someone take his life just like that,” she said. “I said I don’t want to go through it anymore, I just want to focus on the one I have left.”
That one child was Jarvis’ younger brother. To go through with her plan, Joseph decided to have her tubes tied in the summer of 2010.
One month later, she received surprising news.
“I found out I was pregnant,” she said. “God gave me that baby I think for a reason because he’s the one who keeps me going.”
Chance just had his first birthday on April 29. If it wasn’t for Joseph having a C-section, Chance could likely have been born on May 1, the anniversary of Jarvis’ death, she said.
“He’s my little strength,” she said. “He keeps me going everyday.”
And that means a lot to Joseph. One of her biggest fears is her son’s murder will never be solved.
“I hope one day we get justice for him,” she said. “I hope one day — the same way I got the call saying he was shot — we get that call saying they found whoever killed him.
“I want that chance to ask them why. Why?”
For more community reaction to the violence in their neighbourhood click here.
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