A crowd of about 100 — not counting all the kids playing on the playground — gathered Thursday evening at the JC Beemer park on Victoria Ave. N., a few blocks from where two men shot guns at each other on May 17.
Among them were Mayor Fred Eisenberger, school trustees, city workers, a provincial representative and members of the Hamilton Police ACTION team, who pledged "high visibility" for the neighbourhoods reeling from recent violent incidents.
"I recognize all the moms that are going through all the same stuff with their kids, you feel hopeless, you feel helpless, that's what tonight's about," said Coun. Matthew Green, who represents Ward 3 in the centre city. The rally Thursday came a day after getting council to back his plan for a gun buyback program.
Green spoke with emotion in his voice when he said the gun violence hits him personally. He coached the older brother of Marley Rowe, the 23-year-old man who died from a gunshot wound last year.
Rowe's mother, Sherri Bonnallie, appeared at the rally, and at last night's council meeting, to encourage residents to band together to stop violence.
"Individually, we don't have the answers, but collectively, we do," Green said. "That is the asset of our community."
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Green and Mayor Fred Eisenberger walked through the neighbourhood before the evening rally, knocking on doors and talking with business owners and residents about their efforts to bring more safety to the neighbourhood.
Odette Clark lives near the park with her four kids, aged 4, 7, 10 and 12. She recently moved to Hamilton from Toronto, and said the violence a couple of weeks ago left her feeling, "Oh no, not here, too."
She said the rally was a "step in the right direction" and called for more events like that so that she and her neighbours will come to recognize each other.
"That way, an unfamiliar face, we'll be able to point it out," she said.
Sgt. Michael Donaldson from the Hamilton Police ACTION team said violent crime — "use of force" incidents involving physical violence and violence with weapons — has risen in the area between Main and Cannon streets and Wellington and Sherman streets.
The police service will be assigning ACTION officers to the neighbourhood this summer to increase police visibility, Donaldson said.
"What you will see throughout the summer, is high visibility," he said. "We share your concerns, because our statistics bear out that in this area ... there has been an increase in violent crime between last year and this year."
And he said police are "working behind the scenes" to investigate what happened on May 17.
"I know it's hard to have faith sometimes, when you see things like this happening, but they are working daily to get to the bottom of this," Donaldson said.
A financial incentive to turn in guns
Green's proposed "Safer City Inititative" gun buyback program wouldn't be the first gun amnesty program in Hamilton. The police gathered up 374 guns and 20,000 rounds of ammunition last April.
A similar program in 2006 brought in 1,254 firearms and "tens of thousands of rounds" of ammunition, Hamilton Police spokeswoman Catherine Martin said.
But Green hopes a financial incentive will up the ante: He wants to offer $50 to $100 for people to turn in unwanted guns. He's modeling the program on one in Toronto in 2000.
Martin said the Hamilton Police "welcome the opportunity" to talk more with Green about what the initiative would look like.
Last week, Mayor Fred Eisenberger asked city staff to research whether the city could ban guns entirely.
The initiatives come less than two weeks after the incident on a Sunday afternoon when two men shot at each other near the intersection of Main Street E. and East Ave.
The federal government regulates gun ownership, and handguns like the ones used in that Sunday shootout are already restricted for target practice at shooting ranges, or for some high-risk jobs.
Amnesty programs aim to gather up unwanted guns and keep them from being stolen and getting into the wrong hands.
"How do you think illegal guns hit the street?" Green said on Facebook.
The goal is to convert more people like Lyle Fairfield, who also commented to Green on Facebook:
"I think there was little chance that I would use one of my guns improperly, but given that I am human, there was at least a tiny chance. Now that I have surrendered my guns, there is no chance at all. I like that. No, the deer have not multiplied and eaten all my rhododendrons.
No, I have not felt unsafe in my home; no one has invaded or threatened me or my family. How do I feel about having given them up? GREAT!
How does my family feel? EVEN GREATER!"
Police will always come pick up any unwanted guns, Martin said. People can call 905-546-4925 to schedule the pickup.