Manitoba

Meet Me at the Bell Tower rallying support for victims of recent violence

The anti-violence community initiative is meeting Friday at 6 p.m. to come up with solutions to violence and support victims of recent attacks.

'What can we do to prevent violent things like this from happening in the future?’ asks community organizer

Clarice Smith, the mother of 3 year old Hunter Straight-Smith is comforted by friends and family at a vigil outside Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg on Friday. Her toddler was stabbed in the neck while he slept in his room earlier this week. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

After a string of violent incidents in 2011, Michael Redhead Champagne and other people in Winnipeg's North End were moved to start Meet Me at the Bell Tower.

Since then, the weekly meetups that began as an anti-violence initiative at the bell tower on Selkirk Avenue have spread to cover other locations and issues in the community.

But after a violent week in Winnipeg with three serious attacks on children, Champagne said many community members feel like they need to do something, so it seemed like a good time to bring the event back to its roots.

"We really want to create space at Meet Me at the Bell Tower for our community members to come together to talk about, what can we do to prevent violent things like this from happening in the future?" said Champagne. "What can we do to wrap our support around these families that are experiencing such loss and difficulty right now?"

Champagne said while people in the community have been speaking out against violence for a long time, it's also important to raise awareness about the root causes of crime, like poverty, lack of employment, addictions, mental health issues, access to safe housing and interaction with the child welfare system.

"I know that community members are trying the best that they can with the tools that are available, but right now there are not many tools available," he said.

"In 2011, Meet Me at the Bell Tower began when we had a string of violence like this. And since then, the community has done an amazing job of rising up and responding in a beautiful way to the tragedies and trauma that we've been facing."

'Extremely busy' time for police

The recent rash of violence has also taken its toll on police. 

Winnipeg Police Service Const. Jay Murray said Thursday the service's homicide, major crimes, identification and support units have been "working their tails off" to handle the multiple ongoing investigations.

"It's been extremely busy for us and I think it's also exhausting for the public to hear about a lot of bad news that's been occurring," he said.

While the public has been very understanding of the strain they're facing, Murray said it's just part of the job for WPS officers.

"This is police work and this is the nature of emergency services. You never know what's going to get thrown at you," he said.

"This weekend could bring even more ... (but) hopefully things will start to quiet down."

Meet Me at the Bell Tower is meeting at the Indigenous Family Centre at 470 Selkirk Avenue Friday at 6 p.m.

With files from Eleanor Coopsammy

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