Death in Halifax

Editorial by Kyle Shaw

illustration Graham Pilsworth

Last Thursday, some of Metro’s best citizens gathered at Rain nightclub for The Coast’s Best of Halifax awards. It was a large crowd, sprinkled with boldface names like film stars (Ellen Page, Thom Fitzgerald) and politicians (Maureen MacDonald, Alexa McDonough). Dawn Sloane’s mother was on hand to watch her daughter collect the Best City Councillor plaque.

About 30 hours later, the street in front of Rain became a crime scene when a US Navy sailor was stabbed to death. Police say Damon Crooks was a “Good Samaritan” bystander; the Daily News reports he stepped in when some locals tried to mug another Navy guy. The police soon arrested Cory Wright—out of jail on parole after stabbing two people in 2002—and charged him with first-degree murder for the killing.

The response from Halifax mayor Peter Kelly is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has gone. Or more accurately, calling a meeting to talk about the state of the barn. About 15 “stakeholders” are invited to the mayor’s violence summit, this Thursday, November 9 at City Hall, including representatives from downtown businesses, various levels of government and the hotel industry. “We need to have some discussion as to what is going on,” says Kelly in a phone interview Tuesday, “and talk about other potential offsets.”

He cites more surveillance cameras, closing bars earlier and demanding metal detectors in bars as examples of steps that might counteract downtown violence. This may be all well and good, but I’m not sure any of these ideas address the fundamental causes of violence in Halifax. Metal detectors in a bar don’t make the Common any less scary to walk across at night.

Damon Crooks probably didn’t realize he was visiting Canada’s most violent city. Peter Kelly has no excuse for his ignorance. Haligonians are facing the danger in our streets every day, and have almost stopped talking about the weather for all the trading stories about who’s been punched in the face lately. Kelly’s out of touch with that discussion, but in November 2005, StatsCan released “Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2004,” a study that found Halifax’s violent crime rate is the nation’s highest. Perfect justification for taking action, even if it is the tentative first step of a violence summit.

Why has the mayor waited for an international incident before publicly waking up to the city’s biggest problem? “It’s never too late,” says Kelly.

But he’s wrong. It’s too late for Damon Crooks. It’s too late for the two people stabbed in Dartmouth on Monday. It’s too late for the man who was assaulted and robbed Tuesday night on Bayers Road. It’s too late for the thousands and thousands of other people who’ve been jumped or beaten or stabbed on quiet streets all over the city. It’s too late.

A death in the family

Sunday afternoon in the Khyber Building, the sound of music and chatter trickles down from the third floor. But after climbing the stairs and walking into the crowded Turret Room, with its walls covered in hundreds of photos, you begin to notice the people silently sobbing. And you probably want to cry, too. Jon Murphy is gone. This celebration of his life and work comes only after his death.

Murph was a make-up artist originally from Newfoundland. It didn’t take him long to make his mark, and many friends, after moving to Halifax, and he worked for The Coast for several years. If you loved a cover, there’s a good chance his touch was what made it special. He had a gift that will be missed.

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About The Author

Kyle Shaw

Kyle is the editor of The Coast. He was a founding member of the newspaper in 1993 and was the paper’s first publisher. Kyle occasionally teaches creative nonfiction writing (think magazine-style #longreads) and copy editing at the University of King’s College School of Journalism.

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