Whoever is in support of getting these guys the hell out of our town please join me in applause,” screamed 20-year-old Danika McKenna.
On cue about 175 people who gathered Saturday at Rotary Peace Park on Saturday to stand with McKenna and other young people against drugs and violence erupted into applause.
“There are people standing among you who are going to report who has said what,” added McKenna, as a group of mostly adults looked on.
“We need to keep our eyes on each other. And if everyone wants to keep their eyes on me, that would be great.”
And then about 175 pairs of eyes started darting around nervously: The paranoia was palpable.
It illustrated a role-reversal taking place in Whitehorse.
The violence seen at the July 15th Dustball Dance — which has been pinned on drug dealers — has many worried about drugs and hostility on city streets.
But while youth are standing up to dealers, many adults are falling prey to paranoia, haphazardly looking for identifiable groups — like bikers — to take the blame.
The truth is, few know exactly who is causing the problem.
What is indisputable is that drugs are far too available on Whitehorse streets nowadays, said McKenna.
“Anyone could walk into a bar at night, ask a couple of people (for drugs), and I’m sure they’d be directed to them,” she said after the rally.
“Crack is the big problem.”
Drugs are secondary to the brutal violence a new crew of drug dealers and enforcers is bringing to Whitehorse, said Jordan Blake, a former bouncer at Kopper King dance bar and Capital Hotel.
Blake has broken up many a fight sparked by the dealers, he said.
“As soon as you cross them, you get seven or eight of them standing in front of you,” he said after the rally.
“If you even look at them the wrong way, you will get the crap beaten out of you.
“There’s no one-on-one stuff — it’s eight on one,” he said. “They’ll even bring weapons. They like baseball bats.”
The dealers are not part of organized crime but do operate as a cohesive unit, said Blake.
They are between 19 and 35, and most are from British Columbia, he said.
“Some of them are from here in town.”
The group is not involved in softer drugs like pot, magic mushrooms or hashish because “we already have more than enough local pot dealers,” said Blake.
“But if you want E, coke, crack, heroin, (crystal) meth, any of the hardcore chemicals, they will hook you up.”
Crossing them seems to be a dangerous proposition.
A man in his early 20s sat off to the side at Saturday’s rally. He has experienced the violence the new crew of drug pushers is dealing, he said.
Recently, his friends left his place to drive home. “Then we saw this car pull up and a bunch of guys got out and they had baseball bats,” said the man, who asked not to be identified.
“We were like, ‘What the f*** is going on!?’
“We ran outside. All of a sudden this guy hit me on the head with a baseball bat. They hit me in the head then jumped in their car to drive away.
“Then we threw a rock through their window.
“They got out and bear-sprayed us, and f***ing broke a bat over my brother’s head.”
There were four men in the car, and none of them were from Whitehorse, said the man.
“My friends were just walking to their car,” he said.
Blake, who was among a group of about 60 young people who confronted an alleged drug dealer at the Capital Hotel two weeks ago, told the crowd that violence from drugs has gotten out of control, and little was being done.
“We decided that it’s about time somebody did something,” he said.
“We have all this support behind us now, but we did that without the support,” he said.
The group of youths that stood up to drug dealers did something leaders and politicians have simply talked about for years.
And the fact was not lost on some speakers at the rally.
“We really respect that a group of youth got together and had a chat with a drug dealer,” said Downtown Residents Association president John Pattimore at the rally.
“When’s the last time any of us adults did that? I sure haven’t. That took guts.”
Pattimore offered to meet with youth activists to come up with future actions to curb the scourge of drugs and violence.
“Lots of us have been saying these things for years. It has taken the youth to come forward for us to be standing here today, together,” said Kevin Barr, executive director of the Committee on Abuse In Residential School society.
“We cannot let our youth down. We need to get behind them. It doesn’t mean paying lip service, talking and talking and talking and coming up with plans.
“The youth didn’t do that. They came up with action,” he said.
Though action was the buzzword at Saturday’s rally a large group of politicians was at the ready to offer their praise for the group.
“Drugs are starting to take over about a lot of people in the territory,” said Yukon Justice minister John Edzerza.
“It takes a whole community to make this a safe place to live. No drug dealer is going to like the attention that they’re getting today, and that’s good.”
Drugs are a non-partisan issue in the Yukon legislature, said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.
“It’s important that we don’t politicize this, but rather work together to fight what has become a serious problem in our community,” said Mitchell.
The RCMP is working on the problem, but have a high standard of evidence needed to prosecute dealers, he said. By coming forward with evidence, people can help, said Mitchell.
“You’re not ratting somebody out when you do that, but rather, you’re standing up for your neighbours and your children,” he said.
While NDP leader Todd Hardy is away from the territory, he was instrumental in creating the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, which passed earlier this year.
Mount Lorne MLA Steve Cardiff addressed the rally by reading a letter from Hardy.
The difference between words and action featured for former Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Ed Schultz.
“God bless this young lady here,” said Schultz, pointing proudly at McKenna.
Schultz admired McKenna’s courage in the face of visible coercion, he said.
“I saw their little caravan drive through here,” he said, pointing at the parking lot at Rotary Park.
“No amount of intimidation, no amount of threats, should divert us.
“I’m with you. For every one of them there are 10,000 of us.”
Still, a mild paranoia seemed to sweep through the rally as McKenna and Blake relayed the brutal realities of Whitehorse’s streets.
A group of motorcycle riders arrived early at rally, and many gave them suspicious glances.
“They see a big Harley and they immediately think, ‘dope’,” said Rodger Thorlakson, a member of Whitehorse’s Harley Owners Group, who has worked helping people with alcohol addictions for many years.
Like Thorlakson, Barr also arrived on a Harley.
Despite the risks of reprisals after Saturday’s rally, McKenna feels the risk is outweighed by the benefits of getting Whitehorse behind youth activists.
“I don’t know if anyone else would do it,” she said.
“I had the opportunity and I took the risk because it’s worth it to me; I feel passionately enough that I’m willing to risk myself for my community.”