Hundreds of people let their presence be known at the Take Back the Park rally in Boitanio Park Sunday afternoon.
The peaceful gathering saw children playing in the bike and skateboard parks while parents picked up garbage and listened to political speeches and live music on the main stage.
The scene was a far cry from how the notorious park has been used in recent months, where several violent crimes have been committed, including the gunpoint robbery of a 14-year-old teen for his BMX bike — which was the catalyst for the event, the second of its kind in the last month.
Planning for the Take Back the Park rally was in full swing before Williams Lake logged its first gang-related death of the year Wednesday evening, March 30, with the death of 20-year-old Indi Johnny.
Johnny died in hospital following a disturbance at a Second Avenue residence where gunshots were fired.
Police said the incident was targeted and gang-related.
“We have to let the criminals know the community is not going to sit back and let this happen and the only way we can do that is to stay involved,” Mayor Walt Cobb said following his speech Sunday.
Political leaders such as Cobb, MLA Donna Barnett, WLIB Chief Ann Louie and MP Todd Doherty were on hand to greet families and deliver speeches.
“We will not let the actions of a few intimidate us or define us,” said Doherty, noting all levels of government need to work on finding solutions.
Louie and Barnett both spoke of the need as a community to treat each other with respect, compassion and humanity.
“Help your neighbour. If you see someone is in trouble and they’re hurting, share their burden and listen,” Barnett said.
Louie echoed Barnett’s sentiments, adding that families need to engage with their youth before they go down the wrong path.
“The time to fix it is now,” Louie said. “(Our troubled youth) are not going to change their lives unless they are shown support and shown there is a better way. It’s not easy but we can’t ignore it.”
There were also several police officers on hand engaging with the public, including Williams Lake RCMP Insp. Milo MacDonald who felt the rally was a positive event.
“It’s great that people are willing to take some ownership of some of the social issues in our community.”
Mountain bike advocate Mark Savard was also at the event, and noted the rally had a great turnout representing a cross section of community members.
Savard has collected $4,000 in donations from the public plus a new BMX bike for the teen who was robbed in the park.
He plans to use the cash donations as leverage for the creation of a new skateboard park, hopefully in the old ball diamond location beside Kiwanis Park.
“It’s been amazing. We have lots of positive things going on,” Savard said.
The rally was organized by John-Paul Albinati, along with his friend Jess Bennett and Savard.
Albinati said the robbery involving the teen was the last straw for him.
“It’s all about showcasing what’s out there because no child should be afraid to use the facilities provided for them,” Albinati said before the event. “If we can get the community together we can show that there’s no reason for 11,000 people to be afraid of the 30 people doing the crimes.”