Anti-gang campaign launches gaming-style videos on social media to reach young people.

Hard-hitting videos deal with gun violence, sexual exploitation

CBC News · Posted: Jul 26, 2023 4:54 PM EDT | Last Updated: July 26

Video game characters
Video game-style characters are featured in three videos that are part of an anti-gang campaign launched Wednesday. It shows young people the brutal reality of gangs and offers a way to seek help through text message. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A trio of video game-style clips are part of a new gang-prevention campaign aimed at young people launched Wednesday by The Link, Manitoba’s largest organization helping youth and families in crisis. 

The three, 15-second videos use a style similar to the video game Grand Theft Auto. A phone number at the end of each video encourages viewers to send a text message to The Link, which will be answered around the clock. The goal is to help people leave gangs. 

“This is something that is needed to be able to reach the youth who are trying to exit those gangs,” said Matthew Davidson, the co-founder and cultural director of Spirit Horse Initiative. He participated in the campaign launch Wednesday because of his grassroots experience with the organization that serves youth.

Davidson works directly with young people on the streets and will help promote the campaign’s message. 

“To have a text message … to say ‘Hey I need some help,’ is beautiful,” he added. 

WATCH | Gang life is no life video:

The initiative is led and funded by the Manitoba Association of Chiefs of Police’s organized crime committee and Manitoba Justice, a news release from The Link said Wednesday. The anti-gang unit and reformed gang members were also consulted to make sure the campaign’s message would resonate with a young audience.

The videos touch on aspects of gang life including threats, coercion, sexual exploitation and gun violence and are aimed at 13- to 16-years-olds. Each video depicts the harsh reality of gang life compared to the myth. 

a man in a pink shirt
Matthew Davidson is the co-founder and cultural director of the Spirit Horse Initiative. He said the campaign launched Wednesday’s is needed to help young people get out of gangs. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“It is an honour for The Link to participate in this initiative,” said Kerri Irvin-Ross, CEO of The Link. “To be that off-ramp, to be that unconditional, accepting, caring, loving voice at the end of a text message that maybe gives that life line, that sense of hope and creates a sense of belonging.” 

Vincent Lillie, an outreach worker with the Downtown Community Safety Partnership, said “obviously the approach that’s been taken and what’s been done wasn’t working, so if something’s not working then you obviously need to do something different.” 

A man in a green shirt
Vincent Lillie is an outreach worker with the Downtown Community Safety Partnership and says it’s worth trying to get young people out of gangs early. (CBC/RADIO-CANADA)

“This is something that’s never been done before and there’s a good chance it could be very successful,” he added. 

Lillie also said it’s a better idea to try and get people out of gangs when they’re younger, but it all starts with planting the seed.

“I say for myself personally, I’m like a gardener when it comes to talking to youth, I plant seeds, and the seeds might grow over time” he said. “For me as a youth that’s what happened, some people said some things to me. It might not have did very much at that time, but as I grew older I remembered it and I sort of started to apply it.” 

WATCH | Anti-gang video from Winnipeg:

The digitally focused campaign will appear on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat. The Gang Life Is No Life campaign will run for six weeks and a second cycle will run for the same amount of time starting in October. 

“Now a youth has an opportunity to simply send a text message to help leave that gang life,” said Davidson.” So they don’t have to end up in the hospital, they don’t have to end up in the system.”