Posted March 11, 2019
Marek Bilbija couldn’t live in fear anymore, so he packed up his family and left the Mississauga neighbourhood they had called home for more than a decade.
The 53-year-old married father of three had lived on Acorn Place in Mississauga for 12 years, raising his family and laying down roots in the community.
“My kids went to school in the area and I made some great friends with a group of dads,” he said. “We would go jogging every week. We called it the Acorn Place loop.”
Bilbija, like many other residents, believed Acorn Place was the ideal location to live — near a major mall and highway. There are plenty of schools and parks in the area and two small but practical plazas at the Hurontario Street and Eglinton Avenue intersection, just a stone’s throw from the neighbourhood.
But, by the end of last summer, Bilbija and his family couldn’t wait to “get out of there.”
The area has become infested with gun violence in recent years. Data obtained from Peel Regional Police statistics shows there have been seven shootings on either Acorn Place or the immediate area, since January 2017. Last month (February 2019) alone, there were three shootings in the area.
Bilbija moved out of the neighbourhood last October.
“I needed to do what was best for me and my family,” he said. “Were we involved in any of the shootings? No. But it was getting to the point where I was afraid to go out after dark, and that shouldn’t be the case.”
Bilbija and residents who still live in the apartments and townhouse complexes of Acorn Place are struggling to explain why there have been so many shootings.
“It’s scary,” that’s for sure,” said 23-year-old Jaiden Smith, who lives at 80 Acorn Place.
Peel police have set up a task force that is actively dealing with the acts of violence in the area.
Sgt. Matt Bertram said those responsible for the gun violence are not a group of “misdirected youth,” but rather, “career criminals” who are part of a criminal organization.
“A few years ago, there was a small criminal element that was living in this area who disproportionately affected the community,” he said. “For all intents and purposes, this criminal element has now left this geographical area, however the negative association has remained. The continued violent acts which have occurred in this area are being perpetrated by a criminal organization that has no affiliation to this community.”
The News has learned through well-placed sources that one of the gangs that remains active in the area is the Acorn Place Crips — a faction of the notorious Crips gang founded in California but with members across North America.
Police allege Jerome Pantlitz-Solomon, 20, of Mississauga is a member of the Acorn Place Crips.
Pantlitz-Solomon was arrested in Wasaga Beach last fall and charged with possession of a loaded handgun, possession of cocaine for the purposes of trafficking, and fleeing the scene of a crash. Those charges remain before the courts.
He has posted several videos to YouTube stating his allegiance to “ACG” (Acorn Crips Gang) and raps about gun violence.
Pantlitz-Solomon’s twin brother, Jason, was fatally gunned down last year in Windsor.
Windsor Police have yet to identify any suspects in the case and have offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Jason was studying criminology at the University of Windsor and was remembered by family and friends as a caring young man with a warm personality who was striving to become a lawyer.
"He was determined. He was going to prove everybody wrong, and he was going to succeed,” Jason's aunt Roslyn Solomon Ogunniyi told reporters during a gathering celebrating her nephew's life.
Both brothers grew up on Acorn Place.
“My heart is broken and my faith tested,” Dalton Solomon, father of the two men, said in a Facebook post. “My son was a huge advocate of ending the senseless violence that plaguing our streets and taking our youths.”
Ward 4 Coun. John Kovac said the issues in and around Acorn Place have been on his radar for years.
“I do not take lightly, any of the crime activities that have occurred in this neighbourhood and have been addressing local residents’ concerns in-person or by way of phone call or email exchange,” he said. “Within the last several months, I have been a part of town halls and have assisted in the arranging of Neighbourhood Watch information meetings for residents of Acorn Place.”
Nabeela Irfan and Jamila Twahir, both members of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Canada, an independent national organization of low and moderate income families, said many of the people living in subsidized housing on Acorn Place are living in poverty.
ACORN Canada is organizing a job creation program targeted at youth in the area.
“There are great people who live on Acorn Place, but I think there are strong links between gun violence and poverty,” they said. “We know the issues and are aware of it. Some of them (those living on Acorn Place) are living in poverty as well. And that allows for a situation where you can make bad decisions and possibly engage in criminality.”
Bertram, who said Acorn Place remains a “strong and vibrant community,” said residents in the area need to work with police to alleviate the crimes and so far, the relationship has been growing.
“The residents of this area requested increased police presence, which we have provided, to assist in alleviating their concerns and maintain our strong connection with this community,” he said. “We need the members of the community to continue working with us to help our frontline officers and our investigators solve crimes, identify suspects and expose those who are responsible for this violence. Together we are stronger and more capable of ending this violence.”
Article by Louie Rosella for Mississauga.com