Guns, Gangs and the Way Forward with Ricky Atkinson

Community Safety

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Ricky Atkinson spent over 30 years in federal prison. As leader of the Dirty Tricks Gang, Ricky was involved in armed bank robberies and at the time, the Gang was the most dangerous Gang in the Greater Toronto Area – perhaps in Canada. Ricky details the culture and life he had, which lead him down this path. In 2020, I had the pleasure of meeting Ricky in his Pottery studio near Kensington Market – just a few blocks away from where his gang would operate regularly.

The braggadocios acts of the Dirty Tricks Gang were well known. The crew would rob banks in broad daylight, using state of the art communications to interact with each other. Some of the items the Gang used are still on display in the Toronto Police Museum.

How did Ricky Get Involved with Guns?

At an early age, Ricky was exposed to firearms. When Ricky was young, a police officer slapped him and then let him know the officer was going to kill his father (using a racial slur). At that moment, something was sparked inside Ricky to defend his father from this white racism.

Later on, Ricky joined the army and had the training with firearms as well. Ricky had relatives in jail, some for murder – two were killed by the state in some of the last capital punishment cases in Canada.

Throughout his whole life, Atkinson was born into ‘inclusionism’ – how to get along with the white man – and how to hustle and not end up in jail. “If something falls off the white man’s truck and ends up in the neighbourhood – well it’s ours now!”

The City of Toronto was not nearly as diverse. Ricky and his family stood out to the police and the police did not embody the values of diversity and inclusion we have today.

Ricky’s Education in Prison was ‘Reading the Wrong Books’.

Atkinson admittedly said he ‘chose crime continuously’ – yet he was exceptionally book smart. Atkinson would take courses in prison and would spend time in prison libraries. During the 1970s with racism rampant throughout the US, and Atkinson would read books on Black Radicalism ideology. Ricky believes he ‘read the wrong stuff’. Upon release from prison, Atkinson would go back to communities and start speaking about Black Radicalism. He would then see aggression by the police towards his aunt and other cousins, calling her racial names.

Ricky believes his job was to educate others on Black Radicalism, but interestingly enough he piques the attention of an undercover NSA Agent from the US seeking to uncover Black Radicalism cells. Warren Hart heard about Black Radicalism in the same community as Ricky. Hart would offer Atkinson refuge and knew that Ricky had access to weapons

How Do You Stop Youth Gun Violence?

Gun Violence is like an Octopus with multiple tentacles. A multi-pronged approach is necessary to reach youth when it comes to gun violence. For Atkinson, he believes social programs are important, but it also needs former gang members to come back and provide talks, social and health workers, educators, police and more.

The reason for this is because each has their own viewpoint on what the pathway forward is. Instead, for youth considering gun violence listening to multiple voices from mob bosses to doctors, psychologists, Surgeons in trauma wards treating gunshot victims – all of these matter in helping to stem the root cause of gun violence.

Atkinson does not believe a gun ban of any sort can address youth gun violence. Accessibility to firearms is relatively easy today where individuals can order and build weapons, or in Ricky’s day – rob a police officer for his weapon. For Ricky, it’s not the weapon – it’s the individual, who’s wrapped in a mindset, which institutes you need a firearm for survival.

You can order Atkinson’s Book here – it is unimaginable to read some of the stories Ricky shares.