The impartiality of our police officers is crucial to public trust in them.

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By now, most Ottawans (and many other people as well) are aware of the events surrounding the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somoli Canadian with mental health issues who died one day after being severely beaten by Ottawa police officer Const. Daniel Montsion.  Montsion is now facing charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. He has been suspended with pay from the police force. The facts of the case are that Montsion, an anti-gang officer, responded to 911 calls reporting a man groping women at a Bridgehead at Wellington and Fairmont on a Sunday morning. The alleged groper, Abdi, fled the coffee shop. He was pepper-sprayed, beaten with a baton and punched during his arrest. Some people begged the officers to stop, saying that Abdi was mentally ill. By the following Monday afternoon, Abdi was dead. The courts will now have to figure out what happened between Montsion’s arrival at the Bridgehead and Abdi’s death.

Since then, blue wrist bands engraved with the words “United We Stand”, and Const. Montsion’s badge number (1998), are showing up on the arms of police officers all over the city. The wrist bands are being sold for $2 apiece, and the proceeds go to a police benevolent fund. The officers wear them to declare their support for Montsion. This is worrisome. For one thing, cops are part of Canada’s justice system. They must uphold the law. The law says that Montsion’s trial is where his innocence or guilt will be proven. To declare support for him before either exoneration or sentencing is to circumvent due process. For another, police neutrality is essential. In a case where a man stands accused of killing another man, the police must support both the victim and the alleged killer by ensuring fair treatment until trial. The rights of both parties should be respected by everyone, but particularly by people who are on the public payroll for having sworn to uphold the law and human rights.

Along with both of these considerations is the fragile relationship between the police and Abdi’s peers. Somolia has provided Canada with many newcomers. In Ottawa alone, nearly 7,000 people claim Somoli as their mother tongue. Somolia has been occupied, warring or anarchic (at times, all three) for decades. Considering this, it is understandable that it can be somewhat difficult for Somolian immigrants to trust police officers. Nevertheless, progress has been made. This progress is threatened by wrist bands declaring police officers’ loyalty to a man who stands accused of killing one of their own.

I am not unsympathetic to the challenges faced by police officers on the job. I can only imagine the guts and grit it takes for them to suit up and step out into the world wearing a uniform that means they cannot walk away from anything. They can’t even look away – their calling requires that they move straight into the danger zone, and stay there until they’ve stabilized it. The stress of their position must be, at times, like gasoline – always ready to explode under the right conditions. I don’t believe Const. Montsion meant to hasten to death of Abdirahman Abdi. But it may well turn out that he contributed to it, possibly due to the heady combination of mounting fear, surging adrenaline, chronic stress and heavy pressure. Montsion deserves compassion and support during his ordeal. However, so does Abdi, a victim of what looks and sounds like a brutal assault – and Abdi’s family and friends. They regularly pass the Bridgehead where their loved one was beaten senseless. Now, they have to see cops in uniform – who are entrusted with public safety and enforcement of law and order – wearing approval of Abdi’s treatment. If you were one of them, would you feel like you will be treated fairly by an officer wearing that blue wrist band? Would you even feel safe, knowing that the person with whom you are dealing has the power to arrest you, using force if necessary – and that they support that behaviour toward a member of your community, even though it may have led to his death?

We are all entitled to our opinion. We all have the right to choose where our loyalty lies. Even cops – as private citizens. If Montsion’s colleagues want to be there for him, they can send him a card or call him. They can meet him for a coffee or a beer, and ask how they can help. While off-duty, wearing street clothes. When our police officers put on their uniform and badge, they have to be on everyone’s side. They have to be – in both mind and appearance – as blind as Lady Justice. That is the only way we can be assured of the impartiality needed to carry out her sacred work.

 

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My inspiration: old hamsters and lame goldfish.

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Whenever we go to a pet store, we look at all the critters. Because we have owned various hamsters over the years, we spend a little extra time looking at them. Most of them are just weeks old, adorable little fur pom-poms either snoozing in their nest or tumbling about. However, there is always at least one adult hamster who is housed alone (because hamsters become increasingly territorial as they grow). This one, we know, will not be chosen by anyone. Hamsters have such short lives that no one wants to take one on if it’s not a baby. Prospective pet owners know an adult hamster is a big-eyed fluffy heartache-in-waiting. At this point in our pet store perambulation, it is inevitable that one or the other of my daughters will say “I wish we could take that one home – nobody else will, so he’s going to die here without anyone to love him”. This has always tugged at my heart strings, but I move us all along quickly rather than go any further down that path. Who wants another pet funeral?

Every year, Lent receives heavy consideration from Fiona and Bridget. They follow the common tradition of giving up something they love – candy or chocolate, usually, although one year it was watching “Spongebob Squarepants”. The purpose of going without something you want throughout Lent is to lessen the power of what tempts you – to examine its impact on your life, to learn how to deny yourself frivolous pleasures in order to focus on worthier pursuits. To that end, I try to encourage them to add things as well as giving up things – to consider what they can give to or do for others. This year, Bridget said wistfully “I wish we could adopt an old hamster – to give him a home, and treats, and love”. My first instinct was to say no again. To point out that there are so many much bigger, more important problems in the world. To ask what difference it would make. But I didn’t. Because I’m trying to be more open, to see the world through unjaded eyes. Because I have started to believe that we are all called in different directions by compassion, by love. And that if we all followed our callings, however small, the world would start to look different. Softer. Kinder. More beautiful.

Derek of San Antonio, Texas, is a believer, too. When faced with a disabled fish (the fish has a bladder disorder that keeps it from holding itself upright, meaning it was stuck at the bottom of the tank all the time), he did not shrug and say “this is stupid – it’s just a fish”. He did not say “flush it” (which, I must admit, is probably what I would have said). No, he came up with a system of airline tubing and styrofoam to help the fish swim – a sort of wheelchair for the fish. Now the fish swims all over the tank, like it was meant to do.

And now Gerry the hamster (Gerry is short for “geriatric”) has a forever home – however short forever may turn out to be for a hamster of indeterminate age. Gerry’s a lovely little thing, with a gentle disposition and an insatiable appetite for pistachios, and I’m glad we took a chance on him.

Many times over the past few years, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the tide of deep sadness and desperate need relentlessly rolling in. Wave after wave of hopeless cases and terrible stories. What can we do? Communities that have been destroyed by a natural disaster or a terrorist attack need roads cleared and hospitals rebuilt and people saved and patched up and fed and sheltered – but we can only buy gas for one rescue vehicle or provide a week’s worth of meals for one family. Thousands are dying of preventable diseases, but we can only pay for treatment for a handful of patients. The earth is poisoned, scorched and overheating, but we can only turn off the lights and taps in our own home and reduce our trash by a bag every two weeks. People in our own neighbourhood don’t have enough to eat, but all we can do is toss a few cans in the bin on our way out of the grocery store. Sometimes it feels like our contribution is so small that it’s hardly worth giving, and we start to lose faith in it. Sometimes it feels like there is so much need that the little things – like elderly hamsters and wobbly goldfish – don’t even get a second look.

This may seem like a tall order, but I want to rid myself of that soul-crushing apathy, and I want everyone else to do that, too. Years ago, in Sunday School, we used to sing a little song called “Jesus Bids Us Shine”. I remember, in particular, the lines “in this world of darkness / we must shine / you in your small corner / and I in mine”. The song isn’t about banishing the darkness or saving the world. It is about giving what little we can, when we can, to improve our own little piece of the cosmic puzzle. And, whatever your position on Jesus and Sunday School, you can’t argue against that. None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something – and if it alleviates the suffering of any creature, big or small, human or animal, it’s worth it. Let’s not become overwhelmed by our own smallness. Let’s push back against despair, and watch how drops of water become an ocean.

Music to roll you into your weekend ….

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This post was all set to go last week, and then got sidelined by an annoying commercial. Now, though, the music is demanding its fifteen seconds, and nothing can stand it its way. Every year, I create my personal list of the top forty songs of the previous year …. It all started in 2014, with my Top 40 of 2013. I created the list and presented it to Ryan, who adores both music and lists, and was therefore happy to listen to every song. Even the shitty ones (yes, I like shitty music – but that’s ok because I don’t care what you think. My #1 song from 2013 was – and still is, because I still dig it – “Just Give Me A Reason” by P!nk and Nate Ruess. I love the idea of picking up the pieces, examining them, cleaning them, repairing them – and putting them back together to keep the show on the road – rather than leaving them where they fell and moving on to whatever’s around the corner. I love the hope and heart in that song. Real love, the stuff that doesn’t quit when the going gets tough.

I’m presenting my Top 40 of last year later than ever, simply because I have not been sharing like I used to. But I’m back, and ready to rock! So, without further ado, here is my Top 40 of 2016, with links so you can listen and enjoy (or hate – whatever):

40. “Me, Too” by Meghan Trainor

39. “One Call Away” by Charlie Puth

38. “Mess Around” by Cage the Elephant

37. “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5

36. “New Romantics” by Taylor Swift

35. “Never Be Like You” by Flume & Kai

34. “Vice” by Miranda Lambert

33. “Hide Away” by Daya

32. “Pen to Paper” by Modern Space

31. “Like I Would” by Zayn

30. “That’s My Girl” by Fifth Harmony

29. “Genghis Khan” by Miike Snow

28. “Get Ugly” by Jason Derulo

27. “7 Years” by Lukas Graham

26. “Lost Boy” by Ruth B

25. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” by Adele

24. “Sound of Your Heart” by Shawn Hook

23. “Good to be Alive” by Andy Grammer

22. “Roses” by Chainsmokers & ROZES

21. “The Greatest” by Sia & Kendrick Lamar

20. “Gold” by Ria Mae

19. “Me, Myself & I” by G-Eazy & Bebe Rexha

18. “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber

17. “Under the Influence” by Elle King

16. “Woman Woman” by AWOLNATION

15. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake

14. “When We Were Young” by Adele

13. “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw

12.”24K Magic” by Bruno Mars

11. “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors

10. “Might Not” by Belly & The Weeknd

9. “Just Like Fire” by P!nk

8. “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna

7. “Can I Get a Witness” by SonReal

6. “Hold Up” by Beyoncé

5. “Burning House” by Cam

4. “Team” by Iggy Azalea

3. “Stand By You” by Rachel Platten

2. “Yellow Eyes” by Rayland Baxter

If you’re still with me – and why wouldn’t you be? These are awesome tunes, right? So, if you’re still here, I give you this energetic offering from a fellow Canadian …. Every time that song comes on the radio, from the first time I heard it to the last time (a couple of days ago), I get jacked up. Bet you will, too. Happy dancing!

1. “Got Your Number” by Serena Ryder

Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby ….

I was going to write about music today. A fun topic – a great way to roll us all into the weekend. I was planning – and have nearly finished – a post containing my Top 40 of 2016. Then, as so often happens to this mouse’s best-laid schemes, it went awry. An ad (surely the bane of any YouTube user’s experience) popped up when I clicked on a link to a song (which will remain unnamed, as I do not want to give away anything about my chart until I publish it). I scrambled for the “skip ad” button, then stopped. This ad accomplished what no other ad in all my time of ad-watching has ever done: it caught and held my attention until it was over. Why? Because it was awful.

The iPhone 7 Plus features several tweaks to iPhone camera function and output. I had seen the boyfriend ad, the soulmate ad and the one featuring two kids in a play (“your movies look like movies”). These, all by themselves, are obnoxious. Put them all together, though, and add some extra words – and you’ve got what I saw (for which, for some strange reason, I am unable to find a link). Basically, the ad was saying that everything in your life looks better when you capture it with the iPhone 7 Plus. It makes your profile pic look even hotter. It makes your boyfriend look even more handsome. It makes your dog look even more adorable. Because, of course, the picture – the showpiece – is what matters. Not you. Not your boyfriend or girlfriend. Not your pet. Just the proof of it, displayed for your digital audience.

Isn’t a camera supposed to capture things as they are? Isn’t that how you want to remember them? Not unnaturally glowing or backlit. Not more highly coloured or slimmer. Not bent at the odd angle calculated to remove the double chin and round belly. Just themselves, as they are at this moment in this place, with all their beautiful dents, chips, scratches and scars. If that is not want you want – if you are looking to smooth all the edges – perhaps it is not actually the person or animal you value, but what he or she represents. What he or she says about you, as you carefully curate your life online. They’ve become an advertisement for you. How cold.

As I watched the ad, I was reminded of something I’ve never used, though they seem to be everywhere – filters. Not the ones that give you cat whiskers or dog ears – the ones that improve your appearance based on some algorithm of attractiveness. They are basically designed for the same purpose as the NEW! IMPROVED! iPhone camera: to make what we photograph or film look better. They subtly slim the bottom half of your face. They widen your eyes. They superimpose tans and light make-up. They airbrush everyone. They lie. Worse still, they up the ante for everyone else. Because so many of us are primarily connected through social media, we see each other’s profile pic several times per day – though it may be a long time between face-to-face encounters. In our mind, the person we know becomes the image we see. Then, we look at our own unfiltered photo – or our face in the mirror – and it doesn’t cut it anymore. Now, we need a filter, too, so we can look as good as everyone else. My profile pics never seem to stack up to some other people’s, and – though I know what they really look like – I have found myself unfavourably comparing mine with theirs. It’s insidious. If it rattles me this much – a fairly confident 36-year-old who didn’t grow up in the digital age – I can only imagine what it’s doing to my daughters and their friends.

Apple is – to say the least – a very successful company. Apple knows what people want, and is good at giving it to them. Apple, and its many peers, are just doing what we all do in a free economy: capitalizing on people’s perceived needs and desires. But we don’t have to go along with it …. What if we choose to ignore the noise? What if we take a step back from what we think we want, and reassess? To put it bluntly, what if we decide it’s time to get real?

(Because I teased you with my title and a reference to music, I feel like I should toss you this little bone …. Click here to enjoy Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye!)

Farewell, Facebook! (For a little while, anyway ….)

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Yes, I know – it’s been months since my last post. Christmas has been celebrated and packed away, January and February have been endured with varying amounts of grace. I don’t know why my blog has remained untouched by me all this time. Emotional ups and downs, the need to simplify life in order to keep up with it, plain old laziness …. ? I struggled to express all this to my lovely cousin, Charlene, over dinner together recently (delicious food and a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Khao Thai in the market). She’s been a great source of encouragement and enthusiasm for BethBlog, and she mentioned that she still checks in from time to time in the hopes that I will have written something new. A glance at my stats reveals that she’s not the only one. My appreciation to all who keep coming back – and my apologies for the prolonged cyber-silence. One factor in my writer’s block that I discussed that evening with Charlene is the avalanche of information that buries me regularly. There are many days when I feel like I’m being smothered by it – strangled by it – drowned in it. Bad news, good news, fake news. Quizzes, videos, how-tos, recipes, memes. And those ads …. I don’t want to put my girls in private school, rent a beach house in Jamaica, or enhance my sex life. I’d love to buy new dresses and shoes, but not online – and not right now. Where’s it all coming from? Facebook. I’ve been using Facebook for ten years now – I started using it when it was small. My, how it’s grown! What started as a handful of friends and private jokes has become dozens of voices all talking at once, and the resulting babel is grating and exhausting.

Whenever someone complains about internet content, there’s always a snappy, sanctimonious beauty ready to chime in with “if you don’t like it, don’t look”. I’m taking their advice, and leaving Facebook for Lent. As soon as the idea surfaced, I was excited about it. Imagine all that free time! All that peace! An internal clutter-bust! It will be like a long, soothing shower for my soul …. Facebook doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t improve my impact on the world. In fact, it makes me dislike people and the world more. Lent is an opportunity to examine our habits and hooks, and assess their impact on our lives. Why not see how leaving Facebook could help me?

Yesterday, though, doubts emerged. There are some family members and friends I only communicate with via Facebook. How am I going to know what’s going on in their lives? How will I know what they’re doing, or what their children look like now? How will they know any of that about me? My beautiful niece and nephew are growing fast – I’m sure I’ll miss some milestones and adorable photos.  I can’t remember the last time I received a party invitation through anything other than Facebook. What if there are lots of awesome parties and events going on and I don’t know about them? My primary form of communication with some people is Facebook. What if I lose touch with them because I’m no longer on Facebook? Sometimes, I see funny memes and videos on Facebook. Sometimes, Facebook tells me what’s going on before I find out from any other source. People on Facebook are all incredibly eager to express how a given death or split or news piece affects them, and that alerts me to the event in question. Facebook gives me ideas, meal plans, exercise regimes, decorating and parenting tips, movie reviews, conversation fodder. And then there’s me, the person I’ve become since using Facebook …. My first thought about quitting Facebook was “how many likes and comments will I get when I say I’m not Facebooking anymore” – and then I realized that I wouldn’t know because I won’t be checking. Can I have thoughts and experiences without sharing them with an instant audience of over a hundred? Can I take pictures without sharing them digitally – just take them like I used to, for the pleasure of capturing a moment? Can I cook or bake or eat someone else’s cooking or baking without taking a picture and uploading it to Facebook with a witty comment? Can I grow a plant without documenting its progress online? Ryan’s birthday’s coming up. So is my friend, Blue’s. Can I send them birthday greetings without fêting them on Facebook – would it look strange not to send them a public shout-out? On March 28, my father will have been gone for fifteen years. It seems strange to let that go by without saying anything on Facebook. Can I go back to the life I used to live, one without an audience? One in which what I did was for me and the people around me, and nobody else? We’ll see ….

I have a feeling I’ll come back to Facebook. It might even creep into my life, little by little, just like it did before – and have me in its thrall in a matter of days. But, for this small slice of time, I’m just me. In my world. Watched by nobody but the people who are actually there. Enjoying the silence …. (I know – awesome song!) Sure, I’ll miss some things. But I have a feeling I won’t miss them as much as I think I will.