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

download

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.

 

Advertisements

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

emoji-halloween-costumes_101027

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.

Lament for the Robert’s Arm Public Library

As I’ve mentioned before, I had the good (and bad) luck to grow up in small-town Newfoundland. I don’t know anyone whose childhood was more rural than mine. We had no hospital – one doctor served five different communities and wasn’t always in town. We had no police station. When a cop (always some poor sucker serving time in an isolation posting) would appear anywhere near Robert’s Arm, people would call and warn each other: “cops are down today, don’t do anything stupid”.  The nearest book store was an hour down the highway. We only went there when my mechanic-moonlighter father needed to pick up a car part he’d ordered or when one of us needed to visit the dentist or optometrist. I was a voracious reader. I went through at least two books per week. Even if there was a book store in town, my allowance wouldn’t have covered my reading habit. Enter the public library.

Our library wasn’t big or architecturally arresting, but there was a nice variety of books. Everything from sleazy romances to historical fictions to classics to encyclopedias. I did homework there. I met project groups there. (It was during one of those group sessions that I first had my bra strap snapped by a boy – but that’s not necessarily a tender and glowing recollection.) I went there every couple of weeks to pick through the offerings. I pounced on new books like a starving lion on a lame gazelle. Sometimes, the librarian would save a book for me if she thought I’d like it. I always went to the section for people a few years older than me, and that was ok by the librarian. There was a limit of six borrowed books per visit, but the librarian was always lenient if I just couldn’t leave one of my precious finds behind. Every summer, my family went on a big-ass road trip – my father was a teacher, so we could disappear for up to two months in our motorhome. One of the last things I’d do before leaving town was visit the library for a stack of books to carry me across the continent. The librarian would gently remind me of the six-book limit, and then allow me to borrow a dozen books or more. I loved that place.

I don’t know what it’s like there now, but when I was a child Robert’s Arm wasn’t exactly encouraging when it came to education. In some ways, it was downright discouraging. I got teased for my obsessive reading. I got teased for using big words. (I didn’t know how to pronounce those words, having learned them from books. So I pronounced the P in “psychology”, and pronounced “akin” with emphasis on the A, and pronounced “midget” as two separate syllables. But the seed was planted, however haphazardly.) I got teased for writing poetry. I got teased for achieving good grades, and for being interested in science. I was the kind of kid who chafed at the word limits set by my beleaguered English teachers, and got docked marks a time or two for being unable to resist adding that last paragraph or two. This is one reason I love the concept of blogging. I can write thousands of words and nobody can do a thing about it. I found out, years later, that I suffered mightily from big-fish-in-a-small-pond syndrome, and I’m not as bright as I thought I was – but even my level of academia was an object of envy to be snickered over and snuffed out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Robert’s Arm Public Library, beloved childhood landmark of mine, was a refuge for me when I was young, and had a hefty hand in shaping who I am today. Which is why I’m heartbroken to hear that it’s closing – along with about half of the public libraries on the Rock. I have not been as much of a library user in recent years. And I know that the ubiquitous internet makes knowledge more available to people, and that we’ve got e-books now. But, even in the age of the digital superhighway, I relied on libraries when my children were little. I brought Fiona and Bridget to our local library once per week to choose books to supplement their own voracious reading appetites, and we attended readings, information sessions and a weekly playgroup the local library. They still love the library today, and so does Ryan.

Incidentally, the city of Ottawa has just made a decision about how it’s going to use a stretch of land called LeBreton Flats. Ideas included green space, an urban beach, a Canadensis walk (not sure what that is, but it sounds interesting), a public library, a YMCA, a beer museum and an aquarium – and a quirky-but-possibly-charming offering, an automobile museum. But we’re getting a giant arena, some condos and a whole lot of shopping opportunities – because that’s the bid that city hall likes best. Because we don’t have enough arenas, condos or stores in Ottawa, right? Because we need a new venue where people can make money hand-over-fist on overpriced beer, reheated junk food and NHL merch while fans pay exorbitant prices to see millionaires chase a chunk of black rubber up and down the ice. Bread and circuses have won again. But what shall we feed our minds and hearts?

What I learned (and am still learning) from time spent at the food bank ….

cans

After the sweet, sunny chaos of summer, fall signals the return of many things. School. Regular schedules. Healthy eating and fitness routines. People being around instead of away. Much-loved sweaters, scarves and boots. And, for me this year, volunteering at our local food bank. I volunteered there last fall, winter and spring, taking a break for summer because my children are with me on my days off when school’s out – and because we’re hardly home for more than four days in a row in July and August anyway. Though I love summer, I found myself missing my Friday food bank shifts and looking forward to getting back into them. Not only did I make a few friends there, I also learned some things:

Hunger has many faces. When people think of the food bank, maybe they think of weary single mothers or the elderly. The truth is that the people who rely on the food bank are as varied as the rest of the community. Sure, we see plenty of single mothers, but we see single fathers, too. There are also traditional families who are food-insecure, as well as couples with no children. The elderly are well-represented, but so are the young and strong. My heart is particularly squeezed by the single men. Many of them shuffle from foot to foot and look at the floor alot, and I suspect it’s because they think they have no right to be there – they don’t fit the stereotype of a food bank client, and they fear that they are being judged. You don’t have to spend much time at the food bank before you realize that there is only one thing you can predict about anybody in the queue: that they need help.

Poor people have food issues and preferences, too. When you talk about the food bank, and poverty in general, there is the assumption that hungry people will take anything they can get – and the majority of them will. However, as I’ve already said, there is as much variety among food bank clients as there is among the general population. Intolerances, allergies, diabetes. There’s one regular who asks to read the labels of everything so he can choose the items with the lowest sugar content. Many parents will only take baby foods their little one is used to, partly because it’s easier to feed the baby familiar things – and partly because they don’t want any of the food they take to be wasted. Some children have sensory processing issues, and their parents advocate for them by asking about the texture of this food or that. Many of our clients want halal meat, and to make sure there’s no pork in any of the items we’ve given them. Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of liking one food more than another – or turning down packages that have been opened, or warped cans. When this happens, there’s almost always someone muttering about how they should just take what they can get and be glad they’ve got it. This is true – and they know that. But if they can get something they prefer, or something that serves their needs a little better than other things, why not ask for it? I would, and I’ll bet you would, too.

Having things doesn’t mean you don’t have needs. “Oh, yeah, they go to the food bank – but go to their house and look at their big-screen TV.” “If she needs food so badly, why doesn’t she sell her jewellery and buy some?” “He can’t afford food, but he can afford a cell phone, of course.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard things like this, and watched as the speaker mentally patted him or herself on the back for figuring it all out, then sank back into their comfortable, monochrome existence. Know what? These trappings don’t mean a thing. Life is unpredictable, and can play rough. People who are able to buy themselves a comfortable life one year can fall on hard times the next. Expensive items can be acquired at Value Village, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Sally Ann for a fraction of their value. And some things are worth more than money. You feel better about giving someone a few cans of tuna and soup if they’ve already pawned their grandmother’s diamond bracelet, and they’ve dropped out of society by surrendering their electronics – you feel that makes them more worthy of charity? Here’s hoping that you are not at the mercy of “help” like yourself if you ever need anything.

There, but for the grace of God, goes you. There are alot of people who believe that people who need handouts are somehow inferior. They’re not as smart as the segment of the population that can pay their bills without assistance They squander their resources. They should have organized their lives better. As I said before, though, life can kick your ass in any number of ways, from any number of directions. Some people live paycheque-to-paycheque, and don’t have sick days or severance. They are one bad bout of pneumonia or one pissy boss away from hard times. Some people become disabled and can no longer support their family or even themselves. Some people have a stable situation until the breadwinner dies – and then they need help.  Sure, some people end up being food bank clients because they’ve made stupid decisions. They’ve smoked, drank or gambled away all their money – or they never bothered to try making money in the first place. Here’s the thing, though: their reason for being at the food bank doesn’t diminish their need. What kind of society would condemn people to starvation for having made financial mistakes or bad calls? Not one I’d want to be a part of.

If you’re volunteering at the food bank for a warm-fuzzy, you might be disappointed. Some days, there’s lots of everything, and all the clients are happy with what I’ve given them – and I feel good when I leave. Some days, though …. not so much. One day, an eight-months-pregnant woman came in, toddler in tow. She said that she usually tries to avoid coming to the food bank because it’s tough for her to get there, but that she and her son had literally run out of food. She had dragged her weary near-due self, her two-year-old and a trolley on two buses. She was about to take the same two buses back, this time with the same now-grizzling boy and a full trolley. On top of all this, it was thirty below. I drove her home. Then, I cried all the way back to my own house. I havn’t seen her since. Another day, we ran out of damn near everything. Diapers, milk, cereal, bread, ground beef, spaghetti. Even tuna. Yes, that’s right – the food bank ran out of canned tuna. Every week some old dear asks hopefully if there’s any jam to go with the bread. There’s never any jam, ever. And not everyone is grateful – or even nice. Some people are fighting mighty battles in their head or their heart, and it takes everything they’ve got to keep existing – never mind manners or other people’s feelings. Some people are beaten down by their problems, and feeling sorry for themselves. Some people are just plain angry that they have to come to the food bank, stand in a long line and bring home a load of stuff other people didn’t want – or maybe they’re just having a bad day. I can’t say for certain that I’d accept their circumstances with grace at all times, if I were them – so I don’t judge them. On the low days, I have to remind myself that I’m doing something, and that’s better than doing nothing.

I love it. I enjoy the camaraderie with the other volunteers. I love chatting with the regulars and getting to know them. I love filling empty bags with food for people who might not otherwise have anything to eat. I like the bin of treats where I can choose a few goodies to dole out – little surprises, like a tin of salted cashews or a handful of candy or some packets of hot chocolate mix. It gives me a thrill when I finally get a smile out of someone who’s been responding to my warm greeting with a curt nod week after week. This happened the last time I was there, and it made my day. I may be handing them a few days’ worth of groceries, but what they’re giving me is something that will last a lifetime.