Saturday, November 21, 2009

...But For The Grace Of God...(editorial)...

*(sigh)…yet another native person dies while in the custody of agents of the state…I internalize my immediate reaction (I process) and then externalize through this media and other means…I very carefully think about my personal feelings (or lack of certain ones)…Am I shocked? (no) - Am I surprised? (no)…Am I angry? (aren't you?)…Is this justice?...Why am I not surprised? Why does this incident seem so commonplace? Why is there no larger public outcry? – It’s because this story has been played out time and time (and time) again for over 500 years.

I’ve just viewed the latest footage of an aboriginal man being brutally restrained by state police (RCMP in this case) – the footage is graphic, disturbing and one can only imagine how difficult (if not impossible) it is for the family of this man to watch the video. Not surprisingly police were found to have played NO ROLE in the man’s death. The man clearly had been beaten about the head, which police denied, they claimed “if” he received blows to the head, they were inadvertent (accidental) and glanced off the body blows they delivered with metal batons. The coroner claims the man died from “acute ecstasy intoxication,” which as a medical condition has yet to be proven one way or the other (i.e. it’s debatable as to whether one even can overdose on ecstasy), there are, no doubt, experts who would testify one cannot. The footage shows clearly a man being pinned face down in a growing pool of blood while his hands are cuffed behind his back. He has been hit with a taser-gun at least 6 times by this point and is howling in pain. Eventually he is placed on a moveable stretcher, strapped-down (while still face down) and still cuffed behind his back. Sometime shortly after the camera was turned off the man went into cardiac arrest, never regained consciousness and died 5 days later. It's not apparent why during the 15 minutes of footage, no one moves to assist the man. The 5 - 6 people on the scene simply sit on the man and it's sickening to hear the man's cries while he is completely immobilized in what has to be a painful position: imagine, one officer holding your head so that your are face down to the cement floor (in a pool of your own blood), one cinching your arms up higher and higher behind your back (while your wrists are cuffed behind your back) and his knee pressed between your shoulder blades another officer holding one of your arms pressed to the floor, 2 other officers kneeling on the back of your legs - let's try this to any one of those cops and then suggest that they "calm down" as they are tortured like the officers taunt in the video...

At this stage in my life when I consider an issue that is personal or I that am involved in or that I become aware of I ask myself a basic question: WHAT IS REASONABLE?...

…as such, I've become deaf to rationalizations and justifications…the official ruling indicates the death was “accidental” if one views the footage of the man following the police “takedown,” no reasonable person could think police actions were not a contributing factor. There is nothing accidental about the number of police officers involved, the weapons at their disposal and their posturing and body language during this arrest. I prefer not to get into specifics as to the identity of the victim and the reason for his arrest. I’m more concerned with patterns of behavior on the part of law enforcement officers and agencies. Someone dies and police, rather than showing leadership, become devious, arrogant, blame the victim and attempt to play the role of victim themselves, forwarding claims of being placed in life-threatening situations. Other times when police have been found to lie about their involvement in a death and when evidence surfaces irrefutably showing involvement then the “I feared for my life” argument is trotted out. Police have frequently been proven to lie and when caught offer contrived apologies that are political and are carefully constructed so as never to directly state involvement or culpability at all. This then protects them when undoubtedly they are called to task in future court proceedings and they are still able to deny involvement or guilt - perhaps readers will understand better what an “official” apology then really means when, say, the federal government offers an apology to residential school survivors, and a token monetary gesture – better to say “sorry” rather than take responsibility, leadership an apology looks good, politically (though to me they are clearly sleazy distraction techniques) - but mean nothing in terms of real empathy or authentic restitution. The official process usually ends with inquiries or inquests which allow for recommendations but have no real teeth and institutions and organizations are not obligated to actually implement any of the findings. In short, it’s a big show and at the opposite end of this tragedy are real people paying the ultimate price for having the misfortune to become involved with police and the "system". Various other players in the whole process show disdain and outright contempt for the public in trying to put in place the most meager checks and balances that would ensure accountability and transparency in how the police themselves are policed. Last year the BC government was asked to answer why 5 separate criminal assessments (investigations) were completed without formal charges brought against 2 police officers - THIS IS CRUCIAL: AN INQUIRY FOUND EVIDENCE THAT 2 COPS COMMITTED A CRIME BUT POLICE (INVESTIGATING THEMSELVES) DURING 5 PREVIOUS INVESTIGATIONS OVER SEVERAL YEARS LAID NO CRIMINAL CHARGES. The question was asked during a public inquiry that came ten long years after this particular high profile death-while-in-custody case. The government stated its position that the public did not have a right to hear sensitive government testimony and therefore should not be compelled to answer. That was, the public did not have the right to know the truth.

If you in your heart believe native people as a race are more criminal and more often than not deserving of strong-arm police engagement - if you think that we as a race are simply unruly, don't know how to behave and are solely responsible for our over-representation in the criminal justice system, that there is not a larger subtext and ongoing series of historical circumstances that have led to present ones...then I cannot talk to you and it is a waste of energy to try...I will go around you and hope that I don’t find you on the opposite side of a dispute because I will know your mind is already made up about me and my people…there is term for this type of thinking…

A reasonable person will see clearly that “systemically,” this society is flawed. The more time goes that goes by, the less inclined I am to use statistics – anyone with a certain level of literacy can create whatever meaning they choose out of any statistic – INDISPUTABLE FACT: WAY MORE Indians are incarcerated WAY more often than non-native people – proportionately, WAY WAY MORE Indians die while in police custody than non-native people – Indians make up WAY WAY LESS of the total population of this idea referred to as Canada…If non-native people died with the frequency that Indians do there would rapid and wholesale change in the structures and institutions that operate in dominant society (that’s another way of saying shit would change in a hurry) but because the victims here are Indians the wheels of justice have a Texas Bootjack on them (ie. Nothing changes, more of our people die way more often).

“It’s a tough job being a cop.” – This is unquestionably true. It is a job I would not want and it is a duty I am not charged with carrying out. Dominant society has provided these people with the power, authority and firepower the rest do not have. They took an oath. They took the job.

As an Indian with 2 young daughters I am fully and painfully aware of how expendable and unimportant the lives of Aboriginal women are to dominant society. They experience every conceivable disadvantage, hardship, social ill and human against human crime there is and clearly cannot rely on institutions for help or protection. INDISPUTABLE FACT: Aboriginal women are WAY WAY WAY WAY MORE MORE likely to be murdered or disappear than anybody else. In my heart do I reasonably believe its good advice to tell my daughters that their place in society is secure (this is philosophical in one sense of course but quite literal in another)? Are they to believe the police are here to help them – that police are here for their protection?

I spare a thought for this man’s family and all other families who have had loved ones taken well before their time in such tragic and senseless circumstances. These days I pray for those who cannot (for whatever reason) and for those who will not. I pray for police throughout the land that they receive the grace, the courage and wisdom to perform their sacred duty to protect all people in society from harm...not bring it.

My spiritual self allows me to believe that a person who is "well" will do the right thing. And thus I don’t seek retribution, vengeance or to even-up a score or two, rather, I look to examples set by those who came before me, those who were brutalized by the system or agents therein, lost loved ones and lost their liberty and yet still found the grace to forgive and remain active in their own and their people’s lives. People like Nelson Mandela or Chief Big Bear each of whom had reasons to hate their oppressors but used (or are using) their remaining time to create legacies that will live long after our time.

Consider this perspective: if this is how police deal with blatant abuses of power, cover-ups and incompetence in this day and age with portable video, internet and in a media-saturated society. I shudder just thinking of all the things that took place less recently out of camera range, away from prying eyes or removed from the public eye, in isolated jail cells across the land, in back alleys and on back roads and in situations where police knew no one was watching and where they couldn’t be witnessed meting out their brand of justice. It does not seem likely at all that these most recent events are isolated and are not part of larger and deeply entrenched attitude of violence and abuse of power in a grand-scaled, fatally flawed power structure.

Is it reasonable to expect more from a society that claims to promote and provide freedom and equality for all its people? Is it reasonable to expect better policing and demand that better people will step up if those currently doing the job don’t have the moral character it demands?

I is.

© Champsteen Publishing 2009

1 comment:

  1. You're right, it is too common and not likely to change anytime soon.

    The RCMP watchdog is underfunded and when he pointed out that the RCMP budget has escalated he was told by MP Blake Richards, how dare he equate the work of his "bureaucrats and paper pushers" with that of RCMP officers who risk their lives on the street.

    With that attitude, what hope is there to hold police to account?