Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It was not just another Tuesday afternoon

As it happens, once the police arrived I learned that they were in fact who they purported to be: plainclothes private security for the local dollar store.  And the terrified man they had chased for several blocks had indeed stolen some items: a few pairs of socks and a couple of cheap brimmed caps.  But had I not followed them all up that side-street to witness their apprehension of the man, would they have stopped at holding him down and yelling?

Had I not called the police, would they have done so only much later?  Rapidly advancing and flashing a laminated card at me for a couple of seconds after I expressed my concern does not prove anything.  And why were they so disturbed by my presence as to warn me off vociferously, and so threatened by the one photo I took with my phone to show the police, that one of them approached again to chest-bump, shove me and threaten me, desisting only when I offered to charge him with assault?

I was not, as they put it, “hindering their apprehension of the thief.”  I was merely acting as a witness, not willing to risk allowing someone who was clearly frightened enough to risk running into traffic to be beaten, or worse, simply because, as many others muttered as I went by enlisting their attention, “it’s none of my business.”

And I am very grateful to several other young men who responded to my requests to stay near when I said that I was not comfortable waiting there alone with the first three for the police to arrive and asked them to stand by calmly without escalating the already volatile and potentially violent situation.

I learned a few things yesterday afternoon on my way to an appointment in one of the less well-appointed neighbourhoods of Toronto.

1.  You cannot run, nor even walk rapidly, in flip flops.

2.  There is more chivalry among the young men of that neighbourhood than we might, from our stereotyped prejudices, assume. In ignoring such assumptions, I found allies who were polite and helpful in a potentially dangerous situation. And by treating them with respect, I earned theirs.

3.  I am in fact my brother’s keeper. We all are. And in these times ,when more than ever we are being made to feel disempowered and separate and fearful, we need to override those impulses and follow our truer instincts. The only way we will make this world the better place we want it to be is through a willingness to act according to our conscience.

I am also pondering one more thing:  what sort of circumstances would make a person risk arrest or worse to steal some socks and hats from a dollar store.  But that’s a question for another time.

"We must become the change we want to see in the world" ~ Mohandas 'Mahatma' Gandhi

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