Okay so this is just awesome

This morning I decried the culture of police abuse that allows individual officers to flaunt their authority at the expense of civilians. I also warned, in soothsayer-like tones, of what happens when you lose the trust of the people you were ostensibly sworn to serve and protect. I didn’t really think I’d find such an awesomely direct example:

An elderly woman got the last word after locking a police officer in her basement, and later suing the police.  Venus Green, who was 87 when she was handcuffed, roughed up and injured by police, will receive $95,000 as part of a settlement with Baltimore City. The city chose to settle the case instead of taking a chance in front of a jury.

In July 2009, Green’s grandson, Tallie, was shot and wounded. Tallie said he was shot at a convenience store, but police insisted it happened inside Green’s house and that the shooter was either Tallie or Green. “Police kept questioning him. They wouldn’t let the ambulance attendant treat him,” Green said. “So, I got up and said, ‘Sir, would you please let the attendants treat him? He’s in pain,'” Green said.

Green said the officer said to her, “Oh, you did it, come on, let’s go inside. I’ll prove where that blood is. You did it.” Police wanted to go the basement, where Tallie lived, but Green refused on the basis that the police did not have a warrant. “I said, ‘No, you don’t have a warrant. You don’t go down in my house like that. He wasn’t shot in here.'” Green said the officer replied, “I’m going to find that gun. I’m going to prove that you did it.”

A struggle ensued between a male officer and Green. “He dragged me, threw me across the chair, put handcuffs on me and just started calling me the ‘b’ name. He ridiculed me,” Green said. An officer went into the basement and Green locked him inside.

Stewart and Colbert approve

So let this be a lesson to police everywhere: don’t fuck with old ladies from Baltimore. They’ll fuck with you right back.

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Trust unworthy

As I learn more about the world, I become more and more deeply skeptical of explanations of phenomena that are fixated on ‘personal responsibility’ narratives. If psychology teaches us anything it’s that people behave in ways that not only can they not predict beforehand, but that they cannot even explain afterward. Getting obsessed over laying blame on a lack of character is a temptingly easy but ultimately unsatisfactory approach, because it suggests absolutely no ways of making change (not to mention the fact that it is often demonstrably incorrect).

Yesterday was May Day, where Occupy protesters in New York City (and a handful of other cities – there wasn’t a peep out of Vancouver, which made me very upset) focussed less on blaming a few individuals for the problems facing our current political/economic system, but the factors that made it so corrupt. Predictably, those who staunchly refused to engage with Occupy to begin with will respond by complaining that the protesters are “blaming the rich for being successful”. In the same way, this kind of explanation is so wildly off base as to completely obscure the issues under discussion. Indeed, blaming individuals makes no sense – that’s why nobody’s doing it.

So we have to be careful when we are confronted by a fact like this: [Read more…]

Failure to shuffle, bow, and scrape: the fatal consequences

I used to trust police. I used to think that ‘to protect and serve’ was a motto that was uttered more or less free of irony. In other words, I used to be a blinkered fool (which is not to say that I am not still – just less so about this). One of the first albums I ever bought was Public Enemy’s classic Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black. I nearly wore that casette out listening to it over and over again. Before I knew anything about hip-hop music, before I knew about any music really besides classical and whatever my parents listened to, I knew the lyrics to ‘Get The Fuck Outta Dodge’:

Even then, I didn’t really absorb the full implication of what Chuck D was talking about: racial profiling and abuse of power by law enforcement. It didn’t filter through. After all, I was brought up to have a very different understanding of the relationship between civilians and police. Police were there to catch bad guys, to protect regular folks like me, and were who you called when you needed help. And maybe that’s true for some people, but I’m not so naive anymore to think that it’s the case for everyone.

It certainly wasn’t the case for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.: [Read more…]

Liberalization of Canada’s sex work laws: a more informed perspective

One of the things I’ve learned in my years (ironically, from a friend of mine) is that nobody can possibly be an expert on everything – as such, it’s a good idea to have a lot of friends who are experts at different things. That way when I need advice on understanding physical sciences, politics, law, current events, philosophy… basically anything that I don’t understand well, I can “cloud-source” it to any number of buddies who will be able to give me a much more in-depth look at things than I could manage on my own.

One of these is my pal T, who has devoted a lot of time and energy to understanding issues surrounding sex work and sex workers. Ze found me through the blog (coolest thing about this job – awesome people find me rather than me having to put in the effort to make it work the other way ’round) and we started talking about stuff. Ze opened my eyes up to some viewpoints I’d never considered before, and so when I heard about the Ontario ruling I immediately asked hir for hir thoughts. Ze was kind enough to school me a bit on some of the details and implications of the ruling. Hir response is below the fold. [Read more…]

A rare (and major) success for Canadian sex workers

So I have made my stance on sex work pretty clear – I see nothing inherently immoral about having sex with someone for money, provided both parties are reasonably informed of the risks inherent in any kind of casual sex and are capable of giving consent. That’s more or less the liberal boiler plate for sex work. I take it a step further than some do when I say that I also don’t see anything inherently tragic about sex work. Yeah, the most easily-retrievable meme about sex work is that of the street-walking hooker, desperate and starving and turning tricks to feed her smack habit. Rescue sex work exists, and drug addiction can be a serious problem in all low socio-economic status groups – the intersection of those two cannot be ignored or dismissed. However, that’s not a problem with sex work per se – there are a number of other factors, both personal and societal, that create those situations. They certainly do not comprise the entirety of the trade.

While I have expressed my reservations before about losing the focus of this blog, tilting at every windmill I come across, something happened this week that sort of blew the doors off that plan. I say ‘sort of’ because it involves Canada’s courts, and this is a ‘good news week’ (to try and balance out last week’s and Monday’s heaviness), and because fuck it, I want to. A few months ago, a group of sex workers and advocates challenged Canada’s laws on operating ‘a bawdy house’ – the language gives you a hint as to how old the law is. The law states that while prostitution is perfectly legal, it is illegal to make one’s living as a prostitute or to operate an indoor business for the purposes of prostitution. Which leaves… the street.

Scary shit happens out on the streets. When you have less control over your surroundings (and who your customers are), you are at greater risk of violence and/or exploitation. If sex work is how you pay your bills, then you’re trapped between a rock and a hard place when it comes to turning away customers or deciding to avoid the streets. One might argue that forcing prostitutes to the streets puts them in unnecessary danger that they wouldn’t face if they could practice their trade indoors. One in fact did argue that. One won: [Read more…]

Trayvon: a stroll through the facts

A couple weeks back a story crossed my eyes that made me feel sick to my stomach for reasons I couldn’t quite place. It was the story of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old kid who was shot and killed in Orlando by neighbourhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Obviously the story upset me for the normal reasons – a fellow human being killed is not something that can simply be shrugged off. That being said, this is hardly the first story I’ve heard about someone getting killed in the fucked up, gun-happy, cowboy fetishizing United States. For a country with more than 12,000 gun murders a year (compared to 170 per year in Canada), there’s simply no way that a person could be this sickened every time someone gets murdered – I’d never get anything else done.

But there are some details about this case that make this case particularly gruesome.

1. Trayvon was murdered in his own neighbourhood

Martin was shot after returning home from a local convenience store, where he bought snacks including Skittles candy requested by his 13-year-old brother, Chad.


The man in question is Neighborhood Watch Captain George Zimmerman, who was present at the time of the shooting.  According to Crump, while Martin returned to the townhome, police received a 911 call reporting a suspicious person; Zimmerman was the man that made the call.

Without waiting for police to arrive, Crump said, Zimmerman confronted Martin, who was on the sidewalk near his home. By the time police got there, Martin was dead of a single gunshot to the chest and the only thing they found on him was a can of Arizona ice tea in his jacket pocket and Skittles in his front pocket for his brother Chad. [Read more…]

Racism in Toronto: doing it wrong

While I live in Vancouver now, I am actually a relatively recent arrival. My family moved away from Vancouver when I was about three years old, and I spent the years from age 10 – 20 in the suburbs of Toronto. Despite not living in Toronto proper, I did spend a lot of time there on weekends, and have visited numerous times since moving away for university. While I can’t claim to be from Toronto, I certainly have a ‘feel’ for the city – a familiarity with a few of the cultural hotspots, the ‘vibe’ from some of the people there, the somewhat-intangible character of the city itself. Despite it being fashionable to insult Toronto here in Vancouver, I remain a stalwart defender of a place with which I ultimately feel a great deal of kinship.

Having moved to my new home, I find many similarities. Obviously, we are still talking about major Canadian cities that are fairly politically liberal and share a certain ethos. It’s pretty easy, however, to spot the major differences. The landscape and, resultantly, cityscape in Vancouver are dramatically different from Toronto. The demographics of the city are obviously different, and above and beyond the cliches about Vancouver being more “laid back”, the layout of the city and surrounding area lend themselves to a very different profile of interests and activities for Vancouverites compared to Torontonians.

Once you get past the big differences though, one begins to gain an appreciation for the more subtle differences. The way bus passengers say ‘thank you’, the drier air in the summer, the way people buy heavy-duty rain gear so they can bike year-round… little things. For me, one of the most remarkable is the way cops don’t look at me when they pass in their cars. It still blows my mind – unlike here, getting eye-fucked by cops was par for the course in Toronto. It doesn’t seem that much has changed: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: TACOS!

There is a brilliant moment in an episode of The Simpsons where a group of treasure-seekers are digging in a hole, when one of them realizes that they have no method of getting out. Homer, without a moment’s hesitation, triumphantly announces the solution: “We’ll dig our way out!” The digging then resumes at a feverish pace. One of the characters is heard to mutter “No, no, dig up, stupid!

“Dig up, stupid” has since become one of my favourite lines to use whenever I see someone double down on an ignorant or otherwise brainless statement. When someone calls you out on something moronic you’ve just said or done, you have to fight the urge to keep digging, and start digging up.

In East Haven, Connecticut, the Department of Justice found evidence of widespread racial profiling and abuse by police:

The allegations first surfaced in early 2009 after the Rev. James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven, was arrested at My Country Store while videotaping what he called police harassment. The charges were eventually dismissed and The Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School filed a complaint alleging racial profiling with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The justice department launched an investigation in December 2009, which is ongoing. In April the department released a preliminary report criticizing East Haven police for having outdated and inadequate policies and limited training. Police Chief Len Gallo, who had led the 53-member department for 12 years, subsequently was put on administrative leave by Mayor April Capone Almon.

When asked by a reporter what the new mayor, Joseph Maturo, was planning on doing to mend the injured ties with East Haven’s Latino community, the mayor replied (and no, I am not making this up):

I might have tacos when I go home. I’m not quite sure yet. [Read more…]

Are we ‘getting it’?

So this morning I lamented openly about the seeming inability of my fellow Canadians to notice the extremism and hypocritical, bullying nature of our current government. I may have oversold the argument a bit – it may not be that people don’t notice; it may simply be that they don’t care. Whatever the reason for the lack of national outcry over a series of should-be-scandals that are much larger than the one that played a role in unseating the previous government, we do not seem particularly concerned with the incompetence and malice that characterizes much (but certainly not all) of the current regime.

There is another potential explanation: the data may just take time to hit home. I will confess that I probably pay more attention to politics than the ‘average’ person. I find the discussion of competing alternative explanations for the same issue fascinating, and I find the foibles of humanity displayed proudly in the halls of power to be endlessly diverting. I also care passionately about the direction of my country (and the world in general), so I am always hungry for new information about the political system. There are, believe it or not, people who are even more passionate and motivated than I am, and it is to them I go when I need the cracks in my understanding filled in a bit.

So I suppose it is likely that what I might see as apathy or purposeful indifference may simply be an entirely-understandable ‘lag time’ between when I get fired up, and when the rest of the country comes around: [Read more…]

Racism in Canada: the myth and the reality

One of the things I find particularly irksome about the stereotype that Canadians have about themselves (ourselves) is that we are a fundamentally “nice” people – so nice, in fact, that we don’t really have a problem with racism. It is the case that Canada’s history of racism is not as obvious as it is in, say, the United States. We do not have the descendants of slaves making up a significant portion of our population, and have managed to keep our national racist shame out of the headlines for the most part (at least until quite recently).

As a result, Canadians have managed to convince ourselves that racism is some else’s problem – that Canada is a bastion of inclusion and a safe haven for all people. Or if not so extreme as that, we at least believe that, deep down, racism isn’t that big of a deal here. The reason this is particularly frustrating for me is that, as someone who discusses race and race issues, I find myself having to run uphill to simply get someone to acknowledge that racism can exist here. Once that’s done, then comes the harder battle of convincing them that they have a role to play in addressing it.

Like any national myth – American exceptionalism, British imperialism, French superiority – the myth of Canadian racial benevolence is quickly shattered by even a cursory glance at the evidence: [Read more…]