Monday, January 03, 2011

Caring Doesn't Have Jurisdictions

The ideal state is not where citizens care about the government, the ideal state is where citizens care about everything.

We often care about watching the government, knowing what it does with our money and with our laws, though all the while we spend a small disproportionate amount of time caring about our people and our society. It is as if social norms have developed that sanction curiosity into the cold unfeeling leviathan that is government yet at the same time deter regular people from caring about their neighbours. These same values suggest the concerns of government are our business but the concerns of our neighbours are not.

A month and a half ago there was an arrest in a friend's neighbourhood, the suspect wouldn't stop yelling, yet people only closed their curtains and looked away. At the time I thought this was the thing to do, after all it was none of my business, but I was wrong, what happens in neighbourhoods, in our country is all of our business.

It was on a brisk grey afternoon, while stepping out of my car and putting on my jacket, I heard yelling coming from just over the adjacent fence. I turned to see a shirtless young man being escorted by a police officer from someone's yard. "Ow my arm! Let go of my arm!" The wiry yet muscular youth yelled in vitriol to the cop. I stood with my jacket half up my arms watching as the police officer brought the suspect to his cruiser, all the while cries of police brutality echoed in the neighbouring cul-de-sac.

As I stood in the cold I saw an older woman on her porch on the opposite side of the street, seeing only her back as she retreated into her well-curtained home. Not far down I saw another window whitened from closing blinds. I felt an urge, almost like a social rebuke for staring, as if my manners were lacking for watching something that was none of my business. I felt that inclination to just walk away, to go into my friend's home, to at most bring it up in conversation as some story to tell him while I was taking off my shoes, but there was just something that made me stand there and watch.

At first it was this young man's pleas that grabbed my attention, he was so passionate in his yelling I thought there was something there, some truth to his claims and that I would have an obligation to not let some abuse of power occur. "Police brutality! This cop's a pig! Fucking pig is breaking my arm," he screamed as he was bent over the trunk of the police car, the cop holding the suspect's hand-cuffed wrists while he spoke on the radio that was attached to the shoulder of his blue uniform.

I stood there behind my opened car door peering over the fence watching, never seeing so much as rudeness on the part of the law enforcement officer. Indeed as the young man swore and called the RCMP officer names the cop acted with noble self restraint, not flinching and not being noticeably angered in the slightest.

I felt there was nothing here and was about to close my door when the youth looked right at me and shouted, "Hey you, call the cops! This cop is fucking breaking my arm. You're my witness! You're my witness!" Not once did I see this officer exert a force that could have hurt anyone, and from that, I didn't walk away, because I was not watching to look out for the suspect anymore, I was watching to look out for the cop.

Seeing what happened that day made me realize that all those people in that neighbourhood who went inside, closed their blinds, and ignored it, should have stayed and watched. It made me see that people should care about what happens in their neighbourhoods for the very same reason they read the newspaper to find out what's happening in their government. We are all members of this society and what happens in it is of a concern to each and every one of us. Whether it happens in Ottawa or down the street, it's our business to care about what's going on.


The Grey Lady said...

Just wondering have you had your arm held behind you in the manner that the police do? Are you an expert on how much force is required to incapacitate, harm or break a person's arm? Do you honestly believe that a police officer needs to look aggressive or agitated in order to supply enough force to harm a person?

It could very well be that that the young man was full of himself and trying to set the police officer up for phony charges. I am sure the best defence for some is a charge of some of impropriety on behalf of the police.

Still. said...

Grey Lady, I'm not sure what specifically you're suggesting.

I did not say I was an expert nor did I offer any insight into what it feels like, I described my observation.

I do say with a reasonable conviction that I could tell when someone is about to or trying to break someone's arm, and this was not one of those moments.