A grade 12 student I know was recently laughing about a picture from a Ferguson protest that was not funny in the slightest. When I pointed this out, he said ‘It’s funny, because it has nothing to do with us. None of this does.’
If it were possible to do a face-plant like an anime character, I would have done that. Instead, I found myself very frustrated and angry. I wanted to shout at him that he was an idiot, that it’s attitudes like his that make me fear for the future rulers of our countries. In my mind, I can’t fathom how anyone can think a situation that so vastly affects a community, especially one in our neighbouring country, can have nothing to do with us. Then again, as one of my best friends pointed out, I’ve always been the odd one, always concerned about things that most people don’t put a second thought to.
Regardless however, the events of Ferguson have a lot to do with us up here in the Great White North, and not just because we’re neighbouring countries. While us Canadians like to deny it more often than not, our cultures are very much the same, and a lot has overlaps.
Watching everything unfold from a distance, I’ve found myself completely bewildered that this could exist. That in this day, where both our countries claim to be forward thinking, accepting, diverse and multi-cultural, that this kind of divide can exist. That nations that were built on so-called Christian foundations could be so full of hatred, dissent and backwards thinking. That it could be so corrupt.
Racial tension has never really been eliminated from the US, and I think it would be difficult to say it’s been eliminated from Canada either. In fact I know it hasn’t. Some of the people I’ve known and encountered in my life were the most racist, elitist people I’ve ever seen, for no real reason other than that these people were ‘different’ than them.
While that racial tension, that dislike that so many seem to have for African-Americans has been able to slowly coast under the radar, staying away from the ‘public’ eye, this last year, we have seen it come to the surface. In the last few months, we’ve seen two officers get off without a slap on the wrist for killing people, we’ve seen Grand Jury’s manipulated to push a specific result, and the person causing it escaping punishment.
But the sad truth is that it has become more than that. A cry for justice, a cry for answers was met with more than just indifference; it was met with violent responses from the people that were supposed to serve and protect. Who was at fault for that? I won’t blame the police entirely. While there is bound to be some that have enough racial prejudice that they were more than thrilled to do this, there were those who would have met it with skepticism and apprehension, wondering how that response could be appropriate.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that rather than attempting to remedy the situation, attempting to fix this divide that has been thrust, it became an ‘us against them’ battle. If they were protesting, they must be either low-class people who will loot, and burn and take advantage of the situation, or they must be police haters. And the police must all hate everyone in the community, and so on and so forth.
We’re seeing both citizens and police unfairly treated because of these stereotypes that are being forced and reinforced through these ongoing situations. We’ve also seen entire groups of peaceful protestors lumped together with those who decided to take advantage of the situation by lashing out in violence, destroying stores and feeding further into the racial hate.
So how is this relevant to those of us removed from these communities? Because whether we like to admit it or not, this could happen anywhere. We are a society that operates on a proclaimed tolerance that doesn’t exist. We preface statements with ‘I’m not racist, but’ and follow it with racial stereotypes. Because even in the middle of small town, rural Ontario, we still see situations play out where people are treated differently because of their race.
But it’s also relevant for another reason. The militarization of police forces is not limited to the United States. As Canadians, we like to reference the over-enthusiasm for guns in the states, but we’re not really that far off. If you Google ‘militarization police canada‘ the page if full of links to articles on forces across the country that have received tanks/armoured vehicles along with riot gear and guns. And while the government proclaims that we shouldn’t fear, because more military surplus goes to museums than police forces, the truth is that any military surplus going to police forces is too much.
These sorts of toys do put the public in danger. They do escalate conflicts. They do create sort of an image problem for the police where they aren’t our protectors but they are our oppressors
In an article published by the National Post on August 21 of this year, an Ottawa Criminal Lawyer named Michael Spratt criticized the use of armoured vehicles by police forces, and not just because the cost of both purchasing and maintaining them would be better spent on actual crime prevention.
“These sorts of toys do put the public in danger. They do escalate conflicts. They do create sort of an image problem for the police where they aren’t our protectors but they are our oppressors,” he said. “I’d rather have a mental health crisis worker or a social worker on the street every day than a BearCat in the garage.”
It’s a far cry, and an unjust one to blame it all on one side. It’s also unjust to look at it and not recognize that there are a number of factors involved in these situations; race, social status, politics – they all come into play here. But recognizing that doesn’t solve the situation. Recognizing that is only the first step to reconciliation, to addressing the bigger issue, and that’s what the protests, which have occurred across the United States, Canada and even Europe are about. People are not just recognizing that there is a bigger situation at hand, but that something needs to be done. That divided walls need to be rejoined.
Ferguson is relevant, because if we are to move forward and prevent it from happening here, we need to recognize what the real issue is. It’s relevant because if we are going to see a change in attitudes, a move towards true acceptance and not just mild tolerance, we need to understand, address and impact the issues. It’s relevant because the moment we make it irrelevant by stating that it has nothing to do with us, by not wanting to hear about it or care about it, we are stripping the humanity from it and opening ourselves up to allow it to happen here, without even realizing it’s started to go down that road.