Opinion

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- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Now that the conversation about policing has been started, it may be time to start sharing our stories. Here is one of mine, recent enough to be fresh in my mind.

Two months ago I was out taking some photos around the community in a socially safe way, from my husband's car. In one public place, I took some photos with my phone – distance shots of some activity going on. Then I carried on to some other places around town and returned home.

As soon as I pulled in to my driveway, a pickup truck pulled across the drive behind me. When I got out of the car, a man called from the driver's seat, across his dog, asking me why I had been taking his picture. I explained who I was, and that I had not been taking “his” picture, but simply a photo of the unusual activity in a public park, involving half a dozen men, when not much else was going on in town.

Now I'm going to stop here and tell you that even as I write this, I am reluctant to tell you what the activity was – and it was not anything illegal or dangerous. I am afraid that you will recognize it and therefore the man involved. I am afraid. Not terrified, but not safe.

The explanation did not satisfy him. He asked why I had driven away when he started to approach the car. I told him I was fifty feet away and had not even noticed that he had turned toward me. He asked if he could just take my picture whenever he wanted, and I started feeling more uncomfortable. I told him so – that I was uncomfortable with a man following me to my home. He said “I didn't have to follow you. I know who you are and I know where you live.” And that is where I got the chills.

I told the story to several people, as you do when you have had an odd experience. I asked friends in the media if this went with the territory. I told men who likely know this man. And I told women.

The response was interesting. Long time news people said they'd each had one experience at their home, and it left a mark on their memory. The women I told were empathetic. And straight white men offered advice. “Call me next time.” or “Get a security system. (I did point out that my husband and son were both in the house at the time, and a security system would have done nothing.)

“Report him to the police” was the other piece of advice from men. I thought about that one. A lot. What would the police do about it, I asked one retired police officer? They would, apparently, take a report, and if they found me credible, he thought they would “increase police patrols in your neighbourhood”. I told him I could not remember ever seeing a police patrol in my neighbourhood in the ten years we've lived here, and anyway, I do not expect Truck Man to be stalking me.

Truck Man's purpose was simply intimidation - “You watch yourself lady – I know where you live”.

While this was the first time a man has come to my home to deliver that message, it is certainly not the first time I have heard it. I could just as easily be writing about one of at least ten other incidents of intimidation in the past few years.  Every time the intimidator has been a straight, white, employed man, just like the men who told me to report this incident to the police. And each time some other man has been otraged and has suggested I call the police.

Clearly those men believe police to be the source of personal safety. I respect that this has been their experience. But there are many who do not share that experience. I personally cannot conceive of how the police could keep me safe in these situations. In my life, “tattle tales” and whistle blowers have ended up receiving retaliation. My experience is that bullies do not like being called out, and they seldom stop and sometimes escalate when they are.

As we begin to consider the role of police in our community, perhaps we need to consider the broader issue of public safety. Is public safety properly addressed if we have people in our community who do not feel safe, in spite of having a well-resourced police force? What safety needs do those people have - and I include myself among them - that are not appropriately or adequately addressed by the current law enforcement model?

This may be the start of a very interesting conversation if we are willing to share and listen to the stories of our neighbours. My experience is not yours, but both of us are part of the whole story of our community that needs consideration in any change of policy or budget. We do not need to have the answers, but we have a responsibility to keep asking the questions.


 

 

 

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