I’m doing OK. A little annoyed, but healthy, safe, and intact.
Last night’s chain of unfortunate incidents were only exceptional in that something criminal happened; its follow-up by law enforcement was very delayed; and the victim happened to be privileged enough to be socially better connected than average. This meant something actually got done eventually.
This could have been a whole lot worse. But that said, this could have also been a whole lot better, and we all know it.
In this city, we do have a problem, and it’s a big one. It’s a systemic failure for Toronto — and for some of its inhabitants — to adapt to how citizens and visitors are now interacting with the city to conduct their own civil activities. There is, however, a calculated will by some to try to force everyone to become a colder city which is no longer, and which shall never be again.
This will is causing people to get hurt, dismissed, sent to the margins, or outright blown off. This spans from incidents in which those charged to protect and serve de-prioritize a criminal incident according to how a victim was situated and was presented. On the other extreme, there’s a doctrine of letting developers do as they may to the fabric of our city without exceptional consideration to those citizens most affected: not just to the displaced and alienated, but also to many who are in generally more stable conditions. In between these, there’s a lot more ugly stuff going on, and these are almost always interconnected with one another.
These are ricochet and reverberation effects: those big projects re-shape the little things which happen on a daily basis, then back around to the big things. It’s for another time to discuss. But in short, I can see how these relationships alter one another.
I also understand how the tone of a city is struck by those who make up a de facto executive. Many look up to this perceived executive body much like a parent (often, sadly, like a father) to hear what they’re saying. If they are saying openly — such as on a broadcast — that trivializing, mocking, deviating, or even criminalizing entire groups of citizens is (a wink-nod) OK, then those who look up to them will mimic their sentiment in kind. Father knows best. Sometimes this comes with fatal consequences. More often, though, people are just getting unnecessarily hurt.
That perceived executive group is, socially so and presently speaking, extremely toxic. They reserve and speak specifically on a policy of malice toward many of the citizens who live in Toronto. Maybe “a simmering contempt, borne from a sense of entitled resentment toward how Toronto has evolved socially” is a better way to put it. This malice gets played out at city council chambers and in many of its committee rooms. When in session, these sessions are often open to the public, and it means that all of us, whenever we can, should pay a visit to see how this malice occurs in tiny tremors. We need to be aware of our public actions.
Malice doesn’t involve a chequebook. It involves the welfare of bodies, of social relationships, and of civility.
Malice becomes news when one sees how that malice begets a civic neglect toward those most acutely in need (such as waiting several hours for the police to arrive after being attacked), and to those most chronically in need (such as when we look to how a 12-year wait list for affordable social housing is being perpetuated, ad infinitum, while a red carpet continues being rolled out to fetishize market-value housing in the form of wilfully refusing to hire the nominal civic oversight to govern that process into a more manageable, equitable one for not just those who choose to live in a new development, but also those most susceptible to being thrown to the streets or illegally overcrowded into tiny, substandard dwellings).
As trite as it sounds, Mohandas Gandhi had a point when he asserted that “the true measure of a society’s worth is how it treats its most vulnerable.” When malice is advocated, the most vulnerable are hit the very hardest. I’m pretty sure this humanist principle isn’t lost upon our civic leaders. It’s that they simply don’t believe it. Or in us.
The nearly-three-hour response delay by Toronto police last night — after being physically assaulted by an intoxicated driver who had, with help of his two-tonne minivan, already sought to ram me out of the lane (and hopefully down to the pavement, come what may) I was legally occupying with my travelling bicycle — was in its neglect a confluence of this malice. On Twitter, a lot of people got to see this malice play out in real time. And quite a few were already familiar with how that malice is working in this city.
Even the officer who eventually did arrive to file the report acknowledged that there are systemic problems occurring in this city which are probably the worst they’ve been in a long time. These problems really do reflect the tone of civility being enabled from “the top.”
It’s for reasons like last night which remind me how much work there is to do to make Toronto a more habitable, civil, equitable city — where patience, good Samaritanism, and deference to difference must not only be urged and re-stated, but outright promoted by those we turn to as our de facto leaders, our de facto civic parents, our perceived municipal caretakers. Until that day comes, we continue to gird ourselves for the wilful erosion of these elements by those who are spitefully willing to make this city “their way or the highway.”
I love Toronto with every fibre in me. I’m here to stay. I’m here to stand up. I’m here to keep going. I’m here to live and to thrive. In whatever way you can, the most I could ever hope for is that each of you do very much the same in the little ways you know how. This isn’t about agreement. This is about the personal growth of our own civility as a civilized city.