Violence Can Come From All Walks Of Life

Violence Can Come From All Walks Of Life

Walking through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) was part of my routine every Monday night. This habitual jaunt through the city went on for several years as I attended a local writing group that used to meet in places all around Gastown and Chinatown, and the trip home was always eventful.

I would see police cornering street people in the alcoves of long-abandoned storefronts locked up with chains, evicting them from a small patch of sidewalk. The officers would watch as the sidewalk-tenants packed their shopping carts with their prized possessions. I’d find scenes where one police officer was arresting a drug user while the other officer rifled through the backpacks of these users, confiscating the substances they used to self-medicate.

Near Waterfront station, at the edge of Gastown, I would see street people yelling at Skytrain commuters for not giving them change.

Many of my friends – mostly women – would tell me, “I don’t feel safe when I go Downtown anymore.” They would say, “In the middle of the day, I’ll have people harass me for money and if I don’t give it to them, they get right in my face and shout at me.” And sometimes these friends would say, “I was threatened by someone in the city recently, and they didn’t even want my money, they were just mentally ill. It’s sad what’s going on down there.”

These stories are among the reasons I decided to explore the subject matter of Pedestrian Monsters: Part One.

Incidents such as the one where a man was caught on camera stalking a woman bothered me when I thought about the DTES. 

This city was my home. 

I was exhausted from hearing how many people in that part of the city felt like they had to resort to physical threats or violence to further their agendas, whether it was pushing drug users into the back of a cruiser or shrieking at people for loose coins. 

I know I have several privileges being a tall, white man. But many people are selfish enough that they don’t care who you are, or what you look like, if you don’t give them what they want, they’ll come at you.

Once an old lady followed me around throwing the entire lexicon of derogatory terms at me all because I didn’t want to buy her a coffee. Money was tight at the time for me. She snuggled right up into my personal bubble and made sure I knew how disgusting I was to her.

People from all walks of life deal with threatening people downtown and that includes its residents.

A friend of mine who was a heavy drug user was panhandling on the sidewalk one night along the main Granville strip. I passed her by as I hadn’t seen her since high school, and I didn’t recognize her. She noticed me and she called me over to sit with her. We talked, as folks coming out of the neon-lit bars, people with the way they were dressed you would expect them to drive a Tesla or an Audi, they would scream words at her that I don’t care to repeat, all just because she was sitting off to the side of the walkway asking for change. All she did was sit there on the ground, holding her cardboard sign, as she rolled her eyes. “This happens all the time,” she said.

Aggressive behavior towards another person without the context of survival is just bullying.

And bullying is the type of behavior that even children learn is toxic, why should it be acceptable to do it when you’re an adult?

In my personal experience, I’ve found the people who usually end up physically hurting others are the people who have experienced trauma themselves. 

Hurt people, hurt people.

And this is why I wrote Pedestrian Monsters, to define what a monster is, at the very least for myself.

Many of the characters in this aforementioned short story, I’ve left out details on their class. Sure, you could make assumptions about a person’s ripped jeans, or dirt-crusted fingers, but ripped jeans are fashionable to some people, and anyone can get dirt between their fingernails. In my imagination, these characters could be rich or poor, you don’t know what’s in their bank account. Much of the opioid crisis in the States started in middle-class homes according to books like Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Anyone could push another person around, wear a dirty hoodie, pull a knife on a friend, sleep on the ground, do drugs, wear sunglasses, and stalk women just like many of the mentally unsound people do in this story. 

It’s you, the reader who colors in the rest of the details.

So, at the end of my depressing foray into the complex problem that is street violence, I was bereft of the fact that there was no simple solution.

Calling the police isn’t a privilege many of us get to experience without the fear of being assaulted by the responding officers as we dial that three-digit number we all know. Just ask the indigenous women who have faced monstrous acts done to them by officers within the RCMP. Or, the family of George Floyd after police officers choked their family member to death.

All I know is that society does get better if you invest work and patience into what you do. You can see how the efforts of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users improved living conditions for drug users in Travis Lupick’s book Fighting For Space. So, write your local politician, join a peaceful protest, or just talk about it with the people in your support network; someone will be roused to action if they are passionate enough. 

As for my personal walks around Downtown, I’ve found you can survive dangerous situations when you surround yourself with people who have your back. If you can maximize the protection of emergency services, do so, and seek to share that privilege the best you can with others who might not have it, as again, friends can increase your chances of survival. And if whenever I find myself roused to violence at someone’s inappropriate behavior, I think of that credo many of us were told as children, “Hitting people is wrong, if someone tries to hurt you, it takes more courage to run away than to fight.”

If you’d like to check out the episode we did on the story Pedestrian Monsters: Part One you can listen to it here.