Wearing a red and black plaid shirt and a show-stopping toque, it was hard not to notice Blair sitting on a blue park bench. As I approached the corner, Blair looked up, nodded a curt greeting with the briefest eye contact, presuming that I would be on my way, heading up the street past the folks outside UGM.
“How’s your Sunday afternoon going so far?” I chimed, eyeing the empty seat beside him.
“Not too bad,” Blair shrugged his shoulders and put out the cigarette he had been smoking just a few seconds ago.
“Mind if I stay and chat?”
“Oh!” Blair exclaimed, his eyebrows furrowing, “not at all.”
What started off as a light-hearted chat about the neighbourhood and its residents soon turned into a safe space for Blair to share the disheartening injustices that many of the community members face.
“My friend last week, he was hit by a car but when he stopped to talk to the man who hit him and called the police, the cops arrested my friend instead! For making loud disruptions in the night! He spent that night in jail because he had no money for a lawyer and none of us knew what to do.”
I sat in the uncomfortable silence listening to this story unfold. Though I have had limited encounters with the authorities, I’ve always viewed these men and women as symbols of safety and justice. Though I am certain that they do great work in our city, I can’t help but consider their roles in the context of the community in the downtown eastside. There likely was miscommunication and distrust within Blair’s story and I acknowledge that I was not present at the scene of the accident. However I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how this scenario might have played out differently if I was the one hit and not Blair’s friend, or if the accident had taken place in a different part of town?
“I just wish more people would just take us seriously and hear us out. It’s not like I haven’t tried to find work, or to make it out somewhere better but I’ve just hit a few more bumps in the road…”
Privilege is often something we live with but forget to acknowledge in the business of everyday life. Coming to the downtown eastside and conversing with Blair has already challenged my way of thinking and pushed me to consider alternatives that exist beyond my limited scope of vision.