Lived Experience/Memoir / Open Letter / Personal Is Political

An Open Letter To Vancouver Police Department

Hullo, VPD.

I am writing to you on my blog tonight because we need to have a conversation, but your recent actions — not to mention decades of similarly unjustifiable brutalities — have made a reasoned conversation with you, the entire collective Vancouver Police force, all but impossible. You have been arresting my friends for merely discussing walking down the street, for repeatedly walking across a marked crosswalk, or for taking to the streets in a peaceful and non-violent assertion of their democratic rights as citizens of this country (including asking for your colleague’s badge numbers while they are on duty). I recognize immediately that your job is difficult and you are paid relatively minimally for it, and that people who are being uncooperative make you do more work than you would care to, which makes your job feel unnecessarily longer and harder. However, I have a bone to pick with you as a collective, on behalf of some of my friends and acquaintances.

Some of your colleagues have detained and confined my friends without so much as an explanation; thrown them in holding cells with handcuffs still locked on; and thrown my friends face-first up against cement waste bins, the pavement, or the floor of the detachment garage at Main Street. One of your colleagues tried to run one of my friends over before she was arrested for walking on a marked crosswalk. Multiple of your colleagues forced a female acquaintance of mine to strip in front of a group of male officers in a parking garage; and some female friends of mine have been groped while they are being patted down after being arrested without explanation, having doors slammed on their limbs as they are being dragged into the building. Your colleagues have also slammed doors on my male friends’ limbs after they have been arrested without resistance for doing absolutely nothing more than standing or walking on a sidewalk. The injuries that have resulted from these behaviours span from sprains and contusions to broken bones and psychological trauma. This is completely unacceptable action on the part of your colleagues.

But I have a bone to pick with you on my own behalf, too. While I was non-violently demonstrating for women’s rights to bodily autonomy at the art gallery, as part of a large counter-protest to the launch of the “new abortion caravan” (you may be able to taste my contempt as you read this — I know I can, because just thinking about it makes me vurp), I took off my bra, which I had been wearing because I have large deposits of fat in both sides of my chest. I did this knowing that I have the legal right to bare my chest anywhere a man can do the same — such as in front of the art gallery. I then took my sign, and with my bra tucked into the back of my underwear, pranced down the sidewalk, in front of the representatives from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (I think I just vurped again… this might be getting serious), and between the curb of the sidewalk and a line-up of stopped cars along West Georgia Street. And then one of your colleagues approached me to tell me I’m not being decent or respectful, and to ask me to put my clothes back on. This is called slut-shaming. He returned ten minutes later and levelled a clear threat of an (off-the-books) arrest against me for “public indecency”. He refused to answer how I am violating any law by remaining topless in a public space, and refused to acknowledge that I have the legal right to take my top off anywhere a man can. He told me that this “isn’t about nudity”, while clearly ignoring that my sign read “No one is the body police!” And then he walked away, having given me my “first warning”.

I was not doing anything indecent by prancing around topless, wearing a clown wig, boxer briefs, clown socks, and a pair of shoes, holding a sign above my head that reads “No one is the body police!” I never took my underwear off, never put my hands in my underwear, and never made obscene gestures. No one was indecently exposed to my body. My body, in boxer briefs and clown socks, is not indecent. Your colleague, who is responsible for eroding what little trust your police force has managed to earn from me since I moved here the year Pickton was finally arrested, was attending the demonstrations with two colleagues, but he acted entirely alone. He never pulled out his book, never asked me who I am, never told me who he is, and never answered my questions. He also never bothered a man who had removed his shirt when I removed mine, and did not bother a woman who removed her shirt in front of him while he was giving me his “warning”.

It should not surprise you to know that this experience triggered a great deal of past trauma I have survived — most of which has nothing to do with the Vancouver Police, but with individual men, of whom most of the Vancouver Police are composed. But this experience also reminded me of how atrociously your colleagues treated the missing DTES women, even as survival sex workers from the DTES were coming to your Main Street detachment straight after jumping out of Pickton’s vehicle, to tell you that he had just confessed to murdering all those women on the very farm he was about to drive to. And not only did some of your colleagues treat DTES women horrendously, some of them treated your fellow (female) officers horrifically as well, through the entire duration of that investigation. I have a deep emotional and spiritual connection to that community as a former sex worker, and as someone who continuously struggles to heal from a lifetime of past trauma, not entirely unlike what aboriginal women face within their own communities. And though I shouldn’t need to remind you by now, because the entire world ought to have learned all about it when the United Nations stepped in on the Missing Women’s Inquiry, a majority of those women who have been taken from our streets were of aboriginal descent.

And I’d like you to think about that. They were taken from our streets. The streets you work in every day — the streets I and my friends are walking in, in peaceful assertion of our democratic rights — are our streets. Yours and mine. But unlike you, I have neither the authority nor the force to condemn someone to death, like your colleagues did in the case of Robert Dziekański (and by the way, I’m part Polish too). Or in the case of Frank Paul, who died of hypothermia in the alley outside the very detachment your colleagues have been throwing my friends into, after he was thrown out into the cold. Or Raymond Silverfox of Whitehorse, whose body was dragged out of the holding cell where he died by a single ankle, with no effort to avoid desecrating his body by dragging it through his own sick. Like he was nothing more than a dirty pair of pants. I can continue to list names of people who have died in police custody, but instead, I’m going to remind you of the young woman who was detained until her death by Chilliwack RCMP in 2007. I worked in her doctor’s office at the time and held her grieving mother’s hands while she told me about her last phone conversation with her daughter, who wanted to go to rehab. She would be my age now, if only she had been given the medical attention she repeatedly plead for over the course of three days.

The people you are dealing with now, who are being treated as though they were suspected terrorists, are fighting for democracy. My democracy. Your democracy, too. We are not your enemies. We are your sons and daughters. We are fighting for your sons’ and daughters’ rights to access an education without being burdened by a half million dollars in personal debt by the time they are ready to do you proud and start their careers outside universities and colleges. We are fighting for their rights to become your colleagues without spending either all of your retirement savings or the rest of their natural lives paying off the student loans. We are fighting for our rights to take part in this fight in the first place, as what once was a democratic right is now formally criminalized across the entire province of Quebec. And how are we engaging in that fight here, but by a mere couple dozen demonstrators marginally slowing traffic down for all of an hour at a time, while non-violently walking down the street (or even down the sidewalk). Would you want your colleagues treating your own daughters and nieces the way my female acquaintances and friends have been? By being forcibly stripped and gawked at by a group of sexist pigs (that choice in language having nothing to do with the general street consensus of police), groped by perverts, and having their hands broken, for walking down the sidewalk or crossing the street at a marked crosswalk?

Don’t get me wrong, here. I know not all of you are sexist pigs and perverts. I know not all of you throw bodies around like they were just a rugby ball or drag corpses through their own sick post-mortem. I know not all of you go for your taser first and ask questions later. Some of you have been very courteous to me when my life has literally been threatened. One of you in particular was very easy to deal with when I was recently dealing with yet another obsessive male stalker who wouldn’t take me telling him to “fuck off”, followed by a month of complete silence on my behalf, for an accurate gauge of my interest in any further involvement with him. A couple of you were very patient, though you could have been a bit less harsh, when I finally reported what I was convinced was a snuff film, when I suddenly realized that I may be the only cooperative witness willing to speak on behalf of two women whose last moments I thought I had witnessed when I was exposed to that video. Writing a letter about it took a complete disconnect from my emotions, but being interrogated about what I wrote and why I wrote it really fucked me up something fierce, and your colleagues could have been a bit more delicate navigating through that experience with me. But I will give you and your colleagues credit anyway — at least you didn’t assume from the start that I’m just lying.

What I’m driving at here is that I still have to trust you. This seems to be something you have taken for granted lately, and you need to be reminded yet again. You have the option of trusting me or not, as it suits your whim and fancy. But I don’t. Who do I turn to the next time a man doesn’t take no for an answer from me? Who do I call the next time someone threatens me, or makes me feel radically insecure about my personal safety? Who am I supposed to phone when I witness a crime taking place, such as a robbery or an assault, and I don’t feel safe enough to even say something? You have no need for me. I need you. And yet, I can’t trust you, even though I have no option on the matter. The person making me feel radically insecure about my personal safety, now? That’s you, VPD. Your job is to protect and serve people like me, and you’re making me feel like being within arms’ reach with something to say comes with a 99% guarantee of arrest and assault or my tax dollars back. I don’t smoke anything, I don’t even drink, and I live on a fixed income in between appointments with my psychiatrist. I have $50,000 of student loan debt, no job, and no involvement in criminal activity whatsoever since I was arrested in 2002 for shoplifting while I was homeless (for which I am grateful that I do not have a criminal record). Am I really the kind of person you or your colleagues need to throw face-first into the pavement, to boot-fuck and grind your knees into my spine while my face is pressed against the floor of the Main Street detachment garage?

Or do you think you could demonstrate a modicum of respect by perhaps reducing the hostility and aggression you and your colleagues engage in against non-violent protesters like me and my friends?

Sincerely,

Your friendly neighbour.

26 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Vancouver Police Department

  1. i absolutely feel your pain (and the constant pukeing in my own mouth) its unfathomable to how they can’t see what type of world they are helping to create for their own children and grandchildren.. What ever part of these men and woman’s brains tell them they are in the right concerning their actions, should be cut out of there skulls…. I am sorry to hear your bad experiences and those of all others effected. I literally cry sometimes because of the state of the world., i pray that no one ever has to re live them..

    • Thank you for expressing solidarity. I cry too. I cried while I was writing this. I choked up when I watched the videos of my friends being dog-piled, arrested for standing on a sidewalk with something to say, and thrown into that dreaded building in handcuffs.

      No one should have to be handled by the public authority, the way I was handled in my home growing up. No one should be sentenced to death by the police. I just don’t understand what they think they are accomplishing.

  2. being willing to lead, even into the valley of the shadow of death is what marks our citizens as leaders. Their confrontations with societies boundaries are what define our growth as a society. While we still warriors amongst us willing to give themselves up for their ideals we are still a free society. I salute you. I thank you

  3. I am awed by the clarity in this letter and, while I am not currently involved in protests, I am certain I will have no choice but to join you in the future and so, in advance of that time, I thank you for advocating for me and my children. I too fear police, though I have done nothing wrong. This is so wrong it is stunning.

    Thank you again for this letter.

  4. There are still places in the world where people can greet and converse with on-duty police officers as if they were just regular civilians, but unfortunately this is rarely the case in Vancouver. Iceland is one of these such places, and perhaps a healthy relationship between police and civilians is at least part of the reason those officers don’t carry firearms.
    There is a belief here that authority is more effective when it is feared, however this divides people and pits them against each other. Many of us regular civilians, and perhaps even the majority these days, have seriously negative opinions of police in North America, and rightly so. Many of us know someone who has been abused or mistreated by an officer. Many of us have seen officers acting aggressively toward people in peaceful protest.
    I find it incredibly depressing that we consider our “peace keepers” to be a necessary evil.

    It doesn’t have to be this way, and it can get better. Any other company with such a bad reputation for personal relations would likely aim to improve their public image (unless we’re talking about big telecommunications), and the VPD should consider doing the same.

    What if it was someone’s job within the department to improve communication between officers and everyone else? VPD, we know you are stressed, overworked, overwhelmed, and misunderstood, but please remind us that you are also a part of us, for the sake of us.

  5. Police brutality is wrong, there’s too much of it.
    But taking your top off for the sake of attention is unnecessary and low-brow in the middle of a public presentation and launch of a project, even if you see those people as your idological enemies. And there are a “body police,” if they didn’t police abuses of the body, what would they police? (Yes, it’s a shitty irony that I have to point this out in a blog post about how they fail to police you and your friend’s bodies during protests)
    Yes, you are legally entitled to go topless, but it wasn’t even a warm and sunny day that you are referring to here.
    Lastly, breasts are not just deposits of fat. They’re far more complicated and wonderful than being sacks of fat on women’s chests.

    • I don’t know who the hell you are, but you’ve completely missed every point in this entire post if that’s all you’ve come here to lecture me about.

      YOU have appointed yourself the “body police”. YOU condemn my choice — that’s right, it’s MY choice — and YOU try to tell me how I should look at my own body (or parts of it). Why don’t you look in the mirror next time you need someone to condemn? I don’t need your “advice” or your condemnation, and that’s certainly not why this letter is here.

      You don’t HAVE to post this bullshit. You can keep it to yourself like that sexist pig cop who slut-shamed me on the same principle ought to have kept it to his own private thoughts.

      • Why should shame not follow as a natural consequence of doing something wrong? And are you not being hypocritical by trying to shame people into not “slut-shaming?”

      • And how am I supposed to know what your convoluted terminology meant? Give me a break… are you trying to reach-out, or create your own culture?

        However, what about something being someone’s choice makes it ok? A choice made can be a horribly wrong one, in which case the state may be there to intercede on behalf of society. Isn’t that why we have laws? For when people make the wrong choice in issues that are serious and will affect others and society adversely? I’m not talking just talking about your choice to be bare-chested here…

        • I’m not using “convoluted” terminology. In fact, it should be fairly clear to you, if you bother to use the internet for anything other than reasons to start an argument with people, that terminology like “body-policing” has a fairly extensive history already, well-preceding my existence or the beginning of this blog.

          It doesn’t take a fucking astrophysicist to look it up.

          You come to this blog post to attack me personally (as a self-appointed member of the “body police”), and now want to use the comments section to go on an obscure rant about why laws exist? Fuck off.

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