Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Being invested in politics to the extent that I am means frequently exposing myself to any number of the horrors plaguing the world at any given moment. It is difficult to overstate the helplessness I often feel when thinking of what comes next. I have no faith in any institutions; be they legal, political, economic, health, or educational, I don’t trust them. Of course this is a familiar feeling for the Black and Indigenous people that these systems of power are built to exclude but even within these communities I often hear discourse along the lines of “broken” system. It wasn’t until this year that I’ve come to despise that framing. Rhetoric is important which is why this blog is called ‘Portraits of a Destructive System.’ This system was built this way and I assure you it is working as intended. Suggesting otherwise is at best, disingenuous, and at worst, insidiously buying into the propaganda we’ve all been fed since infancy.
Joyce Echaquan is neither the first victim of intentional racist medical malpractice, nor will she be the last. Her early and preventable death being captured on camera could be the rallying cry that leads to real systematic overhaul of the Canadian medical system but I have very little faith in that being the case. Lest we forget Brian Sinclair, an Indigenous man, who sat in a hospital emergency room for 34 hours before succumbing to a treatable bladder infection. Thirty-four hours. One and a half days in an emergency room only when the staff finally thought to check on him, he‘d already been dead for up to 7 hours. It took 9 years for a group of doctors to say Brian Sinclair was a victim of racism. They then recommended anti-racism policies which clearly have not been taken to heart.
I cannot be shocked or surprised by these cases. The notion that non-white people are sub-human and deserve less rights than white people is deeply engrained in Western societies. This means legally, economically, and culturally. It does not matter how many tears Trudeau sheds while apologizing to the First Peoples of this land. He is the head of the superstructure that continues to oppress them and his actions as prime minister reflect that. The federal government is still yet to ratify the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This lack of even the basest symbolic commitment to reconciliation is what the government has always done. The only difference is that now they placate the white guilt of their base with the occasional apology before returning to business as usual. Any appendage of a society built on the premise of white supremacy will reckon with its effects until new systems are constructed to replace it. Joyce Echaquan was not only the victim of her racist nurses but also the victim of everyone and everything that trained those nurses to believe that Indigenous people are worthless.
The shambolic court case 'against' Breonna Taylor's death squad was the legal system working as intended. Time and again we have seen that the police cannot be policed effectively. In this particular case, the officers involved broke numerous protocols and lied on their reports but faced little in the way of consequences. The police told the ambulance on standby outside the building to leave an hour before the raid. Taylor was then left with no medical attention for over 20 minutes after being shot while sleeping in her bed. The police also filed an incident report claiming Taylor sustained no injuries and, despite using a battering ram to open the door, they stated that they did not force their way into the apartment. The officers have said that they announced themselves as police before entering but this claim is disputed by both Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, and their neighbours. Given the false incident reports, the police’s account cannot be seen as credible. With all this information in mind, was I ‘shocked’ to hear that only one officer was fired and only one was charged with a Class D felony with a maximum sentence of 5 years? Absolutely not. Nor should you be. None of this should be surprising, none of this is 2020 being an especially bad year, none of this will be solved by simply arresting the cops that killed Breonna Taylor. I mean that not only because arrests don’t lead to convictions but more so because penalizing the violence of these officers without dismantling the systems enabling them is inviting the same situation with different actors in the future.
Notice how I haven’t mentioned the names of the perpetrators of these heinous acts. It is because as long as the only avenues to justice are through the criminal-legal system, they don’t matter. Of course achieving justice for victims is important but from our detached perspectives, neither myself, nor you reading this, get to choose what justice means for victims and their families regardless of how much we empathize with them. Sending people to the same courts we know are unjust in hopes they go to the prisons we know are punitive not reformative and then celebrating their sentencing seems ridiculous to me. Should the racist and negligent medical staff behind the deaths of Joyce Echaquan and Brian Sinclair ever be allowed to practice medicine again? No. Should the police departments who killed Breonna Taylor and countless other victims be responsible for upholding the law? Absolutely not. Will imprisoning some or all of these parties prevent tragedies of the same vein from happening in the future? I find it extremely difficult to believe that it would. There are no shortage of recommendations for legal, political, health, or educational institutions to adopt anti-racist curriculums, bias training, more robust protections for marginalized peoples and communities. There is no shortage of evidence showing that racism and discrimination is deeply entrenched in all of these institutions. Their resistance to change is a feature not a bug to worked out.
I don’t enjoy writing about politics. For the most part I find it tedious and painful looking at the names of this week’s victims of last centuries’ crimes. I can’t possibly know about every headline and doing so would likely leave me paralyzed by the horror. I know everything I need to make an informed choice to reject the modernity we’ve inherited for something that does not yet exist.
I encourage you to consider amongst yourselves and you communities what comes next.
What should voting look like if we are tired of supporting the lesser of two evils? Why don’t our representatives represent us?
What should housing look like if we are to do away with landlords?
What should a safe community look like if we are to do away with police?
What should justice look like if we are to do away with prisons?
We’ve all seen the buzz words: defund / abolish the police, eat the rich, all landlords are bastards. They’re easy to digest and easier to agree with. The difficult work begins with theorizing and implementing what comes next. The difficult work continues with having the confidence to falter and fail until finding solutions that work. The difficult work of creating and maintaining a society with the values we all espouse never actually stops. That world doesn’t even exist yet and the ideas we have about how we want to live are under siege. It’s not going to be easier any time soon but we’re on track to let the planet kill us all so it can’t get much worse.