Window on a Crime 2: Postal Codes
I’d like to tell you a story about a recent crime in 3 different ways – I think about it as 3 windows looking into the same room. Oh, and there’s a 4th one at the end, but that one’s a trap door for escaping.
I’m a single mum of two sons, 17 and 12. The older one’s girlfriend, also 17, pretty much lives here too. I’m Indigenous and my kids’ fathers are both Black. We live right downtown in a 3-bedroom townhouse in a public housing complex. I pay market rent and am just now interrogating myself about why I had to tell you that last point. I think it has to do with how, when rotten things happen to us, we worry about how people will see us.
For the first time since the pandemic began, I went out of town for a weekend without my children, to a beautiful cottage up north, and they stayed in town with one of their fathers. On the Sunday evening, we were all to converge at home. The kids beat me, as the southbound traffic on the 400 was predictably awful, and in the car on the way there, I got a phone call.
The kids were hysterical: we’d been spectacularly robbed. They called 911 and I called a neighbour to go over; one father then the other went too. It was agony to be in traffic with the little one texting Are you close mummy we need you come home. Finally I arrived. Everything, and I mean everything, of monetary value in our home was… gone. All the computers, their PS4, a guitar on loan from our church, all jewelry, the brand name kicks, jackets, my fancy boots, my chef’s knives, and so much else, along with a jar of peanut butter and a can of whipped cream (?). The older kids do online school on their machines, and mine, well, my computer was mesmerizingly powerful, important as I teach online every single day. It also had the specialized platforms on which I do my job as an editor, and everything I’d written for the schooling I’d recently started. My grades suffered and I was let go from one of my magazines – publication deadlines can’t care that you had a good reason.
My home was a mess, but it was a crime scene. The police instructed me not to clean, torture for someone who struggles with anxiety and whose number one strategy when spinning upwards is to clean house. I am a hopeless mummy’s girl; I could not reach for her support. I couldn’t post about it on Facebook, the space of my aunties who would surely tell her. It’s a long and it’s another story, but hearing about this could quite literally kill her. No. way.
Here’s the second window, one way of seeing the impact of this crime.
So 3 hysterical children called 911 on Sunday evening. Really good job, I told them, because their doing so was a small victory.
The period following the murder of George Floyd (and others the naming of whom would consume this post’s wordcount), with the electricity of the BLM movement surrounding us, was very intense for the kids. They’ve always been super attuned to issues of racial justice and white supremacist power structures, but there was a new disgust and a disturbing resignation now. Especially for my older son: Eff the police.
Of course I’ve spent their lifetimes talking about their rights if they’re stopped, teaching them to be wise about when to leave the basketball court, and how they’re at a heightened risk from all authorities. But the tone of this new eff the police adjusted the wind in my sails a bit: I reminded them that they also do need to get police in real emergencies, right, and that many of them care (like their uncle the cop who’s also Black). Please understand, I was picturing alarming scenarios of them being chased by a real baddy and not running into 51 Division, or refusing to call out if their arm was trapped under a mailbox. And honestly? I did some work in mental health crisis response training for an Ontario force, and the officers were… well, people. And like people, they sometimes make terrible decisions when they’re scared, which is often. Untrained in mental health issues. Overworked. And a part of interlocking systems fused together at the places they’re broken and rotting.
The police on Sunday night told us not to clean – they would come when they could. I watched the door all night, then all Monday, then all Monday night. Twice I phoned asking for follow-up. Twice I was told to calm down, when I’d been polite and calm both times. Twice was called ma’am. Told that no, they can’t even ballpark me, because there is so much violent crime in my Division. Tuesday at 5 a.m. I had just fallen into the deepest sleep since Saturday night, when dispatch phoned – they’d come in 10 minutes.
One cop (who looked like he’d been up as long as I had) entered saying Wow you’ve been waiting 36 hours. The other groggy one took halfhearted and incomplete notes while the story I was trying to tell kept catching my voice and blurring my vision. No interest in the fact that baby girl’s mac had been pinging us its location, nor in the functional security camera aimed squarely at my door. 15 minutes, and gone, never to be heard from again. Exactly how it would be in a rich neighbourhood or gated community, I am sure.
Interlocking systems, and intersecting identities; the crime of robbery, and the crime of racism. Valuing people by postal code, by socioeconomic location. My son has now experienced the inaction of the police, watched his mum cry, and been begged and held back from going, on his own with a baseball bat, to where the computer was pinging us from. Will he call police if he ever really needs to? I don’t know. Will Black lives matter then? Huh. Matter. That’s all I felt like I was, sitting at my kitchen table, watching those two cops leave with a click.