If a Man Drowns in a River…

Have I written about this before? I think so, maybe.

I live near a river, and there’s a dock on that river. It’s really nice to go sit on the dock and listen to the sound of the river and the trees, while trying to ignore the omnipresent traffic noise.

One day, I went to the river and was joined by two men and a woman who were talking loudly, seeming to be friends.

It’s not my dock. I smiled at them and made room.

Two of the three stripped off their shirts and dove into the river and swam around (I’ve been looking forward to this all day! one said), trying to convince the woman to jump in. She didn’t want to. She pulled out cigarettes and started to smoke it, sharing some puffs with the two in the water. They asked a few questions about me, and we made some small talk.

“Let’s swim across the river!” One said.

“Don’t do that,” said the other one. “I don’t want you drowning, and then the cops have to come.”

“They’d probably just push me back under, rather than rescuing me.”

“Nah, they’d probably just arrest me for murdering you, because I’m just an Indian.”

The other two nodded in agreement. “Cops hate us,” the woman leaned over to me and said in a teaching voice.

That was when my privileged little heart just broke in two.

I can understand feeling like the cops are out to get you at a speed trap, or if you get caught 2 cm in front of the stop line at a light and get a ticket. But until that second, I didn’t understand that anyone could think that the cops would not help them in a moment of true distress.

The logical part of my brain kicked in. It’s true. Canada’s Indigenous peoples have had extreme difficulties with law enforcement and government at all levels. So there is a very logical reason why these people who I now know identify as Indigenous Peoples (“Indians”) would not trust law enforcement to actually enforce laws in ways that wouldn’t hurt them.

The other part of my brain was just churning around the same thought. You can’t trust law enforcement. That is tragic and awful. How are you not always terrified?

Even now, in the re-telling, I feel bad that I never asked what their names were. That’s even though I never ask for people’s names, sometimes even with work colleagues, because I usually won’t remember them anyways. It’s just how I roll. But I beat myself up, because I wonder if I should roll better. And even there, that’s not the point, because sometimes I find myself lying in that state before sleep, and I see their faces and I wonder if there’s anything on Earth that I can do to make it so that those three people that I met on the dock don’t have to be afraid of law enforcement. And then my privilege overtakes me and I drown in all of it, the dark waters covering my face, because there are no answers, just more questions.


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