When I stand back and look

I stood in the chilly remnants of waves at 6am on May 19, at Port Renfrew. I filled my glass jar with water—water that may have flowed thousands of kilometres, water that may have been churned from the deepest depths of ocean, water that may have sunk the Titanic in a different ocean, water that may have flowed into the ocean washing away the blood of a fallen soldier or a victim of genocide, water that has given life to creatures and been recycled back into the ocean, water that carved out the mountains and valleys I have to bike through. 8382 kilometres later, I’m looking out from Cape Spear, Newfoundland, into the thick fog hiding the ocean and wondering what the water’s story is.

It’s been a little over a week since I finished pedaling. The whole ride home, I felt like an impatient seven-year-old watching the clock, waiting for the recess bell. I just wanted to get home. I was counting the kilometres. Now I am home. The RV has been cleaned out and returned to the rental company. I’ve slept well. I’m slowly catching up on everything. I’ve been slowly putting pieces of this blog together from the road and the last 2 days at home.

The day after I finished cycling in Cape Spear, my dad sent me an email with some links. I’ve been tuned out of the news world for the most part on this trip. The only news I heard was what the locals were talking about, wherever I was. A shocking incident happened on August 1, 2011 on a Toronto sidewalk. The incident involved the police accidentally killing a man during the struggle of an arrest. The man killed had challenges due to a brain injury suffered as a child. A lot of you reading have probably already heard lots about this.

Here’s one of the more recent articles on the incident. There are lots of articles. Most of them don’t answer any of the questions I have. This one goes into a little bit more detail, although there are still so many questions that aren’t answered.

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/article/1036477–hundreds-gather-to-remember-charlie

Clear as a sky scraper in the prairies on a sunny day, the police involved had no understanding of disability. The man who was killed wasn’t able to hear. If he walked through a crime scene the police were investigating, and they shouted to him, he wouldn’t have had a clue. Charles McGillivary, the man killed, had very little speech. If the police asked him a question, he couldn’t have answered properly. He also had an intellectual disability as a result of his brain injury. He wouldn’t think in the same way that the typical person does. Sometimes, people with disabilities appear to have erratic behaviour. People with spastic quadriplegia can randomly fling their limbs out and hit someone. They can’t help it. Someone who has a severe form of autism may not talk to anyone in a busy room. It may seem scary and overwhelming. They tune it out.

One question that hasn’t been answered is: why did the police need to talk to Charles in the first place? What exactly happened that escalated to the police tackling him? No matter what Charles did that alarmed the police, there was no consideration of the possibility that Charles may not be harmful, but rather have a disability.

Part of what is terrifying about this is that the people who are supposed to protect our loved ones—no matter what their race, sex, ability, age—cannot be trusted. If the police force doesn’t educate their officers about disability, incidents like this can happen again. It wasn’t long ago (2007) that a Polish immigrant with mental challenges, Robert Dziekański, was killed by RCMP Tasers.

All emergency response workers should be educated. Paramedics and firefighters need to know how to best work with the challenges a person with a disability may have in an emergency. An example: if a paramedic doesn’t understand how someone who speaks with AAC communicates, how can they find out if that person has any severe allergies to the painkiller the paramedic is about to administer? Furthermore, what if a paramedic doesn’t bother to ask a person without speech anything because they assume they have a severe intellectual disability based on their physical state? Police need to be trained, and emergency preparedness for people with disabilities needs to be considered important by all emergency task forces.

When I hear stories about incidents like this, I’m reminded how small I am; how small we all are. What’s amazing is that we are miniscule, yet the effect we have on the others around us can be as harmless as a fluffy cloud passing through the sky or as devastating as a colossal earthquake.

Here’s a little montage I’ve put together of footage from our 77-day journey—the West Coast of Vancouver Island to the eastern-most tip of North America. 77 days, 12 hours of footage, crammed into 9 minutes. It hardly does justice, and I’m not the best filmmaker, but I try. Check it out if you have the time.

-Skye

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