Last Tuesday started with my cell phone ringing at 6:08 a.m. I crawled out of bed to answer, and discovered that a reporter was on the other end asking if I could do an interview. Sensing my before-coffee grogginess, perhaps, she asked if I would like five minutes to "compose myself" and said that she could call back. I gratefully accepted.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.
This reporter was on the ball to be sure; our press release about the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) decision to reject a one-day suspension as adequate discipline for the officer who brutally shoved Sandy Davidsen to the ground had only gone out eight minutes before. That was the first of about fifteen interviews that day on both radio and TV. I tried to communicate all that has happened so far in Sandy's case and stress to the media why this case is so important. That work seemed to pay off, as the story was picked up by the CBC, Globe and Mail, The Province, and the Vancouver Sun, to name only a few media sources.
With my phone ringing off the hook all of Tuesday, I didn't get much chance to reflect as I ran from interview to interview. The following day, though, in a bit of a quieter moment, I was closer to understanding why this case resonates so deeply with the media and the public. Sandy is a sympathetic figure to be sure. She's about 100 pounds and has both cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. It's hard to believe that three 200+ pound officers thought she was a threat. So, as Constable Robinson doggedly sticks to his story that Sandy was "grabbing" his gun - despite all of the evidence to the contrary - I think people understand how unbelievable that story really is. But, even more so, I think the video of the incident shows a level of callousness on the part of the police that most people find truly shocking. The police are here to "protect and serve", but there they are, on film, not only shoving a disabled woman to the ground, but not even making an effort to see if she was hurt or to help her up. They just walked away. Sandy, was neither protected nor served by the police. Instead, she was treated like she didn't matter.
Today, Sandy was kind enough to come over to Pivot and tell the media her story. She eloquently spoke about what it felt like being pushed to the ground, how the experience changed her view of the police, how she wanted the public to be more vocal about their outrage of what happened, and how frustrated she was feeling that this issue has taken over two years to resolve.
This case is important to Sandy and to many of the residents of the Downtown Eastside. Being shoved to the ground and neglected is, unfortunately, what many residents of this community experience symbolically day after day. For Sandy, this case is about seeing justice done. She wants to feel recognized and validated. After two years, she'd like some positive resolution and to hear the officer take responsibility for his actions instead of offering excuses. She'd like to be compensated for what's been done to her by the police so that she might someday afford a motorized wheelchair and doesn't have to stumble along the sidewalk. For our community, this case is important because all too often we've seen the police abdicating responsibility for their actions.
In a rare step, it seems that the OPCC is exerting some pressure and won't let Cst. Robinson get off with a slap on the wrist. If this case can somehow improve the climate of policing in the Downtown Eastside, it will be a victory for Sandy and for the DTES. Maybe this case will be one small step towards having a civilian oversight for ALL police disciplinary matters. In any case, Pivot will continue to support people like Sandy and work to see that this injustice doesn't happen again.