“Democratic peoples,” observed French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, “want equality in freedom and, if they cannot have that, they still want equality in slavery. They will put up with poverty, servitude and barbarism, but they will not endure aristocracy.”
South of the border, George W Bush is learning that lesson, albeit too late. The people will abide a war premised on lies, but they will not endure aristocratic disengagement from their suffering.
In Toronto, we suffer less than most, yet people do fall through the cracks, far below the gleaming condo corridors. The land barons continue to prosper; election campaign contributions document their exuberant gratitude.
People also fall into crack. Downtown parks like Allan Gardens and Cawthra Square have become sanctuaries for those who sell crack and its attendant misery. These people are now included under the rubric of “homeless,” a tainted, jaded term stripped of any currency.
We know well the cost of political neglect: we have borne it. Our fight against AIDS remains one against global political complacency. To even begin to fight it, we demanded a hearing with the policymakers, a necessary starting point.
On Sep 1, scant media reports told us a “homeless” man had been beaten to death by men at the Moss Park Armoury the night before. His name was Paul Croutch. He was my neighbour.
At lunch from my work at the office of Councillor Kyle Rae, I attended the memorial at the Gateway Shelter on Jarvis St. Paul’s ex-wife described Croutch before his descent into a living hell of paranoid psychosis. Former coworkers painted a vivid picture of a “do anything for ya” guy. The shelter director, an attractively humble man, assailed the current media fetish with the price of gasoline.
I had entered that memorial angry at the army reservists charged with murder. I imagined them superior on booze, spending a night drinking with their buddies, taking out their hatred on an ugly old man in a sleeping bag, a man who – and let’s be clear about this – chose his mental illness no more than you or I chose our sexual orientation or our race. Another day, it might have been me targeted for being gay or you for being black or Jewish. This had immediate resonance and I left with a feeling that I needed to take some responsibility to see justice done here.
A primary task for us political staffers is to filter what comes in. Inevitably, some things end up at the desk of our masters. Having worked for elected reps most of my life, I’ve learned to be judicious about what they deign to be bothered with. As a constituency assistant to councillor Rae, a discussion about a hate crime in Ward 27 surely met the standard. Or so I presumed.
I wanted to believe that Kyle – my friend, my ex, my fellow campaigner and now my boss – was still up to the fight, as he was back in 1991 when hundreds worked to elect him. I wanted him to rage in that way that only he can, to storm that this was no less a crime because of the mental disability of the victim, that we do not tolerate gaybashing or racism, and neither would we endure persons with disabilities attacked and murdered without him having something to say, goddamn it! I wanted, in a word, engagement.
Kyle’s weary response, characteristic of his ennui of late, was that he didn’t know whether this was indeed a hate crime.
But legal hair-splitting aside, it has all the hallmarks of one. Remember Matthew Shepard, murdered in Wyoming in 1998? Before that young gay man was in his grave, we gathered in grief and protest, listening to speeches from community leaders. We didn’t wait for the judgment from the courts. We just knew.
We homos have made great gains. Legalized cocksucking? Terrific, but we had done it anyway. And marriage, for those who choose that sort of contractual bondage – good for you. You think we’re done now, when silence=death for too many?
I wish Kyle no animosity, nor will I be churlish about his wealth of accomplishments. On a personal level, he’s a great guy: educated, urbane, well-read and charming. But he should be engaged with us, not avoiding us, and not griping about being underpaid, though it may well look that way to those in Rosedale.
Kyle, I hope you will have the good grace not to run again. Your heart’s no longer in it. Pursue your more vivid interests in arts and culture. I’ll raise a glass of soda at your retirement bash, in gratitude. Your lovely spouse (magnificently talented local artist Mark Reid), who after more than 10 years has never known you as anything but a politician, deserves to see more of the real you, the Kyle I knew before we lost you to the hawkish clutch of the aristocracy.