Many of my friends avoid Granville St because they are too afraid to go there, especially on Saturday nights. The crowds are too rowdy, they tell me.
These are tall, able-bodied men who work out. We’ve been talking about this for a while now — how things need to change soon before the situation gets out of control, before our film festival starts so that no one gets bashed going to see a movie. Believe me, the boys I know are already mustering their courage.
We’re lucky that City Hall is on our side, that our city’s internal infrastructure is changing and that the violence that has happened in the past few years has sparked more than dialogue but an outcry for action.
Last week, I showed up to a tutoring session with one of my favourite students, a 16-year old guy headed for art school, intent on designing shoes, a scrawny boy with glasses, buckteeth and a goofy haircut. What at first appeared to be a shadow beneath his sunglasses was actually a black eye.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I got into a fight.”
This is a kid who has written about being a pacifist, about the detriment of war and the importance of being kind. This is a kid who reads Alice Walker and who had been out jogging in his quiet neighbourhood, a few blocks from his house.
“Okay, okay. I got beat up.”
He told me about the three guys who swarmed him. He’d seen them around before. They were older, just out of high school and spending their Saturday night drinking in the parking lot of a convenience store.
It had started with racial slurs and escalated into a dare, then a demand and then the boy defended himself as best as he could, saying everything he could think of to make them stop.
“Did you call the police?” I asked.
“What can they do? It already happened,” he said. “Besides, I learned my lesson.”
“What was the lesson?”
“That I’m weak.”
I tried my best not to cry.
The idea that he could walk away from this thinking that it was in any way a reflection of him tore me up, as did the knowledge that this was yet another unreported, undocumented incident that no one would find out about.
I put my arm around his shoulder, tried to explain bullying and how none of this was his fault. He didn’t see it that way.
Later, I called the boys in my life for a meeting.
We have to start hanging out on Granville St and standing up to our bullies. It’s the only way that future generations can stand up to theirs.