4 min

Talk is not action

Community policing or a blue-wash?

Credit: Xtra West files

It’s 305 days since Aaron Webster was bludgeoned to death in Stanley Park. And there’s been no arrest.

The police tell us there’s been no arrest because they still need a witness or two to come forward so they can lay charges.

Perhaps that’s at least partly true (if you’re a witness or you know the identity of witnesses, you have an absolute responsibility to come forward; there’s no consequence in your own life that outweighs the solving of a murder) but this claim is wearing a little thin in the community.

There’s another theory circulating in our community and it goes like this: prior to Webster’s attack, the police had a tip-off about some bashers in a jeep hanging around Second Beach and, if they had acted, Aaron would be alive today. The cops, goes the theory, don’t want those facts to come out at a trial when the public is already furious over the incredible police screw-up that allowed a serial-killer to operate under a cloak of police denial and murder some 60 or so women in the Downtown Eastside.

I’m not big on conspiracy theories, myself, so am tempted to immediately snort with derision. But then, I found it hard to believe that the cops could so completely screw up on the Downtown Eastside murders when Jamie Lee Hamilton first raised the alarm some six or more years ago.

It’s 305 days since Aaron Webster was bludgeoned to death in Stanley Park. And there’s been no arrest.

But surely, we’ve made some progress as a community? you ask. Yep. First, gay public sex has been deemed respectable by the likes of local cops, politicians, the Globe & Mail-with that kind of respectability, it surely will soon be viewed as too boring for many. Second, Webster’s bludgeoning drew a crowd of up to 2,000 people in a dignified demonstration of concern-a showing that helped many of our readers understand that there is such a thing as gay community and that we are powerful in numbers. The huge turnout got the attention of local police, who immediately opened full dialogue with a few self-chosen representatives of our community; the result was a safety committee that met a half-dozen times with police prior to summer. Post-murder progress may also include a significant shift in direction for the Davie Community Policing centre; as well, following pressure in this paper, VPD recruiting staff were at a booth at the Pride celebrations. Police turn up quickly when you call 911 for help.

On the education front, the provincial government also has opened up the potential of changes in curriculum and approaches to schoolyard bashing, partly in response to Aaron’s murder.

So, there’s progress: we’re talking to the police and they’re not trying to tell us crap like “stay out of the bushes if you don’t want to get hurt.”

But it’s 305 days since Aaron Webster was bludgeoned to death in Stanley Park. There’s been no arrest. And policing hasn’t really changed.

It hasn’t changed? No. We’re talking, but that’s about it. The Bash Line is still useless, though I’m told this is partly the fault of our community and I accept that. (How about we shut it down and concentrate on other stuff?) The force won’t advertise in Vancouver’s gay paper.

This summer saw a series of gay-bashings in the West End. At peak bashing hours, despite requests from the community, there’s still no patrol car sweeping west on Davie, through the park, across Denman, along Beach Avenue and then again west on Davie. …

We’re told there’s no money for this. But there was money for an undercover investigation leading to a big ecstasy bust within the gay community after Pride. Always money for that. And there was money to put two undercover cops on Davie in late summer, to catch bashers, even though the safety committee had not approved it and our story on the under-cover proposal found that most people we talked to were opposed. Our community wants cops in uniform working with us-in partnership-to stop the bashing; not undercover cowboys doing God-Knows-What.

Of course, Insp Dave Jones (whose territory includes the West End) has, by virtue of his position, the right to put undercover cops on Davie if that’s what he wants to do. Maybe he was asserting himself a wee bit to show independence from the safety committee. But it’s not a good sign when the community is unimpressed with the suggestion to use undercover cops and still the top cop in the community goes ahead and does it anyway.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Insp Jones is a good human being and a good cop and, frankly, I like him. Along with a couple of other officers of note-in particular Const Steve Rai-he’s seizing the opportunity to try and re-write at least some of the relationship between our community and the force. Jones is also one of the most politically astute senior cops and one often handed particularly tough assignments-so skepticism is a healthy mental state for those of us who want to see the emergence of genuine community policing. To date, there is no genuine community policing in our community (or anywhere in Vancouver, for that matter)-what we have is a blue-wash that does not fundamentally realign the relationship between our community-and its priorities-and those who are pledged to serve and protect us. Talk is not action.

It’s up to the safety committee now to push for the real thing in the West End. It’s been nearly a year and not much has been accomplished. Do we need another march?

It’s 305 days since Aaron Webster was bludgeoned to death in Stanley Park. There’s been no arrest. And policing continues pretty much as before.