This is not the post that I would have usually made on a Tuesday. Tuesdays are for self-reflection posts. This is self-reflection in a way, but not the planned way.
Then yesterday happened:
Ten people are dead and 15 others are injured after a van driver plowed into a number of pedestrians Monday in the Yonge Street and Finch Avenue area of North York in Toronto. (CBC)
I’ve needed to process it. Here are my thoughts so far, with links from CBC articles:
I first came across the news in a Facebook post in which someone mentioned multiple pedestrians struck and said, “For those asking or wondering, I’m okay. I wasn’t there.” I didn’t know details other than that, and the location and I didn’t immediately look. I was scrolling my social media feed while in the car on my way to check it if my summer home was still standing and it didn’t occur to me that there was more to it.
My parents live a couple of blocks from Yonge and Finch, in a house just steps away from Yonge Street.
However, I had zero doubt that they were okay because 1) dad would have been at his office 2) mom works from home and drives everywhere and 3) if they were involved, I’d have found out already.
This whole incident felt foreign to me as if it was happening somewhere else, not close to home. I felt disconnected. I felt guilty about not having stronger feelings, especially because I’m a very empathetic person who feels other people’s feelings and feels things strongly.
It took time to sink in.
Then I started read tweets and saw photos, and the feelings came. It kept me awake late. I had strange dreams. This morning the media released the name and photo of one of the deceased. I can’t imagine how her loved ones are feeling or what they’re thinking. Truth is that no one can and even among themselves the feelings and mourning process will vary.
- South Korean foreign affairs ministry confirms 2 nationals killed
- Jordanian embassy confirms 1 national killed
(Same source as the previous link.)
I spoke to my mom later in the afternoon. She told me that she didn’t know about the incident until people started phoning her. She heard sirens, but those are common on Yonge Street. It’s a major street. She walked down Yonge later and described the scene. Dead bodies covered. Silence. Few people. She overheard a group of women talking. One said that had she been outside a few minutes sooner, she might have been a victim.
The attacker was taken into custody and appeared in court this morning.
One part of the incident that both domestic and international media is emphasizing is this: The police officer had the opportunity to shoot and kill but didn’t. The killer begged the police offer to shoot him and even appeared armed. Instead, the police officer remained calm. There’s been a lot of speculation about whether or not the killer would have been shot had he been black, but I don’t think that’s something we can speculate about because we’ll never know. I know that police have killed people of colour and I know that policies change over time. Learning happens. Change happens.
Regardless, it’s a senseless tragedy.
The police spend resources on guns and gangs. They’re trained for a multitude of situations. I don’t know if mowing down people on a sidewalk is in their training. I would assume so, especially after similar incidents in New York City and London, England. I remember the NYC one well.
When I was a 16-year-old learning to drive I had this conversation with a male adult:
Him: Do you know what a car is?
Me: A responsibility?
Him: A weapon.
And, of course, they are.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said that the attack was not part of an organized terror plot, so there’s that.
What is known about the attacker is that he was a 25-year-old college student.
It’s known that he was mentally disturbed.
According to CBC, in a Facebook, post the man
referred to the “Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger.” Rodger was the 22-year-old California man responsible for a deadly rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., that left six people dead and a dozen people wounded.
In a video posted ahead of that 2014 attack, Rodger raged about a number of women turning down his advances, rendering men like him “incels,” a term used by some groups to mean “involuntarily celibate.”
The post included a line that said the “incel rebellion has already begun.”
To me, that indicates a mental health issue, and it suggests feelings of isolation and hurt.
Mental health is often discussed after these senseless tragedies, but there seem to be no answers or working solutions.
If it’s a mental health issue, how do we reach those people and help them before they become violent? How do we patch the holes and fill the cracks that ill people have fallen through? Mentally ill people need help before they hurt themselves and others. This isn’t the time or place to make suggestions or provide my opinion on managing mental illness. Instead, I want to raise the topic of conversation.
How do we respond in ways that are more productive than “thoughts and prayers”? Thoughts and prayers are nice, but they are platitudes. Prayers don’t bring back murder victims. Prayers (along with medical intervention) might help those who are injured recover. Thoughts are nice, but they are not enough!
We need to talk about mental health. People need help.
International support & social media response
Meanwhile, the support that the city and that people from around the world have shown is heartwarming. At the start of the playoff game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins, before the National Anthems were sung, there was an announcement and a moment of silence. The city needed that win. Head Coach Mike Babcock then addressed it in a news conference.
(The start through 1:40.)
NBA’s Washington Wizards, currently in playoffs with the Toronto Raptors, tweeted this:
Social media response
The Wizards post touched me deeply.
As a social media specialist (I get to wear me social media expert hat and my mental health expert hat in this story), when tragedy strikes it interests me to see how organizations and companies respond if they respond at all. A response can appear to be inauthentic and as if it’s exploiting tragedy for commercial gain, even if it’s not. For some companies, it’s best not to respond at all.
An actor who was born in Toronto and currently stars on a TV show that’s filmed in Toronto posted a tribute to Instagram early this morning. No “#torontostrong” hashtag, only “#Toronto”. It was small and subtle, and felt genuine. I noticed it in the first half hour or so and when I saw it this morning, I was appalled by all the fandom going on in response.
Caution: Rant ahead
I’m aware that people look at Instagram photos without reading captions. It’s a pet peeve of mine both as a social media manager and as a person in general.
A tribute to victims of violence and their families is NOT the place to say “I love you on [show]” and “I’m so angry you’re leaving [show].” Referring to actors by their character names and to other characters as if they’re real people (“you and [other character’s name] need to come to [my city]!”) generally chafes me but in this case, it gives me rage. This is not the time to be a (metaphorical) star fucker.
12 hours later, it has 224 comments and over 73,000 likes. The inappropriate comments continued. Thankfully some people did call out the comments as inappropriate, but most people don’t read the comments. As empathetic and compassionate as I am, sometimes people simply piss me off, even when they’re unaware of the implications of what they’re saying — and sometimes because of their oblivion.
Close to home
This photo is taken about a block and a half from my parents’ house. It’s not the house I grew up in — they moved in shortly before I left the city for University — but it’s where I lived for a couple of summers, where I’ve often slept, where I have my old bedroom, where I visit often.
I walk past this post on my walk to and from the subway and their house. My dog sometimes pees at the base of those trees. I will be there on Friday (and the dog will be kept from those trees):
P.S. Feel free to message me if you see any errors here or if I’m violating usage rights for your photo. I made the top image in Canva based on an image I found with no credit.