Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Showers Saga - 28: Axel's case and the spirit of lawlessness

The week began with your agent sitting in a courtroom, testifying against our friend Axel. His real name, it turns out, is Peter Thomas, and after the assault last month in the alley across from The Lord's Rain, he was charged with assault causing bodily harm and I was called as a Crown witness.

I testified to what I had seen* ... maybe thought I'd blown it under cross-examination ... but I guess between my testimony and that of the two cops who handled the case, something went right because Peter/Axel pleaded guilty.

He got six months, with a three-month credit for time already served. Yes, he'd only been in custody for just over a month, but that's the way our justice system works. Or maybe I should call it our legal system -- "justice", like "goodness" to Mae West, has nothin' to do with it! After all, as Pastor Barry pointed out, if Axel had been given two years or more, he would have gone to a federal penitentiary, where he could have gotten into programs that might have helped him (drug addiction, anger management, etc. etc.). As it is, he'll spend some time in the company of other small-time hoods, learn some new skills (like how not to get caught and/or leave witnesses) and be back on the streets in a couple of months.

Oh, and he'll be on probation for a year. Ooh ... I just get goose-bumps at the sight of our laws at work!

Actually, what it means is, I have a couple of months to get out to the jail and see him. Often. This guy has been in my life for a reason, and I know God wants him. He can help lead a lot of other bad-asses out of the miry clay they're stuck in (actually, if you've ever smelled the alley next to The Lord's Rain, you'd probably take the miry clay anytime!).

Axel's case is only a symptom of something that's manifested itself, big-time, on the Downtown East Side: a spirit of lawlessness. It does resemble Dodge City, where people look out for themselves, and very few true friendships are formed. One's existence is focused on scoring drugs: if you rip someone off, you pay the price; if you think someone else ripped you off, you make them pay the price. Chances are, that's what led to the beating for which Axel was convicted: somebody ripped off someone else, and Axel and the other two guys (who, to my knowledge, still haven't been fingered) were sent to sort him out.

Watch your back: watch your front; careful where you sleep, lest someone take your sleeping bag and leave you lying there.

The police exist for two reasons: to screw you, and to work for The Man in trying to make it as difficult as possible to live. That's the perception, anyway, fuelled by anti-poverty "activists" like the Rebels Without A Clue who used to inhabit the space that is now The Lord's Rain. Their current Straw Man is the Olympics -- a convenient whipping boy for everything that's wrong in society today.

But lest we think that the DTES is the only manifestation of this spirit of lawlessness, we need to realize that that same spirit is alive and well all over Metro Vancouver -- and everywhere, in fact. It just manifests in its most raw, Wild West form there. Look at what's going on in our own back yards. Some of it is very serious -- some of it subtle.
  • Assaults on bus drivers: while they've been declining in the last couple of years, thanks to new programs set up by Coast Mountain Bus Co. and the Canadian Auto Workers, the fact that anyone seems to think a bus driver is a ready target for spitting, punching or verbal threats is alarming.
  • Gang hits: need we say more? Oddly enough, one is safer from crossfires in the DTES than anywhere else in Metro Vancouver -- with the glaring exception of the hit this past winter across the street from where Barry and Brodie were working on The Lord's Rain. Ben Siegel's famous comment, "we only kill each other," gives no solace.
  • Arson: a 68-year-old woman died earlier this month in an arson fire in South Vancouver. I haven't seen whether anyone's been arrested, but the theory at the time is that a group of kids had been setting fires in the alley just for the heck of it. Where are their parents? Why were they out at that hour?
  • Any time police use any kind of force, it's assumed they misused their power and authority: it could be tasering a wanted criminal, detaining someone on suspicion of something, overseeing the city garbage collectors as they round up shopping carts (it may come as a surprise to many bleeding hearts out there, that the shopping carts street people push around are stolen property and that much of what they contain does not necessarily legitimately belong to them, either), or firing on a vehicle that's about to crash into a disabled police car; it is assumed that a cop is a psychotic in blue.
  • Fare evasion on transit: even though it's been shown to be negligible, it puts the public mind into a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, people feign outrage that people get on a bus or SkyTrain without paying, yet are indignant that Transit Police check people's tickets and clamp down on fare evasion. Hello?**
  • Rules of the road: I'm seeing more u-turns and other dangerous driving habits in the past couple of years. Cars cut off pedestrians in crosswalks; people jay-walk and teach their children, by example, that it's OK (witness the woman yesterday who blithely cut across Kingsway (all 6 lanes) with her small child: I braked for her, but what if someone behind me had been impatient and passed on the right? The "Do Not Enter (Except Bicycles)" signs in the West End might as well not be there at all. Cyclists act as if there are no rules, riding on the sidewalk, through crosswalks as if they're protected like pedestrians are (this just in: they're not), running red lights, riding in the wrong direction and riding between lanes of traffic. It's only a matter of time before someone walking on a sidewalk clotheslines one of them. In fact, motorcyclists and skateboarders -- the erstwhile Great Outlaws of the road -- seem to be the best at observing the rules.
  • White-collar crime: I don't know if it's any more prevalent now than before, but it's present, and there's a certain awe and reverence given to those who "beat the rap" and "stick it to The Man" -- even those who, when you get right down to it, are The Man. When corruption is uncovered in high places, or with long-respected businesspeople and lawyers, is the indignation because of what they did or because they got caught?

Lawlessness is not of God. The Bible is filled with exhortations -- from Jesus, Paul and Peter, among others -- to obey the laws of the land, even if they're at cross-purposes with God's laws or appear to go against what's convenient for oneself. God blesses obedience not just to Him but to those in authority on earth. Peter says that is the will of God for us to submit to "every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake ... that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men ... For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently> but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." (I Peter 2:13, 15, 20).

Lawlessness is, in fact, the product of The Me Generation meets Fear. Look at those billboards for financial planning, which are focused on people's personal fears about not being able to retire in the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed (and for which they've likely mortgaged practically everything). We've forgotten that God is the Source for all things, whether they be financial security or the euphoria that comes with drugs. When people are confronted with the idea that they can't see their own future security or its means, that's when fear takes hold the idea of having to rely on God is either utterly terrifying or a non-starter.

Indeed, the current financial meltdown in the United States is an offshoot of the Me Generation: so many of us bought into the "have it all - have it now" ideal, the notion that the American Dream was not attainable by honest, hard work and faith in God to provide, but through sub-prime borrowing and zero-percent for the first three months credit cards, that we raced towards that shortcut from Satan, rather than let patience have her perfect work.

As we know, the Me Generation lost sight of Jesus: He started doing a slow fade-out in the 1960s, and as He did, so did His commandments to love God and love one another, with the promise that as we seek Him, He will take care of everything we need. But Jesus was declared uninclusive, politically incorrect, because, as He Himself said, the people of the world hate the light, because it exposes them (John 3:20), so that generation was denied the truth. Now we see the descendants of that generation walking in lawlessness today, whether it be in the British Properties, Davie Street, the universities or the Downtown East Side.

*It was interesting, when blogging about this in the earlier post, how I had to check myself: even though I had seen it with my own eyes, since Axel had been arrested and had not been convicted in court, I had to revert to "reporter" mode and separate his identity from the actual incident. This raises an interesting question about "citizen journalism": I was trained early not to convict someone before the trial. What if I'd written extensively about the assault, connecting Axel with the whole thing -- and possibly not separating truth from perception? Could that have caused a mistrial? I'm not aware of any instances in which a blog -- or a "citizen journalism" piece -- has caused a mistrial, but I'm sure that's only a matter of time.

** A couple of months ago -- just after PricewaterhouseCoopers had released its audit of TransLink's fare audit practices and concluded that the fare evasion rate was, indeed, as low as TransLink's own audits had been claiming (which is about one tenth of the level that most members of the public believe it is) -- I got into an exchange with a guy who was getting on the #3 through the back doors. I had mentioned to some people who were also trying to get on through the back doors that they have to get on at the front and make sure the driver sees their ticket. This other guy started ranting at me to mind my own business (it was lovely to tell him that it was my business, being an employee of the British Columbia Electric Railway Company) but I continued to point out the rule. The interesting part of this, is that there were about 20 other people within earshot, and none of them was sufficiently outraged at this obvious breach of the rules to back me up. Maybe, contrary to the commentators' opinions, people don't care about fare evasion.

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