Sunday, June 13, 1999

Mark Tonner
Out of the Blue

p. A38.

Mark Tonner, Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

You've got to chalk the walk if you want to mock the cop

Once again, the police are under attack — and unable to launch a counteroffensive. I'd start one myselfm but I can't use the same weapons. I'm not permitted to swear in print. Province columnists avoid even hinting at certain words, the most pointed example being: "F#@!*$!"

Imagine my alarm, to find this bit of the Queen's English aimed at myself and my co-workers — scrawled on sidewalks and walls at Vancouver's Carnegie Centre, of all places.

Anger toward law enforcement at Hastings and Main is no great revelation. What boiled my backside was a supply of oversized chalk crayons being handed out by the Carnegie centre staff.

Local folk were being encouraged to express themselves in chalk, any way their fingers saw fit. Much of what covered sidewalks and walls seemed a legitimate outpouring: Mourning for lost friends, warnings against doing drugs, or messages to loved ones.

Yet, the same anti-police message: "F the Pigs!" shouted from every surface.

I snapped some photos, took a deep breath and sauntered toward a woman who was apparently directing the project.

Her position bore some thinking about. This was a legitimate artistic expression, she insisted. The things being written were heartfelt, and not entirely surprising. Considering the addiction and poverty running rampant among those wielding the chalk.

Venting of anger in such a fashion is healthy, it was claimed, and would lead to a reduction in anger toward the police. A prediction was made that the hateful rhetoric would subside over a period of time, as the artists were allowed to vent.

Interesting thought, I had to admit -- and one I promised to ponder.

The next unsettling perspective came from my squad-mates. This was nothing more than hate, as they saw it -- hate toward an identifiable minority, communicated in such a fashion as to encourage others to join in.

If these messages were targetting any other minority we'd see marching in the streets. there was anti-hate legislation in the criminal code, I was reminded, enacted with this kind of thing in mind.

Local folk were being encouraged to express themselves in chalk... Much of what covered sidewalks and walls seemed a legitimate outpouring. Yet the same anti-police message: 'F... the Pigs!' shouted from every surface.

A bit of research uncovered another upset. The new anti-hate laws offer no protection to police. Because we're not listed as a protected group, hate fomented toward us isn't being interpreted a crime.

The only other applicable charge -- mischief, isn't used in chalk cases. There is no permanent damage being done.

So, back to Hastings and Main, and yet another exercise in mental flexibility. Drug and alcohol use is not permitted inside the Carnegie centre. This program allows outreach to the drugging and drinking crowd outside. It allows Carnegie staff to take responsibility for one of the most troubled street corners in the city.

Showing that problem areas haven't been abandoned usually leads to an improvement in behaviour. The "broken windows" theory, held in high regard by modern law enforcement, insists this is so.

There was some joking we should send plainclothes officers to do some chalk work of their own. That would provide a humorous moment or two, everyone agreed, and a valuable lesson in role reversal.

Not exactly a career-enhancing move, of course, but furn to chuckle over in private. What I proposed was a temporary compromise. The sidewalks would be hosed off occasionally, and myself and the staff would entertain a friendly bet.

I say the anti-police rhetoric won't subside -- that anger is addictive, and indulging it is not the solution. They think otherwise, and fair enough.

If seeing both sides is a curse, I'm hexed on this one. What do you think? Will this work, and is it an appropriate way to spend tax dollars? Please, drop me a line -- your insight is definitely needed.

Const. Mark Tonner is a Vancouver police officer. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the city's police department or police board. Tonner may be contacted at The Province, or be e-mail at

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Created: June 17, 1999
Last modified: June 17, 1999

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