A fascinating aspect of social media, especially Twitter, are the stories. often related while they are actually happening. These can be major international events like an earthquake, or hyper local. When a story gains traction, and resonates with others, the replies, mentions, comments from others add to the overall picture – not simply
the point of view of a single person, more a valuable community snapshot.
Downtown Victoria has its share of issues: homeless, addiction, street social problems. There have been efforts by local social service groups, the police and politicians to make Victoria’s core a safer, more welcoming and family friendly environment. Some would say the initiatives are working, others that the problems persist.
This guest post by Renée Layberry (Twitter @PublishingRenee) came about through a Twitter conversation she had with Victoria BC locals over incidents she experienced in downtown. Thank you to #YYJ Twitter folks for highlighting this, and to Renée for her time writing her story.
Having grown up in the sprawling metropolis of Toronto as well as having lived in the bustling, vibrant city of Montreal for a few years, I’ve always had to keep my “radar” on for potentially threatening situations – and with good reason, since I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of frightening moments. We’ve all seen or read the news of the rampant violence in those cities, as well as in Vancouver and Victoria and everywhere else in between. No place is immune from it, of course, but I must admit that I assumed that relocating to a relatively quiet town such as Victoria would mean that I could look forward to far less of that daily intimidation and sense of danger that was constantly playing in my mental background like bad music in an overcrowded shopping mall.
When we arrived here just over a year ago, I was struck by how extraordinarily nervous I found myself waiting for a bus after dark, even in the relatively early evening. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. At first I chalked it up to a combination of cross-country moving fatigue, a bit of culture adjustment, and the fact that there was simply not the same amount of people out and about at all hours of the night.
I was downtown Victoria returning from Cabin 12 at around 10:30, and, with my 17 year-old daughter, was walking along Douglas street to catch a bus home. Within the span of fifteen minutes, we were approached by two drunken men asking if we’d perform specific sexual acts, watched a man vomiting violently out of a taxi window while sailing along the street, and endured the unwanted attention and monologue of an unpredictable individual who cornered us in the bus shelter for a good fifteen minutes or so while we waited for a bus that seemed to take forever to arrive.
(This, by the way, was not an extraordinarily rowdy night. I don’t go out too much in the evenings, but once in awhile, when I find myself downtown or on the bus after dark, I’m sidestepping “situations”, more often than not.)
When I came home, and after I decompressed for a bit, I went on Twitter and realized that I needed to decompress even more. I tweeted and shared with a few local individuals about what had happened. I was surprised and dismayed to hear a few stories from them about how others have experienced intimidation on a regular basis on the streets of Victoria, ranging from one man’s sister being attacked while inside a car, to another man being pepper sprayed by police while he himself was being mugged. Another woman who had also taken the public transit home from the same social event that I’d attended mentioned that she too had to fend off being approached by unsavoury attention while she clung to her cellphone, listening to the reassuring sound of her husband’s voice until she was “safely” on the bus. Even then, the bus is not an entirely safe place. I have, on a weekly basis, been accosted by individuals who seem to have no sense of boundaries – and this on my morning bus ride in to work. Twice in as many weeks, I have been approached, intimidated with unwanted attention, and even verbally abused, all before 9 AM.
A lifelong resident of Victoria who is quite aware and active on the Twitter feed pointed out that, at the same time that I was tweeting about the unpleasant happenings of my Saturday night, the Victoria Police Department was tweeting about handing out t-shirts as rewards for new drivers who passed a road check. It begs the question: why is this being promoted and given funds and attention when there is obviously so much else going on in our beautiful, compact little city? What is actually being done about the fact that it is increasingly unsafe to walk in public at a perfectly decent hour?
I don’t know what the answer is, and I really do want to give credit to the Victoria Police Department for their efforts to work in what is undoubtedly a strenuous job. Back in February, I had to call the police to come down to my office at the Selkirk Waterfront because an agitated man who had been hostile to my employer the week before (he had asked said homeless man to not camp out in front of our office door) was pounding on the glass and shouting. The police arrived quickly, removed the man (who was well-known to them, the officer told me), and he even gave me a ride home. Of course I was profoundly grateful that the police had responded as quickly as they had, and all was well that ended well.
But I’m still left wondering why I have to feel threatened in Victoria on a weekly basis, and in broad daylight, even, as I go to work at my current office in Antique Row. I don’t want to just sigh and complain and come to some sort of jaded conclusion that it’s because of cuts to services for the mentally ill, and that the meth problem is just something that we all must accept somehow, albeit with a simmering resentment. That’s only going to leave me feeling disappointed and defensive and hostile, and I don’t want that, either.
I suppose I will look to the Twitter community to see what actual initiatives are out there that I can support and endorse. I can hope that my small part may actually make some sort of impact in the long run. I know at the very least that it has to begin with my own attitude. Victoria is our home now, too, and I don’t want to skulk around feeling like a victim. But I don’t want to end up one, either.
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Renée Layberry lives in Esquimalt with her husband and two teenaged children. She works in the Self-Publishing industry and has a new blog, Sojourns in Publishing,