Two-year-old Wang Yue wanders into a Guangdong street and is knocked down by a van that speeds on. Eighteen people pass here as she lies in the street without stopping to help. She cries, laying in her own blood. At last, a peasant woman picks her up off the street. She died Friday.
The horrible scene, captured on closed-circuit TV and seen by millions, has sparked a global discussion. Why are people in today’s China so indifferent to a child in pain, crying, bloody, in the street? How can they turn away from suffering? Has the rush for economic success drained people of humanity?
Last week in B.C., John Gaffney finally got out of hospital, after five months. He wasn’t sick. Community Living B.C. didn’t want to pay for a group home for Gaffney, who is 46 and has Down syndrome and dementia. His parents didn’t think he would be safe in the home share CLBC proposed. So he stayed in hospital. (That wouldn’t happen to someone without a disability.)
Gaffney is a symbol. It’s clear that CLBC has lost its way. The focus has shifted from supporting adults with mental handicaps in living full lives, to dealing with “urgent health and safety needs,” as the corporation said in seeking more funding. The government has shuffled ministers, fired the CEO and offered a series of changing stories about what’s going on.
But until last week, no one in government acknowledged the people being forced from group homes they had shared for years, or the clients who lost every support when they turned 19.
They walked around those people.
With good excuses, I’m sure. Deficits and finite resources and other priorities. Some of the people who walked and rode past Wang Yue probably had good excuses too.
Then Liberal MLAs Randy Hawes and John Van Dongen joined families and advocates and the opposition in saying the government was failing people who really needed support. But the indifference to their plight lasted at least a year, as threats to health and safety and quality of life grew.
Last week in B.C., the missing women’s inquiry was getting underway in Vancouver. The first witnesses were testifying about how Robert Pickton could kill women for years without being apprehended.
There are lots of reasons. But fundamentally, Pickton and many others could prey on the women because we — governments, police and most of us — choose to make it easy. We walked around them, as people in that Guangdong market walked around Wang Yue’s broken body.
Consider the evidence in just the first few days of inquiry. A majority of Vancouver street-level sex trade workers reported suffering beatings, rape and other violence, testified Kate Shannon, a public health researcher and a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of B.C. Most never reported the attacks to police, because if they did officers would sometimes pick up them late at night, detain them and then drop off in some distant part of the city to find their own way home. Others feared harassment, arrest or theft by officers.
The desire to avoid police also meant workers took greater risks, like getting into a car without assessing the danger or ignoring lists of dangerous potential clients.
John Lowman, a Simon Fraser University criminology professor who researches prostitution, said public and police pressure forced sex workers into darker and more dangerous neighbourhoods, where they were easier prey.
Catherine Astin, a nurse who worked on the Downtown Eastside, said she and colleagues noticed women were disappearing. But they didn’t go to the police.
Police and frontline workers shouldn’t be singled out.
Prostitution is legal in Canada. But the government, on our behalf, has passed laws that increase the danger for workers. Communication for the purposes of prostitution is illegal, forcing women into the shadows and preventing them from screening clients.
Living off the avails of prostitution is illegal, so women cannot band together in a safe location and hire their own security.
Everyone knew those laws, and the way they were being selectively enforced, put women at risk, led to them being beaten and killed. No one cared enough to do anything about it. Lowman testified predators found it easy to justify violence against people that society had signalled were disposable.
Maybe we wouldn’t walk past a child lying in the street. But we’re certainly prepared to turn away from others whose suffering is just as real.