Mark Taylor and Victim-Blaming

We’ve had a few violent incidents in the city, recently. Some shootings, a beating, a knife attack, possible arson, all these have found their way into the news. After one of the most recent cases—on Ritchie Street—Bay Ward councillor Mark Taylor responded:

Mark Taylor, the councillor for Bay ward, where Wednesday’s killing occurred, said the one “consoling factor” is that the latest attack was targeted at one person who was known to police.

“The underlying message here is if you don’t hang out with bad people, bad things don’t happen to you,” he said.

It’s quintessential victim-blaming. The victim was shot because of what he did and with whom he associated. The implication being, if he hadn’t led that life, he wouldn’t have been shot. As a series of events, it’s true, of course, but such a statement isn’t just chronology; there is an implicit (if not actual) message that by his choices, the victim caused his own death.
This is bullshit.

It’s bullshit whenever we tacitly or explicitly define the actions of a victim as the cause of a crime. There should be little need to explain that the cause of a crime is a criminal.

But we see this sort of victim-blaming quite regularly. If women don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t go out at night, they shouldn’t drink too much, they should watch what they wear, they should travel in pairs. All of these sentiments have been expressed by local, provincial and national leaders.

When a cyclist gets hit by a driver, we worry about helmets. When it’s a pedestrian, we make sure to warn everyone else to make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. The crime is waved away as an organic result of circumstance (yet, we give less concern for the circumstances of someone who might turn to a life of crime).

This time, it’s: if you don’t hang out with the wrong people, you won’t get shot.

Of course, we know why Taylor said this. It’s comforting. A random act of violence could victimize anyone, even you and even me. We feel we have more control over our lives if it’s a targeted attack. There are things we can do. We can avoid bad neighbourhoods. We can avoid criminals. We can avoid dark parks. We can avoid bars. We can put on more clothes. We can put on a helmet. Half of us can not be a woman.

Eventually, this sentiment changes from what I can do to protect myself, to what you must do to protect yourself. Responsibility is shifted. There’s no additional burden for me to say we should all avoid dark alleys in certain areas of town. I can pass that weight on to the people who live there and have to walk those alleys in order to get home.

Still, we can all understand why the sentiment is comforting, and I’ll condemn no one for experiencing any sense of relief knowing that it wasn’t a random attack, and feeling a little more secure. I won’t even condemn Mark Taylor for feeling that way.

I’ll condemn the statement he made. That sentiment may be perfectly natural as a personal reaction, but it should never be expressed by one of our civic leaders. He wasn’t confiding to a friend about his fears, nor was he participating in an academic discussion about crime and security. He was speaking as an elected official and a community leader.

He was adding an air of legitimacy to the ugly sentiment. His words should be condemned by all.

Post-Script:

I started this post a week ago, in the meantime, Taylor “apologized”:

The councillor for Bay ward says what some have called his “insensitive” and “dangerous” comments in the wake of Taylor Morrow-Flint’s execution-style killing were taken out of context and misinterpreted.

Coun. Mark Taylor says he apologizes for “the way in which a select few of my comments have been interpreted.”

This seems like the classic non-apology. I’m sorry some people misinterpreted my perfectly fine remarks. It shifts blame onto the offended. But it’s worse. It’s dishonest.

The Citizen‘s Matthew Pearson has provided the full conversation. Here’s how it started:

First question is to partially cut off; I turned on my recorder as I sat down.

MP: “…Ritchie, I understand.”

MT: Yeah, it was, you know, unfortunate obviously. I mean, I guess the consoling factor is that, as I understand from the police and their investigation’s ongoing, is that this was very specific, very limited to the individual who was shot. This wasn’t one of these random cases of people of firing bullets going through the neighbourhood, I think we’ve turned the corner on that, thankfully. So, you know, unless you were this individual, you probably had nothing to fear.

He wasted no time getting right to his “consoling factor”. The context of his victim-blaming was him blaming the victim. Nothing is taken out of context. Nothing is misconstrued. What on earth could Pearson have said while turning on his recorder to trick Taylor into saying so insensitive?

And, again, we should all be able to understand why someone would have Taylor’s reaction. That’s not the point. The point is, he went from that reaction to blaming the victim for being killed.

So his apology isn’t a non-apology. It doesn’t rise to that level. It’s just dishonesty.

It’s not that hard to say, “you know, I shouldn’t have said what I said. I’m sorry.”

Hell, through on a caveat, if you want. “It was an emotional response, but I should have thought before I spoke.” I think most people would offer a bit of understanding.

But hiding behind “a select few of my comments have been [ed.: correctly] interpreted” is just gross.

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