Oppression takes many forms. The ‘isms’ of bigotry blend together through the devastating trauma they leave in their path. Though our personal experiences may differ, the emotions of sadness, frustration, and anger remain the same in the face of injustice and those who have harmed us.
I remember the year-long wait to trial, constantly being told not to invest too much of myself and my hope into a verdict. The people who surrounded me had played this game before, they had already been desensitized. I promised myself I would stay strong and that the verdict wouldn’t matter, but deep down in my heart, I knew it would. The verdict was the official justice, the part that made me human and valued my worth.
The trial of Gerald Stanley, and the trial of my abuser, started 2 years and 1 day apart from each other. Both lasted less than 10 days before a verdict was read. Both verdicts were not guilty.
Leading up to the verdict of Gerald Stanley, I did not anticipate a guilty verdict. My experience with the criminal justice system left me broken, knowing that the odds are stacked against victims and the burden of proof often lead to perpetrators being found not guilty. The similarities, at times, were striking: poking holes in the testimony of the witnesses, a heavy social media presence, parallel and opposing sides from onlookers, and a heavy undertone of an ‘ism’.
I watched my friends painfully receive that not guilty verdict and saw the familiar devastation in their reactions. In this case, many Indigenous folks already knew not to trust a colonial justice system that unfairly punished their people, along with other governmental institutions. But there is always that glimmer of hope, the small light at the end of the tunnel that you hold onto hoping that maybe this time it will be different, maybe this time we can feel like we are valued and worthy, maybe this time we are human. This was not the result.
The rage and frustration you feel when a system tells you that your life is not valued cuts a place inside you that feels as though it will never heal. It changes your reality, as it changes you. You mourn the loss of that value you once felt, no matter how naive it was to think it existed, knowing that more people will continue to lose their value if you don’t fight back against that system that so ruthlessly stole it from you.
The battle continues on social media, as people from both sides feel protective of their realities – the reality that racism influences our actions or the refusal to believe it exists. It is still astounding to me that we all operate within this society dictated by law but do not understand how our justice system operates. Most people don’t know what the burden of proof is in a criminal trial, how a jury is selected when opted for instead of a judge, who has legal representation versus who is treated as evidence. Further to that, how trauma affects our memory as victims. The criminal justice system was created to protect property and that stale, outdated, racist, misogynistic justice system showed it’s roots in the trial of Gerald Stanley.
If history has taught us anything it’s that Indigenous people, their culture and their traditions, are resilient. They continue to survive colonialism, genocide, residential schools, the 60’s scoop, along with ongoing racism, discrimination, and inequality. This has not come without sacrifice though, as their people are still dying and we, the white community, are still coming up with excuses as to why they had to die.
Yesterday, I stood among hundreds who rallied in Vancouver yesterday, demanding justice, calling on others to stand up, speak up, and push for change. I felt the weight of the pain and the sadness in the air as a community mourned the loss of a young life; their brother, nephew, cousin. I felt the frustration with a system that was not created for us. On the other hand, I also felt the power of people coming together to vehemently refuse to allow this to be our collective reality.