Something been's bothering me the past couple of days.
It isn't a new theme, but it's rearing its ugly head again: People who protest or condemn without having the facts.
On Monday night there was some sort of incident between a cyclist, Darcy Sheppard, and former Ontario MPP Michael Bryant who was driving his Saab convertible. What we know is that at some point after this incident and shouting match, the vehicle moved down the road and that, at some point, Mr. Sheppard clung to the driver's side. The vehicle traveled erratically down Bloor Street and, at some point, Mr. Sheppard fell under the rear wheels, suffering injuries that proved fatal.
That's all we know.
Reporters and police have been trying to fill in the rest using eye witness accounts, but the fact is that the only people who know exactly what happened from begining to end are the two occupants of the vehicle, Mr. Bryant and his wife.
It has been alleged that there was a minor collision involving the car and bicycle, which took place either before or was bookended by angry exchanges between the two men. It's alleged that Mr. Sheppard slammed his bag onto the hood of the car. It's alleged that Mr. Bryant began to drive off and that Mr. Sheppard pursued the vehicle on foot and then grabbed the driver's side somehow. It's alleged that Mr. Bryant yelled at Mr. Sheppard to get off as he continued along Bloor. While it is indisputable that the car traveled westbound along the eastbound lane, it is not a given that this was done intentionally by Mr. Bryant and while it appears to be a fact that the vehicle brushed plant holders and other obstacles along the eastbound curb, it is not known if this, again, was intentional. Some allege that Mr. Bryant was attempting to "shake off" Mr. Sheppard.
What interested me right off the bat is that Mr. Bryant was not immediately charged. He was not charged until the next day, and he was not charged with manslaughter or somesuch, but rather criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. One legal source says that, if convicted, Bryant would likely face two years in jail. Two years. Conspiracy theorists were quick to jump to the conclusion that Bryant received preferential treatment because of his former status as Ontario's Attorney General. Bryant left the post a while back to lead Invest Toronto.
But was it preferential treatment or are the facts as presented to the police by witnesses and Bryant such that the police think there may have been some extenuating circumstances?
Sheppard is a former (?) bike messenger and his colleagues were quick to stage a protest on Tuesday afternoon with plans to protest again during the Wednesday afternoon rush hour. Since they chanted "murder" at one point, I assume they are protesting the charge, rather than staging some sort of traffic-blocking memorial. But I don't know for sure. Do they know? Do they know what they are protesting? I don't have all the facts of the case - do they? What exactly is the issue here? Bike lanes? Crazy drivers? Mourning? Police corruption?
From the start, Mr. Bryant has been painted as the guilty party with Mr. Sheppard portrayed as the victim of road rage. When incidents arise involving a bicycle and a car, the automobile is often portrayed as the big bad wolf.
I don't buy it.
Let's say, for argument's sake, that you're in a car, a convertible, and some guy who is angry as hell for whatever reason starts attacking you or that you feel they are about to attack you. What would you do? Lock the door? It's a convertible. Try to get out? By the time you undo your seatbelt the guy may have already punched you in the face and knocked you silly - or worse. Yell for help? Good Samaritans MAY come over if you're lucky, but by then, again, you may be unconcious - or worse. Do these things even occur to you in the split second that you're threatened? Guess what I'd do. Hit. The. Gas. I'm in a car. The best way to get away from a guy who may be a complete psycho (for all I know) is to reach 60km/h. I don't have a taser. I can't defend myself - nor my wife - from a seated, restrained position. I have very very limited options. If the guy is crazy enough to latch onto my car as I drive away do I stop and chat? Eff that. Now I might hit the brakes hard and hope he goes flying, but maybe that doesn't occur to everyone. Maybe they keep driving in the hopes that speed and common sense will convince the guy to simply let it go. Then again, maybe he doesn't. Maybe he hangs on either out of anger or fear. Then maybe he falls.
I'm not saying that's what happened in the Bloor Street case, but it's something to consider. What was going through each person's mind? Why did they do what they did? How much did anger, fear and lack of time to think play a role? Is the car's operator still the big bad wolf in this scenario?
You'll have to forgive me if, without having all the facts, I'm not willing to crucify Mr. Bryant.
It's come to light that Mr. Sheppard is a recovering alcoholic single father of three who has 61 warrants for his arrest in Alberta. An hour before the incident on Bloor, Mr. Sheppard was involved in another incident at his girlfriend's residence where he showed up having been drinking (there seems to be some qestion as to whether he was drunk) and apparently caused enough of a ruckus to warrant police presence. Friends who heard of his passing said things were looking up for the man who had had some rough patches, saying that things were improving for him "just last week". Yup - looks that way. You'll forgive me if, not knowing the man personally and knowing only his criminal and alcohol-related issues, I hesitate to put a halo on him and brand him the upstanding victim in the Bloor Street incident.
(On a side note, hearing testimonials from friends of victims has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves with news coverage. The victim can be a crack dealing gang banger who has 20 convictions for gun possession and the story is always that their death is a "tragedy" and the victim was "a great guy" with a "bright future". STFU.)
So we have some facts, but not many. On the surface, it would appear that Mr. Bryant was driving recklessly in an effort to rid himself of Mr. Sheppard.
But do we know that for a fact?
I mean, isn't it at least possible that Mr. Sheppard played SOME role in his demise? Is it possible that Mr. Bryant feared for his safety and that of his wife? Is it possible that Mr. Sheppard overreacted to the minor incident in which, for all we know, he was 100% in the wrong? Is it possible that the incident an hour prior impacted Mr. Sheppard's state of mind at the time? And why in the world would someone purposely try to shake someone off their driver's side by driving down the wrong side of the road and into objects along the curb? Isn't it possible that this was NOT Mr. Bryant's intention? Isn't it possible that it was Mr. Sheppard's presence on the driver's side door that caused the car to swerve left (either through contact with Mr. Bryant or the wheel itself)? But why didn't Mr. Bryant simply hit the brakes? Is it possible that he feared for his safety so much that the idea of stopping and perhaps giving his "attacker" a chance to regroup was not an option? Or is Mr. Bryant 100% guilty?
I don't. And that's the point. If you don't know the facts for certain then at least keep your mind open to the possibility that things are not as they appear.
Wait for the facts before you condemn and stage your "protests". Otherwise, don't expect to get my sympathy.