Monday evening. I get out of Charlevoix metro station in the heart of Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles southwest borough.
Two police officers, a young woman and a young man, wearing dark latex gloves and standing near their vehicle, are speaking with a young woman who is very thin, her blond hair is disheveled, her clothes are dirty, teeth in bad shape (several missing), and she seems intoxicated.
I hear the police woman calling her “Melodie! Viens ici!” as Melodie steps away to ask a man nearby for a cigarette.
Melodie returns and speaks jovially with the police officers.
I check the 71 bus schedule. 10 minutes.
I am about to sip the last of my coffee, when a bee decides it also wants some of it. I escape to the bus stop bench, and the bee leaves. An older man is sitting, also waiting for the 71. I sit next to him.
The situation degenerates.
The police officers are now holding Melodie. She is fighting them off with her arms and legs. They hold on as she kicks and tries to go free from both of their grip. “Laissez-moi!” she shouts, while asking for her lawyer, interspersed with talking and joking with the officers. She calls the police officers by their first names.
A loud siren. A police car arrives at the corner where the two officers are battling with Melodie. An older, husky, police officer, wearing sun glasses smiles as he slam parks. He gets out of the car, he is wearing latex gloves. He presses Melodie’s head down on the sidewalk, who is by now held face down on the sidewalk.
She is no longer smiling. Her face flushes, she cries “Ça fait mal. Ça fait mal sur le trottoir.”
People are coming out of the metro station to stop and stare at the scene unfolding—young children look confused and their moms concerned, a young woman holds her hand to her mouth, young men look on.
I look next to my left; people are sitting on benches, some standing – all looking with a certain expression on their face at the woman lying on the ground, with police officers holding her down.
People across the street, at a café terrace, come out and watch.
It’s painful. What will they do with her?
Seven officers are now around and on Melodie. She smiles with pain visibly on her face, she talks to the crowd “Vous êtes mes amis. Vous êtes tous mes amis.” She yells that the three male officers are hurting her as they press her on the concrete.
The most disturbing is when one officer gets cuffs and a belt to shackle her feet.
The young man sitting on the bench to my left tells the older man to my right: “I have a pair of cuffs I can lend them if they need one.” The two men laugh. I feel disgust.
She is alone.
“How do you get to this?” I ask out loud.
“It’s very easy,” the older man answers. “I’ll tell you. There was a fire in my home some years ago. Because I was on medication, they took me to a psychiatric hospital and identified as an ‘itinérant’ because I no longer had an address. That’s all you need. One thing to happen and the spiral begins.”
The spiral that excludes you from society?
“But this happens every day. Every day she does this,” he adds. The older man tells me that some do this so that they can be taken by police to the hospital to get free drugs.
“And she’ll be out by tonight,” the young man to my left chimes in.
“And she’ll do this all over again and we pay for this,” the older man says.
“Maybe she didn’t have parents to take care of her,” I offer.
“Of course she had parents!” he says.
“How do you know? How does anyone know?”
“I live here. Everyone knows her. She does this to herself,” he says.
“I hate watching this. I want to help,” I say.
“There is nothing you can do,” the older man says.
“I didn’t even try,” I say.
The bus arrives. The older man complains to another older man that, due to this—Melodie being held down by seven officers, surrounded by three police cars—the bus will have to stop a few metres away from the designated spot.
We board. The bus driver’s radio plays “Bulletproof” by La Roux.
The atmosphere on board the bus feels grim. I, along with most people on board—mostly women—had seen and heard the scene before us.
I wanted to help Melodie.
Like in a movie script, I thought of walking up to her amidst the tense scene, amidst the crowd, kneel down, look in her eyes and tell her “I love you.”
But the “Are you crazy? Board that bus! They could arrest you if you interfere” won.
I didn’t do anything.
They brought this on to themselves. It is not for me to fix you and pay for you when we all work hard and earn our way.
*Photo by 2010 Legal Observers via Flickr under a CC license.
heavy. it’s hard to not react to something like that, but interfering is only going to bring you trouble. I know that one from experience. When I used to live in Point St-Charles, I saw this kind of thing often. Poverty is an evil thing, and it marginalizes people, who then hit a downward spiral that they cannot see. this downward spiral is almost impossible to break.
The word that comes to mind is compassion. This is the cure, I feel. We need to give compassion and support to people we meet in the street who may just need a hug, a talk, a listen, a coffee. It deeply disturbed me to see this treatment. I feel responsible as a member of society to not allow this to continue, not allow members of society to feel alone.