49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives

Canadian Paganism has a style all its own. Have a look at events, issues, celebrations, people, trends and events north of the border from the eyes of a Canadian Wiccan and Witch.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Trained to Hate, Trained to Kill #Ferguson #Highway of Tears

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Police officers using tear gas during the first wave of the Ferguson unrest. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

I was twenty-one when I took a Greyhound across the country into Maine.  It was a long and brutal trip, and I was travelling from BC; so I was on the bus for five full days.  Needless to say, on Day Five, when I went through Niagara Falls and Buffalo, NY, I was exhausted and hoping to get some sleep, so I pretended that I was sleeping and guarded the seat beside me jealously.

But the bus was really crowded; packed like sardines.  And so eventually, because I present like a tough cookie but am actually a marshmallow, I invited a young man to sit beside me.

He stared at me for a long moment; then blinked slowly.  "Are you sure?" he asked me.

Not sure why he was hesitating, I shrugged.  "Well yeah, of course," I said.  "The bus is packed; you gotta sit somewhere."

Still eyeing me warily, he offered a polite thank you and a ghost of a smile that winked out almost as soon as it had appeared.  He stuffed his bag in the overhead compartment and sat in perfect silence, not looking me in the eye once.  When we reached the city terminal, he retrieved his bag as quickly as possible, careful not to touch me or let anything fall on me or even look at me too closely, then nodded once in a quick, jerky way, said "thank you" again, and offered that same odd smile.

"You're welcome.  Have a good day," I nodded as he made his escape.

I was mystified by his odd behaviour.  It was almost like he was afraid of me.  I couldn't figure out why.

I was almost in Maine before it hit me.  I was a young white woman, about five feet tall, obviously travelling alone.  And he was black.

Warning sign on the Highway 16 stating "Girls don't hitchhike". Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This isn't something I think of where I'm from because in Western Canada in the interior of British Columbia, we just don't have a lot of black people.  But I don't mean to suggest that we're not racist.  We have a lot of First Nations (Native American) people and a lot of Pakistani immigrants in my area.  I remember my friend Bobbi Thind's little brothers getting beaten up for their Sikh dastars.  I remember the sneering, disparaging commentary about "lazy, drunken Indians living off of the government dole."  Does it matter that the dastar (commonly called a "turban") is a required article of faith, and that our First Nations are almost always small, independent governments within the Canadian border? Why would it surprise me that a young black man might be leery of me when these things go on in my hometown every day?

Highway 16 is one of our major cross-Canada highways.  It runs through most of the northern parts of the provinces as Highway 1, called by some "the" Trans-Canada Highway, runs through the southern parts.  There's a long stretch of it in Northern BC between Prince George to Prince Rupert known as the Highway of Tears.  Young women have disappeared from this highway in numbers that rival the Green River killings; but the police have done a lot of nothing, because most of the victims are Aboriginal.  I don't believe it's a conscious hate; but most bigotry isn't, is it?  I think they justify their lack of action because they perceive First Nations women as having a nomadic sort of lifestyle based in their poverty; and they don't.  Most First Nations people never venture far from the lands that belong to their band.  Which is unfortunate for them, because to our national shame, clean running water is still a luxury on many Native reserves.  Which doesn't surprise me, since a great effort was made to shove them into the most marginal of our marginal lands more than a century ago.

We have preconceived perspectives.  We see what we think we're going to see.  It's amazing how difficult it is to sway the opinion of someone who is already disposed to be hostile towards you.

It's not just in the United States that people are getting shot by police who shouldn't be.  It's happening in Canada too.  It's a similar story of escalating violence, but in Canada, the common denominator usually appears to be mental illness and poverty rather than race.  Which is yet another minority group who is subject to a lot of prejudices.

I wrote an article a few months ago about how a book I read opened my eyes towards a few things that are wrong with our society.  One of the things that comes to mind is that we train our soldiers to kill by reflex.  You see, statistically, we don't like killing each other.  Despite all of our posturing, we have strong internal resistances against it.  Archaeologists of the American Civil War have found numerous single-shot rifles with multiple slugs loaded in them.  Maybe that was battle hysteria.  Or maybe it's because the man carrying that gun didn't actually want to shoot anybody.  He loaded his rifle, raised it to his shoulder, pretended to fire and jerked his shoulder back (unnoticed in all the noise and the smoke,) brought it down, and did it again.  One man did this ten times in a single battle.

None of the experts truly realized this until World War II.  By the Vietnam War, we had changed the way we trained our soldiers.  Instead of training them to be defenders, we trained them to shoot as an automatic reaction to stimuli.  The necessity of war, we said.  We need to increase our kill ratio against the enemy.  So we teach our soldiers to reflexively pull triggers without thinking about the situation; and in a crisis, your brain automatically defaults to whatever plan you have prepared because adrenaline banishes critical reasoning.  The results have been very effective at increasing our kill ratio; and very devastating to the psyche, as more and more of our troops come home psychologically wounded than ever have before, making PTSD a household "word."

This is the current reality of modern warfare because everybody trains their soldiers like this.  I have no words for how terrible I think this is.  I respect our military for taking this horror upon themselves and I am sad for them.  The final indignity, of course, is that our governments seem to do everything in their power to avoid taking care of them after we've used them so horribly, and social condemnation often follows them as well.  The Canadian government has been particularly horrible in these outrages as of late; in an effort to pad their general revenue to imply a surplus, they've been robbing from the veteran's programs, including PTSD treatment, and even veteran's gravesites!  But that's another issue . . .

Now we are training our police officers in "paramilitary" programs.  Instead of telling them that they must defend the citizens, even at the cost of their own lives, we tell them that they must defend their own lives against a society of potential perpetrators.  And then we teach them to shoot people as an automatic, reflexive reaction.

Is it any surprise that innocent (and mostly innocent) people are getting shot, when they shouldn't be?  We're training our police officers to do this.  We're training them to distrust all of us; to look at everyone suspiciously and expect trouble in every direction.  Of course they're going to react without thinking; that's exactly what we teach them to do!  Of course they're going to defend themselves vehemently when challenged or questioned; who wants to believe that not only has he killed someone, which is terrible enough, but that someone was innocent of any wrongdoing?  Of course they're going to react based on unconscious assumptions; and consciously or unconsciously, North America is still racist and prejudiced.

This is where we are.  We need to teach our police officers how to be peacekeepers again instead of soldiers.  And until we adjust both their training techniques, and our attitudes, more young men are going to get shot for walking while black; more mentally ill people will be shot for acting oddly; and more Aboriginal women will disappear without anybody seeming to give a damn.

Last modified on
Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Red Wheel/Weiser 2014) and contributor to "Pagan Consent Culture" and "The Pagan Leadership Anthology," she also writes "Between the Shadows" at Patheos' Pagan channel and contributes to Gods & Radicals. Sable is just breaking out as a speculative fiction writer under her legal name, and a new serial, the Wyrd West Chronicles, will be released on the Spring Equinox this year. Like most writers, she does a lot of other things to help pay the bills, including music, Etsy crafts, and working part time at a bookstore. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada with her two life partners and her furbabies in a cabin on the edge of the woods.


  • Joan Stringer
    Joan Stringer Saturday, 06 December 2014

    Sadly it is becoming apparent that violence is an increasing part of our lives in North America. Even if you haven't been personally affected by violence, it seems most people know someone who has been. I remember in the film "Bowling For Columbine" that American news broadcasts seemed to dwell on stories of crime and violence, which is true, and for this reason I avoid watching them. And this from someone who majored in Communications! I try not to dwell on watching these news stories, because doing so, you start feeling a sense of dread, as to "When is my turn coming?". After 9/11, we were told by the president to "Go about your business but remain vigilant". That went without saying. However, it seemed like ages ago that as kids we never had to worry about child predators and pedophiles. I used to spend most days in the 60s in the summer playing with my friends, going in the woods, walking to their houses, and never feeling like I was going to be attacked or kidnapped. We heard about those crimes, as in "Don't go with a stranger", but "That never happens in our neighborhood!". Now that I'm in my 50s and the terms "pedophile" and "sex offender" are now everyday terms, I wonder, did we just ignore/pretend those types of people weren't in our area, and/or is it because of the instant access to the media now that we find out these criminals are a lot more common than we thought. As to racism, that is a part of it, as our neighborhood was primarily white. We felt a false sense of security because we thought people who looked like us would not do things like that to us. Over the years we are finding out that some neighbors were not as innocent as we thought.

  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia Friday, 12 December 2014

    When I was six, I used to take off on my bike to the beach in the summer with a couple of bucks in my pocket to buy lunch at the corner store there, and stay all day. After school, my whole neighbourhood would take off to the big empty lot on the rolling hills in our suburb that we called "The Trails," and we'd play by the creek and the willow trees there until our parents bellowed for us to come to dinner. Now this would be considered child abuse. Nothing has changed; we are no more nor less likely to get attacked by strangers than we ever were. But the climate of fear is so intense that realization that we shouldn't do this seems self-evident to everyone. And to be fair, I was much more actively vigilant when my son and my nephews were small too. What a sad state of affairs, that we must even fear our neighbours.

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Saturday, 06 December 2014

    I could not agree with you more. We have to be taught to hate and fear and no one wants to kill others, until taught. Our white existence in the North America is born of violence--the Pequot War exterminated the Pequot tribe early on in our common (US and Canada) history and the violence continued. We must renounce this inheritance and train ourselves in the ways of peace and peaceful resolution of conflict. Another way is possible. Humanity lived in peace for millenia before the state of perpetual war of the last 5000 years.

  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia Friday, 12 December 2014

    It sure would be nice if we could remember how not to want to kill each other. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information