At a garden party I attended about a decade ago, before Canada had legalized cannabis, some of the guests were sharing doobies. There was a high-ranking police officer there, the friend of a friend. He wasn’t indulging in the weed, and he seemed indifferent to those who were puffing it.
I asked him about it, considering possession of cannabis was a federal offence. Here was a cop turning a blind eye to consumption happening right under his nose, quite literally.
“How do you feel about it,” I asked him.
He told me that if people were doing harder drugs, like cocaine, he would leave — without busting anyone. But he didn’t have a crisis of conscience over people smoking pot, and simple possession cases probably wouldn’t make it to a court, anyway.
But make no mistake about it: if more serious crimes were being committed, he’d be calling in backup — and friendship would be secondary.
I remembered the incident this morning when I saw a New York Times headline: “Journalists aren’t the enemy of the people. But we’re not your friends.” The writer is Ben Smith, and he was framing his commentary in the context of Donald Trump coverage. In short, Ben is just doing his job, objectively speaking, no matter the political consequences. Don’t make him a celebrity if you support his findings. But don’t make him an enemy if you don’t.
Then I thought about a micro-situation I found myself in this summer: The desecration of a pretty strip of Crown (government-owned) land by a stream leading to the shore of Lac Pilon in the Laurentians. The lake association, apparently, had sanctioned what certainly seemed to me to be the illegal, if not criminal, act of blocking the general public’s access to it and vandalizing the site, perhaps figuring they could capitalize on local residents’ indifference.
Speaking out cost me some acquaintances. It also brought me some new acquaintances. Yet in the past, those who may see me as an enemy now may have seen me as a friend when I brought them media coverage of other issues affecting their lakeside community.
I was neither friend nor foe in all of the cases.
Which is not to say journalists — and cops, presumably — can’t have personal friends. We do, and sometimes we have to do what the aforementioned police officer did: look the other way. One of my friends recently had a book published, but didn’t want any publicity even though it surely would have garnered some attention (I can’t get into details). I respected his wishes — after all, he wasn’t hurting the general public.
But if he was doing something detrimental to the public, he would have been fair game, friend or not, in the interests of social justice.
I have been shunned before the summer incident. A potential lover dumped me like a proverbial hot potato when he found out what kind of work I do. “I don’t like journalists,” he told me, making me wonder what he might be hiding. It was just as well, I reasoned, because I don’t go looking for stories. But when they land in my lap, I can’t always look the other way. So better he didn’t date me.
Of course, you don’t have to be a journalist to speak out against social injustice, as so many are doing these days in the streets and on social media. They’re not indifferent. But there are far more people who are indifferent to social injustice or are too afraid to speak up when they see it.
That suits the bullies just fine.
Until somebody speaks up, that is.