28 Seconds Later: The Politicization of a Death.

The death of a cyclist… Strange rumblings about a categorical injustice… A saab, a fire hidrant, and a former Attorney General… A man is dead, why the fuss?

Darcy Allan Sheppard was a lunatic. By all accounts; a drunken, angry buffoon, with a curious and violent fascination toward motorists. Or perhaps not. Maybe he was a good natured, well humoured bike Courier, a free spirit with unfortunate personal issues? Although that’s hard to digest given his former arrests, and incidents of motorist attacks, which took place in a inexorably similar fashion to the attack on Michael Bryant that resulted in his death. In fact he had spent the very same afternoon on which he was killed in the back of a police cruiser. Toxicity reports show his blood alcohol level was high at the time of his death. He was drunk, throwing wayward debris around Bloor st.  When these facts were brought up in court, Sheppard’s various supporters responded with indignation;  it was former attorney general Michael Bryant who was on trial, not Darcy Allan Sheppard.

Darcy Allan Sheppard. Killed last fall when he was flung from former Attorney General Michael Bryant's car.

This is, of course, wrong. Darcy Allan Sheppard was also on trial. Bryant had, after all, plead that he acted in self defense. It is therefore legally prudent to consider the mental state and actions of the other party. If Bryant could prove he was in reasonable fear for his life, then his actions are not criminally negligent. And, aided by evidence of previous attacks on motorists, Bryant’s lawyers managed to accomplish this feat.

However this is not the outcome of the trial that I find interesting.

This case has had a polarizing effect on Toronto. It has acted as a lightning rod or litmus test for the self-identification of motorist and cyclist, those time-honored, bitter, star-crossed rivals. There are other inevitably emerging discourses as well; bike lanes on university avenue is a recent one. Still, none has resulted in the kind of protest and tenacious outrage that was spawned by the death of Darcy Allan Sheppard.

One of Sheppard’s supporters claimed that it is now “open season on cyclists”. Allow me to address the obvious truth that the claim (allow me to unpack and paraphrase) that ‘all cyclists are legally allowed to be killed by motorists due to this legal precedent’ is foolish, dim, sensationalist tripe.  Using the death of a man as a talking point for what I suppose is the cyclist agenda is unproductive,  and distasteful. This case has little to do with cyclists. Unless cyclists are arguing that Sheppard’s behavior and general demeanor around motorists, particularly Michael Bryant, is normal and acceptable cyclist-behavior, however I doubt such an argument will be made.

Despite how the wires have been crossed on this issue, I can’t ignore that bike riding is a nobler form of transportation. It is cleaner, kinder to the environment, and one cannot overlook the importance of manual labour in the development of a  hardworking and decent human being. In fact, I’d argue that car culture is the bastard sister of the convenience culture for which I show so much displeasure and fear. Nevertheless, these two factions, at least for the foreseeable future, must find a way to co-exist. And blaming motorists for the death of a cyclist is counter intuitive, just as much as it is to argue that this case in some way legitimates the murder of cyclists. It does not.

Imagine what Bryant’s fateful 28 seconds was like: A man –  wild eyed, raving, jumping on his car, forcing his hands inside, swinging away. The overpowering smell of sweat and stale booze filling his nostrils, an intoxicating and terrifying mixture. Something foreign. Fearful and awe inspired he was dragged momentarily from his comfort and privilege to the physical realm, where all transgressions are punishable by force.  A challenge, from a man whose anger was not even intelligible to him. Flight. Escape. Leave the beast behind. Sheppard was flung from the car, into a yellow fire hydrant. He struck his head on the pavement, outside a makeup store. The killing blow. While he laid dead on the street, Bryant drove ahead to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where he dialed 911 and told them he had been attacked.

Have I gone too far with this? Have I committed some grave sin by calling this man a buffoon, an incensed beast, violent and incoherent? I have not aimed to unfairly demonize  Darcy Allan Sheppard, but this was surely not his finest hour.

And even if I was sensationalizing, or demonizing Sheppard’s final 28 seconds on earth, is that any worse than politicizing them?


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