When people say that they want to start the new year with a bang, nobody is thinking of gun violence. One way or another, I always seem to find myself in the most bizarre situations that a person can find themselves in. Let us start by getting one thing straight, life in Ottawa South can be stranger than Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. In 2018, the Ottawa Police Services’ guns and gangs unit declared Ottawa South as the most active part of Ottawa for weapons violence and we ‘led’ the city in shootings. Although we often get what we pay for, going to a budget-friendly gym should not result in weapons violence, and yet, it almost did.
The story goes something like this: on January 1, 2023, two individuals with an age gap between them that was larger than the age gap in Leonardo DiCaprio’s relationship, got in a fight at the aforementioned budget-friendly gym—a fight that was entirely avoidable. There was modest trash talking and antagonizing which resulted in a sucker punch being thrown, followed by a Muay Thai combination being returned, and it ended with a fistful of ripped hair. Both males were conscious after the 15 second exchange. And although some people rushed to break them up, I was not one of them. I know trying to restrain one individual while the other can throw punches is a no-no because it can lead to complications if your peacekeeping results in a fighter being defenceless and taking extra hits. Once they were split up, I thought that would be the end of it, but it was just the beginning.
The next day at the gym started like every other day: on the treadmill with a brisk walk on max incline. A little later, one of my gym friends arrived and we talked a bit before he went to see who else was here. When he returned, it was clear that he was uneasy. It turned out that some of the older fighters’ gym buddies were telling him that they wanted to know where the younger fighter lived. Except my gym friend had no idea where that was; he only associated with the younger fighter at the gym, though he had held him back to help stop the fight. However, after my friend had gone to look, the older fighters’ gym buddies had messaged the older fighter and a few others to make their way to the gym. And just like that, we were about to get into it.
Once their reinforcements had arrived, one of them came inside the gym and motioned to my gym friend to come outside. Of course, most people in their early-to-mid 20s would also be uncomfortable at the thought of a large group of bulky guys surrounding them, and although he made it clear to me that he did not want to go outside to “talk” with them, my friend started walking towards the doors.
I followed him, telling him that he did not have to go and that nothing would happen to him if he chose to stay inside. The guy who had called him, however, was not happy that I followed my gym friend, and tried to intimidate me, telling me to mind my own business. Although I would have liked to respond by saying “I make business with my Bachelor of Commerce from Athabasca University,” the guy did not strike me as a Tony Soprano kind of guy. I knew it was more important to diffuse the situation. Instead, I grabbed the rotating door and told my gym friend that he did not have to go with them, and I told the guy between the doors that he was blowing things out of proportion. That guy became furious with me and scanned his card so he could enter the gym.
He stormed toward me, opening his eyes as wide as they could, and started making partial threats while keeping his hands in his pocket. I was unphased, repeating that he was blowing things out of proportion and that my gym friend did not feel comfortable going outside with them, but I did extend my hands below my waist in case he pulled out a knife so that it would be easier to go for his hands. He made another partial threat to which I responded by asking him whether he really wanted for the police to show up, and his response was that he did not care. Thankfully for the angry guy, one of his gym buddies was there, telling him to cool down. It was working, but my friend relented to the peer pressure while I was preoccupied with the angry guy and went outside.
Outside, I saw that there were four guys around my gym friend, and one of them told me that they were just talking to him. I responded by saying I would wait at the doors until the conversation ended. I could not forcefully remove my friend from the conversation because it seemed he willingly went to them. However, it seemed that things would be taking a turn for the better since a fifth guy had joined the group and he was saying how he was ecstatic about finishing an interview with the RCMP, although he followed that up by saying that the deep background check might complicate things for him.
At this point the situation was approaching the 30-minute mark and I was getting annoyed. I had both of my phones out and this appeared to startle the group of guys. They seemed to be getting quite concerned with my presence and they started talking amongst themselves, debating if I was an “uskar”, a Somali word for police officer. Prior to this, they were even using some Jamaican Patois words, and although they all spoke the same language, a non-English non-French language, none of them were members of a visibly racialized group, but what they did not know was that I was more fluent than all of them in both Somali and Jamaican Patois.
After hearing them talking about whether or not I was an “uskar”, I started to think that they were coming to their senses and realizing how ridiculous this whole situation was. I decided to go inside the front doors to heat up a little since I was without a coat, but I was back outside less than a minute later. It was at this moment that I was threatened with the prospect of gun violence. When I came back outside, the group was obnoxiously shouting, “It is open hunting season for rats and snitches!”, “Rats get shot! Snitches get shot!”, “Once we shoot them, we let them bleed out, blood everywhere!”, and “You are known for hunting rats and killing them! How many have you killed?” In addition to these statements, they were making ratchet shooting noises like “Pop! Pop!”, “Blam! Blam!”, and “Bang! Bang!” To say I was embarrassed for them is an understatement. After all, they were all young adults in their mid-twenties, and if they had a gun, nobody dared to show it.
After all the shouting, the group of guys turned around and attempted to stare me down. When they looked towards me, I paused before asking them, “Are you well?” It should come as no surprise that the angry guy from before decided to react, hurling more threats, and asking me to repeat myself as though he had not heard me. I repeated, “Are you well?” The angry guy started walking toward me and asked me to repeat myself a third time, to which I just said, “Are you well? Do you know what you are saying?” This time he stopped dead in his tracks, and although I would like to credit my resting face stare, it is more likely that my question helped him have his “eureka” moment.
Finally, the situation had died down, angry guy returned to his group, and my gym friend came back inside. Before they all left, they came to say bye and we exchanged “bro handshakes”. There was nothing that I took personal since I know that once people get emotional and out of balance, they will often act out of character. Many of the actions and comments were in poor taste, but maturity is something that can not be taught, and it takes time to grow into. All of it reminded me of past friends, so I was well prepared to handle the situation.
I want to make it clear that I feel bad for that group of guys. They were doing what every child that has grown up in a toxic environment has been socialized to do when their friend gets beaten up, they try to even the score. It is this type of cultural socialization that has added to the challenges that many adolescents experience when transitioning into adulthood. When individuals do not grow out of these ‘behaviors’, and if they lack the presence of positive figures in their lives, this combination often prevents them from realizing their full potential.
The way we carry ourselves matters
My decision to act in this situation was pretty simple, my conscious was talking to me in a way that resembled John Wayne’s Davy Crockett in The Alamo. The way I spoke to the group was how Dr. Phil spoke to his guests, practicing good judgment and not losing my temper, so it was not matching their energy. Although the situation at hand was a four versus one, had there been an extra pair of skilled hands and skilled legs that I could have counted on, like Richard Widmark’s Jim Bowie in The Alamo, this story may have turned out much differently. Perhaps it may have gone the way of The Replacements bar fight scene, and maybe we all may have ended up singing and dancing inside Elgin police station similar to how The Replacements sang and danced in jail. However, we will never know how that version of events would have played out. So, the end!
How can I be a “rat”?
One of the most mind-numbing things during this interaction had to have been the guy who celebrated completing his RCMP interview and how he was also embracing this level of stupidity. Although he was the one who responded to my final question, “Are you well? Do you know what you are saying?”, trying to cover for the group by implying that they were talking about hunting animals and not people, he should have known better if he is serious about pursuing a career in policing. Had that situation escalated and had someone got hurt, there are cameras both inside and outside of the gym, he would have had a totally different interview with the police and it would not have had anything to do with a job. However, if he does end up in policing, I hope that we do not see him on national TV news for some sort of scandal since that is the last thing that Canada’s already fragile policing institution needs.
The origin story behind the “rat” label dates back long before Rap and Hip Hop became mainstream, but Rap and Hip Hop culture has embraced championing the toxic idea that “rats” are somehow people who interact with the police. The reality of the situation is that the people who champion the human trafficking of girls, the trafficking of drugs to people who struggle with substance use, and committing weapons violence on others, those are “rats”, and they belong in the sewers along with their value systems.
Popular culture continues to brainwash societies vulnerable young into believing that the police are the enemy even when most communities are being destroyed from within, by predators that prey on the vulnerable by means of intimidation, scaring them from going to the police and preventing them from getting the support they deserve so that they can live their best lives. That is why I can never be a “rat”, and in the words of the Reverend Al Sharpton, “I am a cat, not a rat!”