In March 2006, a man named Wil Conley was beaten to death on an Edmonton city bus. Little to no details were released at the time. I assumed, somewhat wrongly as it turns out, that Conley was a victim of random and pointless youth violence. That is to say I knew that his attackers were young, but given new details about the case (it has been dismissed), the attack was not random or pointless. I took the case to heart because I love public transportation and this tragedy occurred on a city bus. I wrote a poem about the event – an attempt at expressing my confusion and anger at the whole thing. Last week the case against the four youths who did the deed was dismissed on the grounds that Conley was in fact the aggressor (he provoked and attacked one of the youths) and the kids were merely defending themselves. He died from a rare type of head injury. To put a very sad capper on the whole deal, Conley’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.
None of this changes the fact that Conley’s family grieves him. He lost his life in a very unfortunate manner. The questions that keep rattling around in my brain are these: In light of the dismissal of the criminal case and the new information, should Conley be stripped of every notion of being an “innocent victim”? Did he have that label to begin with? Nobody deserves to die alone on a bus platform. But he did attack first. He did bring it on and ask for some sort of smackdown (it doesn’t sound like the attack Conley dished out was that severe, but who knows). It was sheer fluke that he died the way he did. The fact that he was drunk muddies the incident even further. Would this have happened if he were sober? Should more quarter have been given considering his intoxicated condition? Pointless questions, perhaps, but I can’t help but ask them.
For me, this case is still very sad and has taught me a bit of a lesson: Don’t jump to conclusions. Without knowing all the details (or at least a few key details), it’s very easy to internally color an event a shade that it never was. I did that with the Conley case, but there’s still no doubt in my mind that this incident could have easily been avoided. Thoughts?
Wil Conley, File Photo
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?