Take most any crime report in Lethbridge, for example. The who is usually there as the name of the suspect. The what is usually there as the action the accused supposedly committed. The when is usually there with a date and time of the action. The where is usually there as the location of the action.
But the why? The why is often missing.
Why did the accused person commit that action? What circumstances led to them being in that situation? What choices did they make in their lives that led them to those circumstances? What environmental components influenced those choices?
And this week, we saw a prime example of this.
Yesterday, the Lethbridge Police Service published a media release regarding 6 arrests they made last Friday related to drug trafficking. In the release, they name all 6 individuals.
Which reminds me of a tweet I posted earlier in the year:
I, personally, find the process of naming accused individuals in media releases problematic.
First of all, they haven’t been convicted; they potentially could be innocent. Second, publishing names could interfere with their ability to get jobs or housing in the future. Third, for most of the charges listed in media releases (not just this specific release), there’s no point in having the public know the names. Finally, this practice fuels the racism that already is prevalent in the community here, which I’ll demonstrate later in this post.
Anyhow, 4 local media outlets ran with the release:
- Police lay drug charges in downtown search warrant (Lethbridge Herald)
- Drugs and weapons seized, 6 people charged in Lethbridge (CTV)
- Police charge six following south Lethbridge drug bust (Lethbridge News Now)
- Six Lethbridge residents arrested, LPS seize drugs & swords in bust (My Lethbridge Now)
Every one of the media stories simply regurgitates the details outlined in the LPS media release. None of them provided any further details. In fact, three of the outlets tweeted out their stories within minutes of the LPS tweeting out their release. They didn’t have time to do much more than copy, paste, and reword the details in the release.
One outlet took an hour to tweet out their version of the media release, but even with that extra time, there were still no details in their version that weren’t available in the others, let alone in the original media release.
None of the media outlets, for example, talk about the conditions of the housing at the complex where cops arrested the individuals. None of them talk about the owners of the complex being issued with a closure notice from Alberta Health Services 4 years ago for violating the Public Health Act. None of them talk about why the property owners charge $1200 a month for these run-down townhomes. None of them talk about the perpetuation of poverty such housing guarantees. None of them talk about the connection between poverty and drugs.
None of them talk about how after more than 50 years of waging a war on drugs, there are still people consuming and trafficking drugs. How no matter how many times the LPS arrest someone on drug charges, it won’t be the last time. How arresting people doesn’t prevent drug crime, nor does it address structural and systemic issues that lead to crime.
Nothing is mentioned in any of these stories regarding the background of any of the individuals that the cops arrests. How did they get here? Why are they involved with drugs? What experiences have they had? What environmental influences have they had?
All 6 individuals who the cops charged have Indigenous-sounding names. Which isn’t that surprising, since cops charge Indigenous people pretty often around here. That in itself isn’t that surprising either, given that they card Indigenous people at a higher rate here.
But as soon as I saw the names, I predicted the types of comments the original release—and its iterative versions on the media Facebook pages—would receive. And I was right.
Here are a few:
For these commenters, it’s not the criminal act that’s the issue, it’s the indigeneity of the accused. Because to them—just as it is to the cops—indigeneity is criminal. And continuing the practice of naming people who have yet to be convicted of a crime—especially if Indigenous people are charged at higher rates—simply perpetuate the racism inherent within the police force and within the community.
Because no one ever talks about white people getting out of convictions because of their whiteness. No one ever talks about the European sounding names of white accused persons. No one talks about the white people who brought the drugs to Lethbridge.
To them, drugs—just like alcohol—are Indigenous problems, both consumed and distributed by Indigenous people. The invisibility of white alcoholism and white drug abuse in Lethbridge—and the way service organizations ignore it in favour of pathologizing and infantilizing indigeneity—further reinforces the prejudices the public holds regarding both substance abuse and indigeneity in general.
And the local cops and media aren’t helping.
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