In Toronto this week there was an 18 year old male armed with a knife on a bus. Sadly, he was shot and killed by police. As expected, the media is up in arms with scathing reports condemning police action, heightening and sensationalizing a tragic incident, stirring up an already outraged public.
I am not qualified to comment on how the events unfolded or the mindset of the officers who were there. I do have a perspective that the media doesn’t, but still, it’s not my place to opine.
I am not a fan of The Toronto Star. There is, however, one journalist at the Star—Rosie DiManno—for whom I have a great deal of respect. We have met many times and she was fair and kind to us during Stefanie’s homicide trial. By some twist of fate, I was given a free copy of the Star this morning with my coffee, and her article was on the cover, so I accepted it graciously, genuinely interested in what she had to say.
Little of what she wrote surprised or upset me, except for one small comment that needs to be addressed. I wish desperately someone could make the media understand why this kind of thinking is so upsetting to victims of crime.
For a few short hours, the victim’s name had not been released. For a few short hours, the victim’s family were given time to absorb the shock, horror and grief in private with some modicum of peace.
“…. neither the cops nor the Special Investigations Unit have yet released the victim’s name. This, just for starters, in unacceptable. Death by cop, or in any violent circumstances, is not a private matter.”
“The nameless are also the faceless and too easy to ignore. Further, the whole community has something at stake.”
This makes my blood boil and my brain scream, “Why?”
Why? Seriously—why is it not a private matter? Is the life of the average citizen going to change if he or she doesn’t know, right this minute, the name and address of the victim? Will it make some monumental difference in your life or mine if we aren’t informed immediately about the victim’s poor family? Will we be placed in imminent danger? Are we afraid that if we don’t know every single juicy detail within five minutes of the event that cops everywhere will start shooting people on buses? The truth is, it won’t change our lives one iota, but it will make a terrible difference to the victim’s family.
I understand the purpose and importance of responsible media—without a doubt. But if, as a city, we truly cared about what happened to this young man, we would support his family’s right to privacy and shield them from those who think they have a right to insert themselves into something that has nothing to do with them. Allow the family to grieve in private or to speak, if they choose to do so.
As far as the officer is concerned, there is no doubt in my mind that he or she did not wake up that fateful morning hoping for the worst this job has to throw at him or her. That officer now faces ridicule from all sides and it will take someone with a very strong character to overcome this. They are also a victim because, as I’ve said before, that bullet goes both ways.
DiManno extrapolates not releasing the name of the victim to never getting the truth from police about the incident. Certainly we must hold the police to a high standard of honestly and transparency. I’m the first to expect that. Perhaps relentless media coverage helps to bring this about, but it has little to do with needing a name and invading the private hell that family is now living.
In the first few days following Stefanie’s death, the media was inescapable, and some of what took place was unforgivable. I know this invasive behaviour is born out of relentless pressure to get the juiciest scoop. Perhaps, also, there is simply blissful ignorance about the needs of a grieving family, but whatever—it is quite simply, wrong.
Once Stefanie’s funeral had taken place, and I had finished testifying at the homicide trial of another little girl, we were fortunate. My entire family and support system packed up their lives and boarded a plane with us to a place of anonymity. But how many people can do that? I suspect very few.
As a society, we profess to care about the victim(s) and their families. We set up trust funds and do fundraising for the family—all of which is wonderful. However, if someone had offered me either ten million dollars or a chance to be media-free those first days, I would not have hesitated for a moment. Anything that can take some of the stress away during those days is priceless.
By now, we know many sordid details of the victim’s family including siblings, a divorce, ethnic background, neighbours’ opinions of the type of people they are, schools attended, classmates etc… We know a lot about the personal lives of these people. Shame on us.
Does it change anything, help us solve anything, make us feel better because we are different from them thereby shielding us from possibly becoming future victims?
The answer, of course, to all of these questions, is ‘no’.
For this family it’s too late, but if we all ban together and show the media we don’t need to know everything immediately, we can make it better for the next family.