The Court of Public Opinion, or a return to the witch-hunt state

It doesn’t take much these days for people (including the CBC) to do a little homework about a topic. Sadly, it takes even less for people to use forums like those on the CBC website for “comment rage” and virtual witch burning. The witches, in most instances, are the police, the courts, politicians, and anyone who does not fervently agree with Al Gore about climate change.

In this case, a story about a police shooting two years ago that is now having an inquest is the source of public uproar. I have not been following this story, but in about 5 minutes I was able to be much more informed than the CBC story made me. Based on most of the comments that I read, 5 minutes was too much time for most people to take – instead there were instant cries of “burn ’em!” from those who see any instance where the police are potentially overstepping their role as a clear indication that we live in a police state. The current inquest is aimed at revealing all of the circumstances of this incident. Those who want to see the officers “burned” because someone said they saw a garden rake are taking justice back 200 years, to a time when anyone could be condemned at the point of someone’s finger rather than with actual facts.

Some actual facts: the victim in this incident was wanted by the police for several criminal charges, including violent acts, and was actively avoiding both the courts and police. If we consider the other ongoing headline news these days, involving the kidnapper in Sparwood, clearly the fact that someone is released on their own recognizance is neither an endorsement of their safety nor any indication of their guilt or innocence – a release is more likely a reflection of a system stretched to the limit for resources and challenged at every turn. He may indeed have had a family, friends, and colleagues who mourn him, but that does not negate the actions of the RCMP and the legal system who are charged with holding him to account. The outcome of this incident also denies any justice to the victims of this man’s crimes, all of which will now go unanswered and unredressed.

Given a choice between a police state and a witch hunt state, I just might choose the police state. Thankfully, we don’t have to choose either. We could instead choose (and have indeed chosen in Canada) to recognize and support (and maybe even celebrate) a state that tries to maintain law and order. This does not mean that people don’t have rights and freedoms – of course we do. But with those rights and freedoms come the responsibility to act within the laws of our state, and the obligation to support and defend those who defend us – the police.

Given a choice between running into an armed police officer and running into an armed suspect, I would definitely choose the police officer. While both are dangerous, at least with the police officer I know that, if I do as I’m told (put down my garden rake, lie on the ground, don’t talk back, etc.), I’m more than likely going to be fine. Mistakes happen – if I was running through the woods away from police who are looking for an armed man, I can see how a mistake might happen (CAVEAT: I’m not in any way suggesting that is what happened in this case). But if I run into an armed man with a violent past, I really really hope the police are nearby.

Ultimately, everyone is entitled to their opinion on any topic. Civilization allows for dissent but also encourages informed opinion either way. And in today’s wired world, information is not that hard to find.

As for this CBC story, it is incendiary and insensitive, exactly what I’ve come to expect from the tabloid-style journalism being practiced at Sadly, it is the best of the Canadian national news sites, but is far from the unbiased fourth estate that it should aspire to. But that’s a topic for another post, another day.

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