Our social media feeds blew up last week with reports surfacing of police searching for three “Middle Eastern” men seen taking photos of the entrances and exits of Pacific Centre Mall. Some moved more or less to an immediate state of panic, staying away from the mall while the police went about their work. The three men, merely visitors from the U.K. with a perfectly logical story (two have vision impairments and were in Vancouver for treatment), went to the police of their own accord when they realized they were being searched for. Three innocent men identified as Middle Eastern in a police report? Cue the public outcry.
Upon reflection, this is a complete non-story. Police file dozens upon dozens of reports based on nothing more than suspicion—that’s their job. They follow up on these reports, and, for the most part, close them for being nothing more than that, suspicion. Perhaps most importantly, these reports are internal—confidential to the public eye. This particular bulletin about the three men would have likely been resolved quickly and quietly were it not for Vancity Buzz taking advantage of a leak and making the information public.
“We weren’t planning on going public with it at this point because we didn’t feel it was something serious enough to go public with at this point,” Police Chief Adam Palmer commented at a news conference prior to the men coming forward.
The police have taken some serious flack for “racially profiling” the men. Facts render this accusation completely unfounded: the three men were identified as “Middle Eastern” because that is what they look like, and the incident was deemed suspicious because it was a trio taking photos of entrances and exits.
When you hear a police report (forget about the internal ones we’re never supposed to be privy to), and you catch an identifying feature such as Caucasian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, it is basic information that very minimally helps to narrow “the persons of interest” down. It’d be preposterous for a police force to try and go about their job without mentioning someone’s ethnicity.
And for all those who say this wouldn’t be a story if the men weren’t branded as Middle Eastern, I hope to whatever deity is out there that they’re wrong. In this day and age, if someone is loitering about the door taking photos, I’m booking it and probably calling the authorities. Skin colour means nothing.
A telling exercise for any who are quick to blindly defend the rights and liberties of any who are supposedly being stereotyped based on their appearance is to remove that identifying feature from the sentence. If the action is still suspicious, then it’s not racial profiling—it’s just straight-up suspicious. If it suddenly seems to be an innocuous sentence though, then you can play the race card.
Was it unfortunate that these men faced the possibility of being dealt with by vigilantes? Yes, of course, but the police have done nothing in this situation to warrant any kind of backlash. We can rag on our police forces for a ton of stuff, but why are we crucifying them when they do everything to the letter of the law? Perhaps worse than a baseless accusation is a blind—and loud—defence.
And to further emphasize how the public’s consciousness is constantly distracted from the real major issues, six Canadians were killed in an attack linked to al-Qaeda in Burkina Faso in Africa over the weekend, but that story has received roughly the same, if not less, coverage. The outcry? Almost nonexistent.
When the country is throwing its arms up in the air over political correctness while actual terrorist attacks are carried out and innocent people are slaughtered, one really has to question if your priorities are truly in the right place.