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“"we're all two or three bad decisions away
From becoming the ones that we fear and pity" - AJJ, “People II: Still Peoplin’?”
One week ago, The Peterborough Examiner published a story about a homeless man found without pants, uttering threats in the Lansdowne Street Home Depot. I will not be reprinting the man’s name in this article out of respect; however, the entire legal name of the man can be found, along with the names of almost anyone arrested in Peterborough, on the Examiner website. The same story was also published in MyKawartha with the title “Man Removes Pants and Chases People Around Parking Lot, Arrest Made” and once again, the man’s full name and housing status is disclosed.
Last week’s “article,” published by an unnamed author, is a reflection of the kind of fearmongering that we’ve become accustomed to from our local media. It is so ever present that it is no longer questioned. However, it is worth questioning: what purpose does it serve us as a community to know the full legal name of someone arrested for being in crisis in public?
It’s not my intention to belittle the fear or discomfort felt by those who were threatened during this encounter. However, it is worth pointing out that no one was actually physically harmed. Though I believe there needs to be a more compassionate option for those whose mental health crises have the potential to impact the personal safety of others, rather than calling the police, I do understand that there are few better options in the city at this time. What I think deserves to be called into question is whether or not being visibly in crisis in a public space should be an arrestable offense and whether or being arrested for a non-violent crime should subject you to public humiliation via our local publications. This man’s crisis, now in the public record forever, will be on the front page of any future Google search using his name, whether that be by potential landlords or employers. It is now immortalized and able to be shared across social media with witty commentary by those of us lucky enough not to suffer our breakdowns in a Home Depot parking lot.
A more compassionate headline might read, “25 Year Old Man Arrested for Being Mentally Ill In Public” or better yet, perhaps it would not be published at all.
Our media has a responsibility to write about criminal activity that has a potential to impact the community, as they did with the Home Depot shooting of 2018 or in last week’s Examiner article which highlighted the dangers faced by victims of domestic abuse. But who benefits from “articles” which are less than a paragraph long and give no analysis? These “articles” do nothing but inform us of who in our community can be scapegoated during the ongoing civil war of downtown gentrification.
Whether it was the 2018 MyKawartha opinion piece where a Simcoe street business owner blamed the increased homeless presence downtown for a decrease in sales at her business after 7 p.m., or the often dehumanizing coverage of this summer’s Victoria Park Tent City, our media outlets have proven time and time again that clicks are more valuable than compassion.
Continuing to publish this kind of content, while also publishing the names and housing status of those arrested for mischief crimes, does not contribute to public safety but rather encourages a false sense of superiority. It tells the reader that all of their fears about the homeless or the mentally ill are justified. It tells them that it’s okay to be fearful and that calling the police is justified. It encourages the notion that our community would be better or safer without these people in it. It gives validity to those who say that having a safe injection site or more emergency housing downtown would hurt public safety and small business. Above all, it encourages a sense of panic that serves no purpose but to divide and dehumanize.
Let those who want to know the names of all those arrested this week seek that information out themselves from the court dockets. This should not qualify as news. Our media outlets are not obligated to contribute to the carceral state. Our most vulnerable citizens deserve better and so do your readers!