David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Perception and Reality of Crime Not Always the Same

Brandon Sun, November 17, 2007 - David McConkey

Do you ever look at the Brandon Crime Stoppers feature in the Sunday Brandon Sun? The crimes profiled – from armed robbery to vandalism – make for uncomfortable reading. Furthermore, the descriptions of the criminal suspects suggests a crisis in our community.

I became curious about the nature of the “Crime of the Week.” Selected by the Brandon Police Service, it appears in the paper and in other Brandon media such as radio, TV, and Internet. I started clipping, and before I knew it, I had a year’s worth filed, from October of 2006 to September of 2007.

Of the suspects who were identified by witnesses, the vast majority, 91 per cent, were men. Most were young: 81 per cent were in their teens or twenties.

So, young men commit crimes. No surprise there. But I found the racial descriptions of the suspects to be disturbing.

Almost all were described as “white,” “aboriginal,” “native,” or “possibly Métis.” But only 24 per cent were white. The great majority – three-quarters – were identified as aboriginal, native, or Métis.

In doing this analysis, I do not intend to be critical of the good work of Brandon Crime Stoppers. I also know that these numbers may not reflect those actually committing crimes in Brandon.

But I am concerned about a perception that could be created by the media that most crime in Brandon is committed by one identifiable minority.

The crimes depicted are dreadful – violent assault, sexual assault, cemetery desecration, home invasion, and more. An already disadvantaged minority, however, could be stigmatized as the main criminals.

I am also concerned that stereotypes could influence how young First Nations people in our community grow up.

As Brandon Sun aboriginal issues columnist Colleen Simard says, ”Often the way people see you shapes the way you see yourself.”

How bad is crime? We see in the media that crime in Manitoba is a big problem. Crime rates in our province can be worse than in other parts of Canada and even the United States.

Reports in the media, however, can lead us to believe that crime is even more severe than it really is. Even when some crime rates drop; media crime coverage – along with our fear –  can go up.

Today’s “culture of fear” was colourfully illustrated in Michael Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine.” As the movie pointed out, criminals also become our entertainment. But does the “young black male” in American TV shows like “COPS” become the “young native male” in the media in Brandon?

What can be done? No doubt the answers will be complex. So, I am disappointed when I hear Manitoba leaders saying the answer to crime is “tougher” federal laws. A provincial delegation, which included Premier Gary Doer and Mayor Dave Burgess, recently lobbied Ottawa with this idea.
If I had been the federal representative, I would have said to the Manitoba group, “Look, the laws are the same across Canada. If you want to get tough on crime, why don’t you get tough on the social conditions in your province that make crime worse in Manitoba than other places?”

But I doubt that the conversation went that way.

I am, however, quite hopeful for the future. One reason was noted on this page last week in the article titled: “Labour shortage an opportunity to engage the aboriginal community.” Suggestions made include cross-cultural and anti-racist training for Brandon employees and employers.

As well, I find that young people in general are not as racist and narrow-minded as my generation.

Crime in Brandon is a problem; perhaps a racially-charged crisis. But the perception of crime is also a problem. I am interested in your ideas, and I plan to return to this topic in the future.
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See also:  

Stop Thief!

Real Discussions on Tax and Crime are Being Avoided

Drug, Alcohol Policies Reveal Our Hypocrisy

A More Thoughtful Approach to Racial Issues is Required

Proud History of Looking Forward

Brandon:  What Kind of a City Do We Want?  (two-part series)



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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