Trust Me: Racism Plays No Role in Homicide Investigations Blog of the Week: The Power of Words

By Jewell, James G. | Winnipeg Free Press, October 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Trust Me: Racism Plays No Role in Homicide Investigations Blog of the Week: The Power of Words


Jewell, James G., Winnipeg Free Press


ONE of the things I find most interesting about blogging is you never really know who is reading your posts.

As a new blogger, I was surprised at how quickly a message can spread over the information highway. Such was the case regarding a blog I wrote on the topic of Manitoba's murdered and missing women.

The title was "Time to Take Ownership" and the content ranged from a Project Devote press conference, to victim-causation factors, to lack of ownership among First Nations leaders and their demands for an inquiry.

Shortly after publishing the post, I was contacted by APTN investigative reporter Kathleen Martens: "I've been reading your blog posts with interest on the MMW (murdered and missing women) and Project Devote, also the recent arrest of Shawn Lamb.

"I am researching a story to run this fall on the M+M Aboriginal Women and, from what I read of your writing, you would be a valuable addition to the piece."

My initial reaction was lukewarm. I enjoy the written word and much prefer it over on-camera interviews. When you write, you have the opportunity and time to do substantial editing before putting your ideas "out there." Having vast experience conducting on-camera suspect interrogations, I know how unforgiving the video camera is. Once a thought passes your lips, you no longer own it.

Nevertheless, I agreed to answer questions during a telephone pre-interview to allow the reporter an opportunity to assess what, if any, contribution I might make to her story.

One of the issues for discussion revolved around the common belief in the aboriginal community that racism in the Winnipeg Police Service contributes to the marginalization of aboriginal murder victims and an inferior investigative effort. In plain English: "the cops don't care when Indians get murdered."

The sentiments were no surprise to me. I know these feelings have existed in the aboriginal community for a very long time. I was exposed to them as a uniform street cop and as an investigator in the homicide unit.

The feelings of hostility and mistrust were present long before I started with the WPS in January 1987 and were only exacerbated by the tragic shooting of John Joseph Harper in March 1988.

The question about racism is one I feel I am uniquely qualified to answer -- specifically regarding the question of whether racism contributes to investigative apathy regarding aboriginal homicide victims.

Uniquely qualified because of a number of factors, which include the fact that in total, I worked as an investigator in the WPS homicide unit for almost eight years. Uniquely qualified because during my career, I worked on more than 200 murder cases.

Uniquely qualified because, as a direct descendant of African American slaves, I suffered incidents of racism during the early years of my childhood and as a result, have heightened awareness and sensitivity regarding racist attitudes.

I would also like to think that my word comes with a very high degree of credibility. After all, it was my integrity that cost me my beloved career in law enforcement, forced out of my job as homicide-unit supervisor and forced to leave my profession long before intellectually arriving at that crossroad. …

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