Last week, I got to attend the 52nd annual International Association of Women Police (IAWP) conference as part of a school assignment. Female officers from around the world filled the grand ballroom at The Fort Garry Hotel waiting to hear the morning’s keynote speaker the right hon Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada.
Jean was inspiring and so, so eloquent, it was a treat to hear her speak. She talked about how she used to fear police officers because of abuses her family had experienced in when she was growing up in Haiti. She also spoke about human rights. In one poignant phrase she described police officers as the front line witnesses to human rights abuses going on in the world.
I had Jean’s words stuck in my head the entire time I was reading the second chapter of Homicide. The chapter opens onto a back alley crime scene in Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighbourhood, where eleven-year old Latonya has been found brutally murdered. The victim’s circumstance and her age quickly turn the murder into a “red-ball” case, a case so high-profile that it affects the entire homicide department until it’s closed. And as primary detective on the case Detective Tom Pellegrini devotes all of his time to finding Wallace’s murderer.
During the first chapter, Simon describes the way different homicide units compete with one another to close cases. The competition is visible on a whiteboard filled with all of the current cases with red marker signifying which cases haven’t been solved. While it’s not the greatest measure of a detective’s work ethic it is a motivator to get things done.
I find the whiteboard difficult to stomach because it takes the injustice out of the crimes and makes the whole thing seem like a game. Simon doesn’t bring up the board much in the second chapter because the Wallace case makes it obsolete, the crime against a child has much more gravity.
How come murders of drug dealers and prostitutes are treated like a game but the murder of a child becomes a red alert? Innocence. A drug dealer probably had it coming because they’re associated with criminal activities, but a child on her way home from the library can’t have brought that horrible fate upon herself. Everybody has the same basic rights as human beings but society places more importance on the plight of innocents.
The media has a lot to do with letting society know what’s important. The relationship between journalists and detectives is a strained one in Homicide and it’s interesting to read the headlines from a police officers perspective. I had no idea how detrimental coverage can be to an open case. A front page story can affect witnesses coming forward and journalistic speculation can hurt affect public confidence in the police.
Journalist are supposed to keep power in check, but what’s the point if justice takes a hit.