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#DonDunphy: Cooler heads prevail

By: | April 24, 2015

Rationally approaching delicate matters in the public interest, especially those as sensitive as the Don Dunphy shooting, is the most effective way to gain the answers and the information we seek.

Shannon Reardon
Politically Speaking addresses political issues in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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"People are generally more receptive of our requests and demands for information, or whatever it is we seek, when we approach matters and address people in a calm, measured, and reasonable manner," writes Shannon Reardon. Photo by Justin Brake.

It has been almost three weeks since Easter Sunday in Mitchells Brook, when a member of the RNC’s Protective Services Unit (PSU) shot and killed a citizen by the name of Don Dunphy. Mr. Dunphy was an injured worker who was outspoken on Twitter about his plight.

The premier’s office was alarmed by a Tweet posted by Mr. Dunphy, as per the premier’s words the day following the shooting, and contacted police about it, thus setting in motion the chain of events that led to the tragedy.

Whether the Tweet, or Tweets, the premier’s office flagged was, or were, an actual threat is a fundamental issue in this case.

By appearances, if one reads the series of related Tweets, there was no distinct threat made by Mr. Dunphy.

Three weeks later, we are no further ahead in acquiring the answers to the many questions we all have about what led this lone officer to Mr. Dunphy’s door and what transpired in his home once the officer was inside.

Of course, in fairness, the investigation is ongoing.

And that is another key feature for the public’s consideration as we try to understand what happened: Why is the RCMP—involved in this case peripherally by way of having addressed the RNC officer’s inquiry about the risk Mr. Dunphy posed, and with members of its force also comprising the PSU—investigating itself?

And what is the mandate, exactly, of this “independent observer”, retired Justice David Riche?

The one thing we do know for absolute certain about that Sunday afternoon is that one man died and the other walked out the door.

Anything else beyond the information the RCMP has released publicly to this point is sheer speculation. People who are critical of the officer’s account and those who are more believing of it are both engaged in it.

The right to question what we have been told and what we don’t yet know

Having said that, during the often-lively discussions on social media, as well as outside it, these speculations are not entirely useless or unfair if they elicit salient questions and concerns about what happened on Easter Sunday at Don Dunphy’s home, and about how this investigation is presently being conducted.

The Mounties have indicated but few details: that the lone RNC police officer contacted the local RCMP before going to Mr. Dunphy’s residence regarding a risk assessment and that Mr. Dunphy was deemed a “low-risk”, and then at some point after 15 minutes of interaction, Mr. Dunphy produced a .22 calibre rifle and the officer responded with lethal force.

This is what we have been officially told. And we are right to critically assess the incredibly scant information we have.

In fact, there are many on social media, and outside it, who express doubts about the officer’s account. That doubt—and in some cases outright contempt—has been quite rightly exacerbated by the officer’s missive to “Friends and Colleagues“, sent mere days after the shooting and then leaked to the media.

In his message, the officer contended that those members of the general public—the “vocal minority on social media and open line talk shows,” no less—seem, in his view, to effectively want to convict him in an “immediate cyber-trial in a veritable town square.”

While I find most of what he wrote in his 900-word message was shockingly dispassionate, he has a point here.

Instantly, once word spread that Mr. Dunphy was the victim of this shooting, some extreme Tweeters from Newfoundland and Labrador, and other parts of the country, started in with some of the wildest and most histrionic conjecture that I have seen on social media in my almost decade-long participation in it.

These individuals surely have the right to express themselves on this tragedy, as they do on anything, but the shock-value statements made by some are in no way constructive.

But we shouldn’t go overboard

I absolutely understand people’s outrage and strong feelings about what happened. I had them too. However, statements like Premier Paul Davis had this gentleman killed because he was a vocal online critic of the government (as I am and as are others) is beyond foolish and serves no purpose other than to inflame the situation and, in some cases, to garner these people their much-desired attention.

I found this to be the most tasteless thing I observed in my hours following the public reaction to this incident in the days that followed. There were all kinds of anonymous accounts—it is easier for most to be bold(er) anonymously—making the most outrageous charges about our premier, our government, and the society we live in.

Apparently, we now live in a “police state”. Making such a claim as that is a total affront to those people in our world who are truly barred from the freedoms and civil liberties that we enjoy here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the western world.

Even a mere smattering of Tweets I looked at just now while briefly scrolling down the #DonDunphy feed is representative of the over-the-top language that is ultimately unhelpful to a situation as delicate as this one.

Demonizing the police because Paul Davis was an RNC constable for a quarter-century and his Chief of Staff, Joe Browne, was a former RNC Chief, and asserting that we live in an oppressive “police state”, is indeed histrionic and a gross (and deliberate, by some) mischaracterization of our society here today.

We do not live in a police state. For easy proof of that, read about countries in this world where citizens have no rights and freedoms and can be summarily detained, punished, and killed for virtually anything the authorities deem fit. And they are being surveilled, and having their privacy flagrantly violated every day. That’s a true police state. Modern China is a good example.

Now, I in no way intend to convey here that people in this province should not be engaged in this matter of serious public concern. Nor do I find any fault whatsoever with anyone asking copious questions and keeping the pressure on the government and on law enforcement for the answers to the questions we all want the answers to.

It’s not just the vocal “Twitterati” and the denizens of Open Line who demand this.

However, the outlandish, extremist, often nonsensical, wildly speculative, and sometimes downright foolish (and questionably actionable) things being said by some folks in the “Twittersphere” and blogosphere do not at all move things forward, or make those in positions of authority (like it, or not) more inclined to address our collective concerns.

People are generally more receptive of our requests and demands for information, or whatever it is we seek, when we approach matters and address people in a calm, measured, and reasonable manner.

Furthermore—and I say this as the keen political person most know me to be—blaming this on the PC government to score cheap political points and to take cheap political shots is probably the crassest thing to do.

This incident completely transcends petty partisanship.

While we may never know, and likely will never know, exactly what occurred at Don Dunphy’s residence this past Easter Sunday, we are more likely to receive the answers we are looking for by not demonizing those involved and by not sounding off with these audacious, and in some cases outrageous, statements about our police forces, our government, and our premier.

Because, like with so many things in life, cooler heads prevail.

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