Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/1/2021 (567 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If a 16-year-old Indigenous girl is shot and no one is held responsible — even if everyone knows who it was — is it a crime?
What if the shooter is a rookie Winnipeg police officer who, in the process of the girl clearly being apprehended, shoots her?
What if that officer refuses to defend himself to investigators and provides a few notes and a prepared statement?
Is any of this breaking the law? An inappropriate use of force? How about a suspension or some re-training?
According to the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — the body charged with investigating major incidents involving police in this province — the answer is no, no, and no.
The IIU — which numerous Winnipeg Free Press investigations have uncovered as full of former police officers and supporters of the police service — has exonerated another police officer in the shooting of an Indigenous person.
Nothing to see here, says the IIU, move along.
Now, no one will be held responsible in the April 8, 2020, shooting of Eishia Hudson unless an inquiry is ordered by the government of Brian Pallister: an unlikely scenario.
Still, regardless of what the IIU says, it’s clear Hudson’s death was preventable, unjustified, and, at the very least, avoidable.
Even the report proves, for the umpteenth time, that there is systemic racism in the Winnipeg Police Service and shootings of Indigenous people are not an anomaly (recall that around the same time Eishia was shot, two other Indigenous people were shot by Winnipeg officers, too).
Take, for instance, that the officer who discharged his firearm told investigators he believed Eishia was an "Indigenous male, late teens to early 20s, with short dark hair, and was wearing a black hoodie/jacket," the report says.
No doubt the situation was stressful, but it’s clearly evident the officer lacked contact with Indigenous peoples. He was admittedly new, having just qualified for a duty pistol in June 2019, but clearly lacked enough "Indigenous cultural awareness" training to help him understand what he was getting into.
The officer said that while he had heard about "threats" and suspected there might be weapons in the vehicle driven by Eishia after it crashed on Lagimodiere Boulevard, he saw no weapons and stated the car "appeared to be possibly inoperable."
By that point, numerous police had the vehicle surrounded, according to the IIU report, and several were striking windows with batons to try to access the occupants.
Inside the car, meanwhile, Eishia’s friends were giving up. One reportedly said: "We’re done bro, we’re done" and "We’re not getting out of this."
Eishia, clearly scared with a gun pointed at her, tried to back up. The officer said he believed the driver "was attempting to strike us with the front of the vehicle in order to cause us grievous bodily harm or death" — so he opened fire.
Officers who were around the car were so close and busy trying to access the occupants that many didn’t hear the shot. Inside the vehicle, one of Eishia’s friends said: "They got us now."
The officer says he feared a wounded Eishia was going to harm pedestrians, so he shot her again, delivering the fatal bullet.
Anyone who has seen the video of the shooting knows it’s clear she was trying to escape over a median.
Her father, William Hudson, pointed this out during Thursday’s news conference, calling the IIU report "biased."
"I watched the video over and over," Hudson said, "I don’t know how many times."
One thing is for sure: Eishia’s final words to her shooter were: "OK, stop."
She, like I, don’t know his name, because the IIU refuses to release it.
Maybe a better name is the Protective Investigation Unit.
Now, all of us are left to pick up the pieces, stand with Eishia’s family in solidarity, and worry about our next engagement with the police.
We know — as no doubt police do as well — that little guilt will be found in the current investigative processes of this province when an Indigenous person is shot. We know that "experts" will support the version of officers, investigators will support them, and shooters will be exonerated.
We know that injustice will continue in an ongoing, violent and deadly relationship between Indigenous peoples and police and many in leadership won’t do a damn thing about it.
"We have issues of systemic racism in the Winnipeg police," Winnipeg NDP MP Leah Gazan announced alongside the Hudson family, "and we have known this since the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry."
That report is now 30 years old but would sound the same today. The issues in policing, justice, and the systems that enable them treat Indigenous peoples the same.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.