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The Toronto Police let the Jays beer thrower—and all of us—down

The Blue Jays fan who threw a beer at the Orioles game was wrong. But the police response may be even worse.


 
Baltimore Orioles' Hyun Soo Kim gets under a fly ball as a beer can sails past him during seventh inning American League wild-card game action against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Baltimore Orioles’ Hyun Soo Kim gets under a fly ball as a beer can sails past him during seventh inning American League wild-card game action against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

It was, all things considered, just about a perfect night. While the United States continued immolating itself with a vice-presidential debate that provided no further clarity in a barroom-brawl election, Tuesday night also saw the Toronto Blue Jays taking a winner-take-all wild-card game in extra innings. That had never happened in these dramatic terms before—with an Edwin Encarnacion bomb of a home run. It was, if you were a Blue Jays fan—or even just a baseball fan who didn’t cheer for the Orioles—incredible.

Well, it was almost perfect. Denting the night: One can of Bud Lite beer, slung close to Baltimore Orioles left-fielder Hyun-Soo Kim, as he was making a catch in the outfield.

Let me start by saying that throwing this can was unquestionably, unconditionally, absolutely stupid. Society operates on rules so blindingly obvious that they don’t even need to be stated. People don’t drive past highway medians into oncoming traffic. We don’t go around knocking things out of people’s hands. Fans don’t throw things onto a pro sports field. Society works because of our implicit trust that people won’t do these things because we are people. We are not animals.

So it’s not totally surprising that Canadians (and beyond) became amateur CSI investigators, sleuthing for clues in the tape like it was the Zapruder film. And however much the Jays stirred national unity with their elation, the real unity has come from this heady hunt for someone who dared embarrass an entire fan base and country in front of the world. (Canadians cannot abide looking bad to the U.S.)

So when there had been no movement on identifying the person by the next day, that didn’t stop people across Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit from pronouncing that they had found the perp. This manhunt isn’t ideal—online shaming can absolutely ruin lives—but this is, frustratingly, human nature in 2016.

Time for the professionals in the police department to step in, right? Well, nearly 24 hours after the suds were spilled, they did…with a tweet offering the masses a picture of who they think is social media’s enemy. “Pls RT,” they begged.

No matter what this man may or may not have done, this is unacceptable.

Police must be held to a higher standard than to grant the already slavering social mob a target as a way to find information. If anything, this is the message that movements like Black Lives Matter have been urging for many hard years now: we ask a lot of police because they have an outsize role in our society. It’s why they get to carry guns. And if we are to respect them as our protectors, then we must have faith that they will protect us.

In this, Toronto Police Services failed in their mission by releasing the photo of the suspect on social media. Doing so was the equivalent of throwing Kobe beef into a pen of starving lions. And while yes, police departments regularly release photos of suspects in minor crimes, they are rarely already being sought by national, international and social media as public enemy number one—and if they are, it’s for terror, or murder, or a truly villainous crime. Here, TPS did not protect a man suspected of a dumb can-throwing so much as they stoked a raging fire with his grainy effigy.

It is important to say, too, that suspects are just that: suspects. Even if the police find this man, we do not yet know with 100 per cent certainty that he threw the beer. Suspects are not criminals; they are innocent, after all, until proven guilty. They remain deserving of our police’s protection. But because of social media, fuelled by a trusted institution like the police, his life will be in tatters anyway. (So too, likely, are the reputations of the other men and women whose crimes were to sit near the perpetrator that night.) (Update: The Toronto Sun has identified the man police are searching for. It’s unclear whether he threw the can.)

Remember: Newspapers have been wrong before—see the Boston Marathon bombing, where outlets ran with names and images of people whose sin that day was to flee a bomb. Police have been wrong before—see the arrest of Mark Hughes, the armed man who had nothing to do with the shootings in Dallas but who, with anxiety at a peak, was announced by Dallas’s police department as the main suspect. Social media has been wrong before. I don’t need to give an example for this one.

The police aren’t even the only institution to let us down Wednesday evening. The Toronto Sun offered $1,000 to anyone who could provide information leading to the suspect—a depressing low moment for journalism, offering money for a source on a relatively small-potatoes crime, and then offering the shade of its own credibility to the amateur vigilantes on YouTube and social media. Leave aside that this is a journalism outlet offering to pay for information—how can we now take seriously the gravity of any crime coverage that doesn’t meet their $1,000 barometer? What will we think of murders or rapes or assaults that don’t meet this apparent bar of worthiness?

One aside: It’s telling that it’s the beer can that has infuriated Canadians, when it’s also been alleged that fans hurled racial slurs at Kim and centre-fielder Adam Jones. Can we offer a little outrage there? No: We have assigned our priorities. A social-media manhunt for the man who did an unquestionably stupid thing. Also, if you can gin it up, perhaps spare some disdain for the racists.

When the fog of war lifts from this whole incident, and the investigation reaches its end, there is the hope that we will consider the wrongs have happened here. That was the case when officials and social media got it desperately, horribly wrong after the Boston Marathon bombing and the Dallas shooting—two incidents with far, far higher-stakes concerns. But it’s unclear we will. It is the tragicomic flipside of closely scrutinizing the police: the suspect pictured isn’t a person of colour or a woman, for whom we rightly question the cop tactics on, in the aftermath. But this is a police overstep, pure and simple. This is an ignorance of the mission of police: to protect and serve. And that affects us all.


 

The Toronto Police let the Jays beer thrower—and all of us—down

  1. It was my police friends who sent me this piece of, and I use the term loosely – prose. Their messages were accompanied by commentary akin to “WTF Lauri, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t”.

    Mr. Lee, you should be embarrassed and McLean’s editorial board should be ashamed for letting this pass muster for the quality your magazine usually exemplifies.

    News flash Mr. Lee, cops use social media. And if they use it to solicit help from the public to solve crimes, large or small, it’s no different from them using any other older, less technological method to find the “bad guy”. The fact that the medium is social media doesn’t change anything.

    The only proper response to the Toronto Police in this case is “Thank you TPS. Thank you for doing the hard work you do every day and thank you for being progressive enough to understand the power of social media to help you be more effective in your work and thank you for representing the city of Toronto so well by being recognized global leaders in the use of social media to do police work. Yes, THANK YOU TORONTO POLICE. The work you do makes us Torontonians proud global citizens.”

    One could argue that by releasing that photo, TPS maybe didn’t fuel the fire as you suggest, but may instead have given it a shorter life. Reread that last sentence again.

    And by the way, The Dallas Police were correct too. In case you didn’t realize, some cops had just been killed. That “suspect” was walking down the street with a long-gun strapped to his back. The cops wanted to ask him a few questions. Get over it. And by the way, THANK YOU DALLAS POLICE FOR ALSO BEING SOCIAL MEDIA ROCKSTARS.

    What is it? I’m thinking maybe you’re trying to get some good cop-bashing revved up in Canada as a sort of a competitive thing or something? Be happy your Jays won and leave the cop-bashing to us Americans. 1. There’s enough of it on this side of the border to go around and 2. You suck at it.

    Mr. Lee, you should stick with hip-hop. I’ve not read anything you’ve written on the topic, but it surely can’t be worse than this. Maybe take a good long look in the mirror and reexamine your own motives in this case. ~Lauri Stevens

    • Hi, @LawsComm: Thank you for your note.

      I want to start by saying that it is definitely not my intent to, as you say, “cop-bash”. I believe that criticism doesn’t come from a place of hatred; criticism comes from the hope for better out of institutions I respect, which hopefully I made clear in the piece. I respect the work that the police do, and just as I am doing in trying to respond to criticism of my work, I hope that they respect that criticism of their work isn’t inherently an attack.

      I’m aware that social media is a tactic that’s long been used by police to find more information. I’m aware that it can be an effective one. But context in social media is king. Truly harnessing social media for policing would be to understand the environment in which a tweet is posted. It’s hot on Twitter and Reddit right now, and so giving the keys to people eager to root someone out doesn’t feel, to me, like the responsible thing for a trusted institution like the police to do, in a time when no one knows all the information. It is why, to me, I would disagree with your assertion that the Dallas PD’s tweet was the right call at the time.

      And certainly, I appreciate the police frustration in feeling that they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Policing is difficult work; it is why the work they do is worthy of our respect. But as I’ve written, I didn’t think now was the time to reveal a photo of a man they only felt was a suspect, when temperatures were hot. If police must protect and serve, they must also protect suspects, as suspicion doesn’t on its own make you a criminal. And I think this particular idiot, whomever he or she may be, isn’t unworthy of that protection.

      I hope I’ve clarified some of the criticisms you’ve made in this piece and am open to continuing to chat more by email.

    • Mr. Lee…thanks for articulating exactly the proper response to this situation

      …here’s my post from yesterday (before reading your article)
      “really. ..leave it at the stadium…it happens and it wasn’t cool obviously…but should the team and the cops and the city and all these people really be getting so upset…should his picture really be distributed by anyone official such as the police…and contribute to all this public and Internet shaming…is that really what they have devolved to…come on here folks”

      I’m certainly not condoning the actions of whoever threw the beer can…simply saying to the cops “c’mon, posting this pic online, in this scenario, is pretty damn lazy and irresponsible”

      …think about this…if this crime needed further investigation, maybe the police could have gone overboard in some other manner which would have been more fitting, such as keeping everyone in that section in custody and interrogating them until someone cracked and identified the person (excuse the hyperbole)…get the point?

      I won’t go on and on here…again, Mr. Lee has already succinctly covered things appropriately…except to say in no way should any of this be taken as not being appreciative or understanding of the challenges and the work that police everywhere do

  2. I am surprised and disappointed with this article. Police have been using social media for a while now to try and capture suspects or people of interest. This situation is no different than the thousands of other media releases over the years with the exception that this one was more of an international story. That being said you seem to minimize the offence. It was more than throwing a beer on the field. It was an object possibly thrown with the intent to hit the player. With the right information, a charge of assault with a weapon could be laid. If the can had hit the person, depending on any injury sustained the person, assault causing could be laid. In all probability though he will be charged with mischief and banned from Rogers Stadium for life which would be rightfully so.

    The police are under constant pressure to ensure they meet societies demands to locate and charge individuals who commit crimes. This matter is no exception. There was an international public outcry to catch this person. The police responded quickly and within a short time the individual was identified. (insert slow hand clap) A job well done by the Toronto Police. The problem is and I agree with you that at what cost? To be honest, who cares. The individual did a very stupid and potentially dangerous act. There was a victim that deserved the same attention that other victims receive in our society. The moral of the story is if you don’t want public ridicule or shaming don’t do something stupid on the public stage.

    With all that being said, I am surprised this article was even written as social media use of catching suspects has been around for a while. I am hoping it is just a headline grab to sell magazines which is normal for media publications, however, I am more cynical of that and wondering if it is just a reporter coming to the rescue and defence of a colleague.

    • I can tell you right now that this guy will not be charged with any crimes. At most a lifetime ban from rogers centre, maybe some sort of BS fine that will easily be disputed.

      There was no intent to assault, and no way in heck could that ever be proven in court.

      The police should never have released those photos to the public. Their disregard for their own responsibilities is disgusting.

      • “There was no intent to assault, and no way in heck could that ever be proven in court.”
        You actually typed this statement. Amazing.

  3. What a ridiculous argument. It was quite obvious that this incident was a big issue, and those who were in the section all knew who they were. If they hadn’t already contacted police to assist in finding the guilty party, they should expect the police to ask the public for help.
    .
    This is not different than posting a pic in the newspaper. People should be willing to help resolve these issues of their own accord. To borrow a quote from that legendary Assistant to the Travelling Secretary for the New York Yankees, Mr George Costanza …. “We live in a Society people!”

  4. A sea food restaurant in Baltimore offered a $5000 (one would assume $US) reward and 24 of their ‘signature’ crab cakes for information leading to the execution of the beer-tosser. And a member of the Orioles, who ‘had some words’ for Blue Jays fans, from the field, immediately following the incident , raised the bar with accusations of “racial taunting” from ‘the boys in blue’.

    Aside from the July first ‘honers’ to are national ‘warfighting spirit’ and the dedication of every game, and a free team shirt, to some lucky member of the Canadian military, there isn’t much to recommend baseball as much of a social value.

    If you’ve ever actually attended a game you might realize you’re in a very large aggregation of idiots.

  5. There are two men in BC that have recently suffered from the social media mob mentality. Both accused (and identified) as pedophiles. One has received death threats. His employer has been told to fire him or face unspecified “consequences. All of the accusations posted on that friendly place called Facebook, so they will “live” forever. The long-term damage can’t even be calculated.

    Both men, completely innocent.

    When the mob grabs the pitchforks and torches, watch out. Assumed guilt and mob justice have thoroughly replaced evidence and impartial trials.

  6. Adrian Lee, your opinion about the beer thrower and how society should behave was spot on. I could not agree with you more on that subject.

    That said, I could not agree with you less about your comments concerning how police handled this incident. In a case like this, as the days, or even hours go by, people lose interest and the issue eventually loses the public and even police interest – it’s not like those guys don’t have hundreds of minor crimes to deal with every day!! This was a minor crime that absolutely had to be treated very seriously. This man embarrassed the Toronto Blue Jays organization, their fans, the city of Toronto, the province of Ontario and even the entire country with his actions. He also committed an act that easily could have seen somebody get seriously hurt. Those reasons alone are reason enough for the police to take some steps to gain public help finding the guy. The fact that this event was so covered, so televised, so public and has such a high chance of another idiot doing the same thing, in my opinion give the police every right and even an obligation to go above and beyond normal policing tactics for a fairly minor crime, to find and prosecute this guy.

    • Rick000 — And you know that the beer can thrower was a man/guy, how exactly? From rumours on social media, supported tangentially by the Toronto police.

      The sad reality is that the police climbed on the social media bandwagon (the one carrying townspeople armed with pitchforks and torches) in an attempt to be “relevant” to those who worship Facebook. This isn’t the first time.

  7. It has been said that one of the main values of professional sport is because it’s a harmless substitute for war.
    That being the case, the beer can hurler, when found, should perhaps be tried as a war criminal.

  8. I too am against the mob-mentality “justice” of the internet… but I don’t think this qualifies.

    Some things to consider:
    – The police were probably acting on relatively solid information… He may be innocent until proven guilty but judging from the quality of the photo they released, they probably have pretty damning video evidence.

    – While the allegations of racial slurs, if true, are reprehensible they would be much more difficult to prove and in all likelihood protected by free speech laws.

    – From the article you linked [ “I’ve heard that so much playing baseball, call me what you want, I don’t care,” Jones told media after the game. “You hear everything, we can hear everything, people cussing you, flipping you off, that’s fine, but to go out of character, put us in harm’s way … we’re here to play baseball, nothing more, nothing less and put us in harm’s way, that’s not part of the game, not part of any sport.” ]

    – How exactly would you propose the police identify the individual in question without the public’s help? Their tweet asked for help identifying the man and suggested he seek legal council and turn himself in.

    – This is a pretty far cry from falsely labeling someone a pedophile. I don’t think people were out for the beer tossers blood, they just wanted them to be punished. The alleged tosser being attacked or otherwise harmed as a result of the police seeking them out seems highly unlikely.

    The dangers and problems associated with people seeking justice through social media are real but I think in this case you’re crying wolf.

  9. Might I remind everyone attacking the TPS for recklessness that they very likely have evidence that we are not privy to? Rogers Centre security footage for example.

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