Last Monday the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released a report called A Collective Impact – about the Toronto Police Department and the racial profiling of Black people. I saw some of the statistics flash across the TV screen at the dentist’s office that day. Sadly, none of them surprised me.
Here is the first paragraph of the Executive Summary:
“Between 2013 and 2017, a Black person in Toronto was nearly 20 times more likely than a White person to be involved in a fatal shooting by the Toronto Police Service (TPS). Despite making up only 8.8% of Toronto’s population, data obtained by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) shows that Black people were over-represented in use of force cases (28.8%), shootings (36%), deadly encounters (61.5%) and fatal shootings (70%). Black men make up 4.1% of Toronto’s population, yet were complainants in a quarter of SIU cases alleging sexual assault by TPS officers.”
Racial Profiling in Action
And then this happened:
Last Monday night as I sat at the TIFF Lightbox restaurant with a friend, we had a clear view of King Street. As we chatted, we watched as two police officers dealt with a Black motorist who we assumed had gone through the previous intersection, disobeying the King Street Pilot Project rule requiring cars to turn left or right at each light.
We couldn’t hear anything, but the visual narrative is this: the man got out of the car; there was what appeared to be some conversation with both officers and then just one; there was some arm waving and gesturing by the officer who was standing very close to the motorist – while the motorist was leaning on the restaurant patio railing and not reacting, just standing and (we guessed) listening. This process took a very long time – I’m estimating at least 20 minutes.
Eventually it was done and the man walked back to his car with what looked like a ticket. He sat in the driver’s seat for a few minutes before driving away. But, just before he left, another vehicle was stopped. That vehicle was driven be a white man. Here is that visual narrative: he didn’t leave his car; we saw him laughing; and he was on site for a fraction of the time.
The next vehicle to be stopped was also driven by a white man who was older (I’m using a salt and pepper beard as a potential indication of age). This visual narrative has him out of his car, spending some time on the sidewalk talking with the officers (and a few other people), but it was he who was gesturing emphatically and (we assumed) speaking more loudly.
These three interactions suggest an interesting contrast.
The OHRC report came to life before our eyes.
What’s it like to be Black?
I am a woman of colour, but I have light skin privilege.
The friend I was with is a white male.
Neither of us will ever really know what it’s like to be a Black man in Toronto.
But my friends tell me their stories: noticing people’s reactions of fear when they walk down the street; women clutching purses; and the reality of being pulled over or aside for “random” checks. My friends with Black teenage sons teach them how to respond if they are pulled over by police to increase their chances of safety at the hands of the officers others look to for protection.
From the OHRC Report…
The interim report from the OHRC clearly shows that being Black in Toronto puts one at higher risk for violent interactions with police.
Here are a few more quotes from the OHRC report’s Executive Summary:
Overall, the OHRC has serious concerns about racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black people by the TPS in use of force incidents; stops, questioning and searches; and charges.
In a city where over half the population identifies as “visible minorities,” one of the most effective ways for police to build trust is to respect human rights.
Police must hold themselves to the same high standards that we expect of other public institutions. That is the essence of the rule of law. The TPS and Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) must be proactive in fulfilling their obligations under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. They must take steps to both prevent and remedy racial discrimination, particularly when they are on notice that there may be a problem.
I’m confused by the word “may” in the last line.
It seems quite obvious that we have a problem.
How do we fix it?
How do we fix it, my friend wanted to know…
How do we educate about treatment of people that is so engrained into our system and psyche that we don’t even notice it’s racism?
How do we change a system that is so skewed to favour light skin over dark?
I wish I had a definitive answer.
Clearly what we have been doing isn’t working – racial profiling is not just a policing issue.
I believe we have to think differently and do differently.
We need to see each other, connect, listen, make room for, honour pain and move forward together. Being able to seethat there is a problem is the first step.
Seeing White: a Podcast
On that note, I have been listening to a podcast called Scene on Radio hosted by John Biewen, and a specific series called Seeing White.
It’s about racism in the USA, but there are likely parallels to Canada. One line stood out for me last week as I listened to Part 5. Here is an excerpt from John’s conversation with Chenjerai Kumanyika, an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers School of Communication and Information (copied from the transcript, available on the website above):
Chenjerai Kumanyika: “What I want us to try to understand is that, for people who want to, who are about transformative change, and giving people equal rights…we’re trying to become something this country has never been.”
I would venture to guess that we can say the same about Canada, although racism isn’t as documented in this country as it is in the USA.
This isn’t to say we can’tdo it. It’s just the recognition that we are moving towards something new, not back to something that once was better. That, in a way, gives us freedom to imagine what it could be.
That vision could be amazing….
What does it look like to you?
PS – Check out my conversation about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with Adam Melnick on his podcast the Accidental Apprentice!