An epistemic closure: Toronto Police carding of Black youth

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday April 15 2015 in Opinion
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On November 7, 2012, the last night of the most recent U.S. Presidential election campaign, even after preliminary results from battle-ground states showed an unequivocal lead for President Barack Obama, his opponent, the Conservative candidate Mitt Romney, remained so certain of his own victory that he didn’t prepare a concession speech. He and his supporters, enormously buoyed throughout by their bubble of poll projections, evangelical punditry and FOX-media Obama-bashing, had conned themselves into believing their own hype: Obama couldn’t win; Romney couldn’t lose.


What had occurred? Romney’s meta-certainty of winning had been created in the toxic “God, Guns and Country” swamps of American electoral politics; especially the Conservative bayou. In this sealed bubble of belief, what was agreed-upon was not only believed regardless of any countervailing evidence, but also any other information, evidence-based or not, that challenged what was believed was considered dangerous; even an existential threat. Cult-like, any believer who deviated any from the mantra was an apostate.


Put in one phrase, when the reality of the re-election of President Obama was unavoidable, loser Romney and his Conservative backers experienced what it was like to be hit with a bad case of the “epistemic closure”. “Epistemic” as derived from the Greek: “epistemology”; a word/idea suggesting “a search for meaning; meaning that asks what is knowledge; how can knowledge be acquired, and to what extent can knowledge be trusted”?


The phrase, “epistemic closure” therefore infers the abandoning of any further search for additional information that can possibly question one’s beliefs. This is a closure, so that anything found, regardless of how substantive, if it proved to be at odds with what are core beliefs would be anathema.


The phrase, epistemic closure was coined in 2010 by Julian Sanchez, an American libertarian writer, and a Senior fellow at the Cato Institute. It is an American (conservative) “limited government, free market” think tank. Sanchez had concluded that the American Conservative movement’s knee-jerk opposition to issues generally, but specifically to those of “Global Warming”, had become creedal; “articles of faith”. Thus, any “evidence about global warming” was to be dismissed out of hand, and hounded to death if it was determined to be at odds with prevailing Conservative views opposing the theory.


Thus, Romney, facing a defeat against which he had prepared no fallback position, had no ground on which to stand, nor from which to retreat gracefully. He and his compatriots had overlooked the “Socratic advice” given millennia before that, “the world can be divided between those who think that they know the truth, and those who know that they don’t know, and so are willing to engage in dialogue (dialectic) with others on their way towards the truth”.


To segue to the issue, endemic and topical facing Toronto’s Black community, it is that of the policy of “Toronto’s Police Carding of Black youth”. It is also clear that Toronto’s Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Bill Blair are in a state of “epistemic closure”. Despite assurances otherwise, and stats showing the practice to be unjustifiable, they are poised to commit the City of Toronto to continue the “Police Carding of (Black Youth)”.


This particular issue and its analysis contain several discernible features:


  • That it’s prime targets have been, and will be Black male youth.
  • That “details” gathered by Police will be filed against a detainee’s name, regardless of guilt or innocence.
  • That while for other youth, the judicial principle is ‘one is innocent until proven guilty’; for Black youth, one is guilty until proven not-guilty;
  • That while under Canada’s Constitution, other Canadians are “free” from unreasonable search and seizure, Black Canadian youth are unreasonably “at large”.
  • That not only does carding affect those directly stopped, but their families, too, are affected negatively in the circumscribing of their civil liberties and peace of mind;
  • That if at its core, “good policing is community policing” – that is, policing in which effective law-enforcing and crime preventing include both community and precinct as viable partners for safety, and against wrong-doing – how can a policy unfairly injurious to so many, and proven to be so counterproductive, still be justifiable?


On a note unapologetically personal, where was there any elemental justice to be found decades ago when the police pulled someone over so often, that even when not stopped, but driving with his children pass any police vehicle, they’d automatically check to see if he’d peered into the rearview mirror?


In conclusion, questions, questions, questions!


Why is it that a policy, already proven to be so counter-productive, unfair and unjust against whom it primarily targeted, be considered justifiable for us, even against our wishes and despite a rack of our humiliating experiences?


Next, that is it about us, that what is wrong for us is considered right for Toronto?


Third, what is it about us, that despite decades and decades of anti-Black policing here, a form of Toronto policing during which in the 1970s onwards so many innocent Black men were killed in police shootings; no police charged; but with the Province creating under immense community pressure, a Special Investigative Unit (the SIU); its formation unique at the time across the British Commonwealth?


Fourth, is it that despite these patently unjust policing policies, now supported by a Mayor who’d garnered so much goodwill from Toronto’s Black community, that things will continue as unjust as usual? That expectations about vigorous opposition from our community will merely be that scattering of “die-hard radicals” pounding the pavement, yelling predictable slogans against a City Hall, and Police Headquarters: twinned citadels of White unconcern?


Fifth, is it that Politicians and Police are self-assured that in Toronto’s Black community, those who carry status as Black clergy, Black politicians, Black Senators, High Commissioners of Black Commonwealth countries etc., will also sit this one out? And that Black Canadians and Black Americans will still flock to Toronto to celebrate the City’s theft of Caribana?


Finally, is it that in a Toronto that is multi-cultural – vertical, not horizontal – those residents who differ in race and culture will parse, not the justice nor injustice of our cause, but will instead balance the risks of maintaining the “business as usual” slights attached to being Black in Toronto? Is it that any likelihood of our being unequivocally human is sans humanite? Another classic example of epistemic closure?

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