By Dr. MUNYONZWE HAMALENGWA
You have heard the laconic, static and immortal voice when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon which simply states: “One step for man, and one gigantic step for mankind”.
In the appointment of Mark Saunders as Chief of Police for Toronto, the first Black appointed to such a position, the wording of course becomes simply, “One step for man (Saunders) but one gigantic step for diversity”.
Of course, this appointment is not as thunderous as the election of President Barack Obama in the United States or the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1967, but it is a very important step in the calculus of diversity in Ontario.
Policing is all consuming in Ontario given the existence of carding and racial profiling. It would have been impolitic to snub the Black community by appointing let’s say someone from Calgary or Hong Kong or Vancouver or some other place. Or even a White police officer from within the ranks of the Toronto Deputy Chiefs would have been askew when there are two qualified Black Deputy Chiefs.
Some people have written cautioning against exuberance because of the appointment of a Black person to that important position. They posit that the election of Barack Obama didn’t result in a “colourless” America, that indeed the plight of Black folks has worsened or at best Obama neglected that constituency. A Black person is no panacea for improvement in the lives of Black people. They look at the political predilections of the ascending individual.
My argument is that Saunders will not be confronted with the issues of carding and racial profiling for the first time whereas a police chief from somewhere else would have to embark on a learning curve. Saunders already knows the thinking of the Black and other communities with respect to carding and racial profiling and other policing issue.
The community is tired of recycling the same arguments again as would be the case if an outsider became the police chief.
There is also the symbolism of the appointment of a Black police chief. Symbols still mean a lot. This is regardless of whether they measure up to the portrayed symbolism. We have symbols like a blind female statute of justice carrying a sword and shield. Symbols can be both liberating and legitimating of the status quo. They sometimes attract in the young about positive possibilities in their lifetime. Saunders will awaken the giants in the minds of young Blacks who want to be police officers.
The bottom line is that the appointment of Chief Mark Saunders is a great step for man (Saunders) and a giant step for diversity. This is regardless of how the leadership of Saunders augers for Blacks. He will be an example of how to do things or how not to do things. We must live by the Chinese saying that states that, “a journey of one million miles, starts with one step”. The common saying is, “one step at a time”.
This is a very important step towards diversity in the upper echelons of political and legal power in the City. All eyes are on Saunders. Will he be a captive of the status quo or will he be a Chief of Police for all, dispersing justice according to the dictates of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code as well as the Police Services Act which dictate the equal application and equal benefit of the law for all?
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa is the author of The Politics of Judicial Diversity and Transformation.