Profiling or discrimination?

By PAT WATSON

If you are young, male and Black, and live in a neighbourhood characterized as low-income, you are very likely already listed in the Toronto Police Service database under a system called ‘carding’. This is one of the findings of the most recent Toronto Star study on racial profiling, “Race Matters”.

Not much has changed since the Star’s 2002 “Race and Crime” report in terms of the disproportionate number of Blacks who are stopped without due cause by Toronto police. Data used in that report showed that over a six-year period, of 10,000 arrests for simple drug possession – a minor crime – close to 64 per cent were classified by police as White, while about 24 per cent were described as Black. However, when it came to releasing those charged, Whites were released at a higher relative rate. Also, Blacks were less likely to receive bail and were held longer in jail.

In the 2010 Star report the pattern remains the same, although the study looked at which persons police stopped and questioned in the carding system. But it is not only Blacks in targeted low-income neighbourhoods, so-called ‘hot zones’ that are often in or near public housing projects, that are stopped, questioned and documented. Blacks and Browns (those who are of South Asian, Arab and West Asian backgrounds) found in all areas across the city are put through the same procedure in numbers higher than Whites.

Which leads us to ask what is the difference between racial profiling and racial discrimination? For, what the Toronto Police Service has told Toronto Star reporters is an essential tool in police work is at the same time a form of harassment for Black people, more so for Black men, and young Black men in particular.

To his credit, Police Chief Bill Blair did not, as previous chief Julian Fantino did, go into full flight denial of the problem that exists between the Black community and the police force. He expresses an understanding of the complex socio-economic handicap that burdens those who live in racialized communities. Tellingly, he could offer no easy answers as to how to contain the routine over-surveillance that the data bear out.

There are no easy solutions when matters of personal safety are a clear priority for every person living in this city even if it means that the civil liberties of a community are being sacrificed to secure a crime-free environment.

As the Star report noted: “Although Blacks make up 8.4 per cent of Toronto’s population, they account for three times as many contact cards.”

Areas such as Malvern and the Jane-Finch corridor have been targeted for special attention by the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), introduced in 2006 after a year of gun violence that was punctuated in the mind of the larger public by the death by gunfire of Jane Creba, a White teenager caught in crossfire downtown on Boxing Day 2005. Illegal activities have cooled in such neighbourhoods, although the heavy surveillance has taken its toll.

It is clear that profiling is a critical policing tool and it is hard to see how policing could be done without implementing some aspect of this method for identifying wrongdoers. But for those who are innocent targets, the difference between racial profiling and racial discrimination is unclear.

So what can be done? The TPS has responded to the needs of a changing Toronto by transforming its staff composition, actively hiring more people from visible minority communities. But they need to go further.

We recommend a new and challenging objective for the force, which is to take a critical look at racial profiling and consider how criminal profiling can become the new focus. Profiling based on race hardly makes sense when we know that 95 per cent of any community lives within the social constructs of what is considered legal activity. It is therefore a waste of police resources and an outmoded, socially wounding technique.

For all our sakes we challenge the police to learn how to more specifically identify indicators of criminal behaviour, because being Black is not reason enough to be a suspect.

 

 

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