Racial profiling and carding go together in Toronto. The practice by police here has long been verified with numbers bearing out the experiences of individuals of colour that they are as much as 10 times more likely to be stopped by police in this city and questioned as being suspicious, compared to the White population. Furthermore, if the individual is male and young, it is as if those two characteristics are checked off as qualifying for repeated police stops, questioning and data collection.
This frustrating, some would say infuriating, police practice has led to outrage in the Black community. That is why the Black Action Defence Committee brought a $65-million class action lawsuit forward in 2013.
That is also why the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Board sought to change the way this procedure is carried out on the streets. Beginning in April this year, the changes that were decided upon by the TPS Board would have police officers advise persons of their rights as part of the procedure when they stop them for street checks. That information would include letting a person know that he was under no obligation to remain if stopped if there is no valid reason for his being stopped.
Moreover, police are not to stop and question individuals without a valid reason. Then there is the matter of giving a receipt that would include the officer’s name and badge number.
Police cite statistics that, following these procedural changes from the TPS Board, these encounters – or community engagement as the police prefer to call this action – declined significantly, down 75 per cent by June compared to the same time in 2013.
However, in the Jane-Finch community, it seems that none of these changes are being effected. At least, that is what the findings of the Community Assessment of Police Practices survey, done recently by the non-profit consulting organization, LogicalOutcomes, found.
The kind of tensions that linger in the Black suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, following the August 9 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed, would not be unfamiliar in the Jane-Finch community. The culture of mistrust from community residents and antagonism by police are a toxic mix.
That is why when a violent crime does occur in such areas, there is so little co-operation on the part of residents. There is no solid foundation of trust and people do not feel safe with the police.
Wasn’t the concerted effort to hire more people who look like the communities they police supposed to mitigate this pattern of misreading?
Why, too, is outgoing Police Chief Bill Blair defending this continuing activity by officers in this community? Given the efforts made under his leadership to address this issue, it seems a contradiction to reject out of hand these latest findings.
We want to be assured that the people empowered to see that law and order are upheld can be trusted to carry out that role with integrity. We know that without the cooperation of the members of a community, that role cannot be effectively carried out. But it makes no sense to expect community participation if a significant strategy for interaction is police bullying.
It makes no sense to try on the one hand to reach youth through police-sponsored sports events and other social activities aimed at building trust while on the other overdoing the carding practice to the point that it results in a clear pattern of racial profiling.
In addition, it serves as a distraction when police officials react to this latest finding with talk about crime and crime statistics when targeted policing and racial profiling are the troubling matters at hand.
The short-term outlook that relies on this ongoing carding strategy, especially in disadvantaged communities, is a disservice to the larger more important goal of having good police-community relations.
Defending this practice, as police brass have again done in recent days, is therefore unhelpful, to say the least.