Carding is a phenomenon that is multi-dimensional, has several moving parts, and varying perspectives. From a bird’s-eye view, as a crime-fighting policy it is counter-Constitutional. From ground-level as a crime-fighting procedure, it is counter-productive. From our historic struggles in the trenches of anti-Black racism, it is premised on racial stereotyping.
No matter how one tries to slice and dice it, carding – Toronto’s officially endorsed police practice primarily of stopping Black males in order to stop crime – is “policing by skin-colour stereotyping”. Containment on the street, carding is premised on the assumption that crime has a colour. It effectively places all Black youth “on parole”. Therefore, “stopping enough Black males, will reduce crime” is the new mantra. Our new Police Chief, Mark Saunders, recently installed with such aplomb, has gone even further. To paraphrase him, “without carding, crime will increase”.
Based on who he is and what he represents, does his tenure so far mirror the African proverb: “When the trees saw the axe coming into the forest, some of them said, ‘it’s O.K., the handle is one of us’”? I hope not.
Stopping Black males in Toronto the Good has always been police practice. If these stoppages – in addition to periodic police shootings – have not yet reduced “crime” why would the increased and specific targeting of Black males now make a seismic difference? Some of the significant challenges emanating from his remarks are commented on later.
However, so widespread is this practice now, according to studies done on carding by the Toronto Star, the number of Black males carded – averaging 370,000 cards per year since 2008 – outnumbers the actual number of Black males in Toronto. According to Stats Can 2011, the total Black population of Toronto was 7.2 per cent of the whole, or 397,975 (males and females). In other words, because so many Black males have been stopped on multiple occasions – one young reporter is recently on record of having been stopped 50 times – the total number of cardings outnumbers the total number of Black males (and females) in Toronto.
Factor in, too, the following: that Black Torontonians have the highest percentage (17 per cent) of youth aged between 15 and 24 compared with the overall population (13 per cent). That while other populations also have ceremonial rites of passage to transition their children into young adults – Sikhs have dastar bandi; Filipinos have tuli; Jews have bar mitzvah – we have carding.
O.K. Since all of us as civic-minded residents are concerned about criminal activities, among these, the pimping of Black women and girls by Black males, which of the two: crime or skin-colour is the independent variable, and which the dependent? Does carding imply that skin-colour is the main determinant of criminal activity and intention? It seems so. Therefore, what role is played by the proceeds and power bases created from effective criminal enterprise?
Consider what is concluded on these in “Countering Organized Crime” by Canada’s RCMP on its website: (http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/fs-fd/org-eng.htm) “Organized crime is an international problem that ignores national boundaries. The fact that some criminal organizations have seemingly limitless resources and involve themselves in almost any illegal activity that turns a profit makes fighting them particularly challenging.
“To counter organized crime, the RCMP has tended to move from attempts to shut down particular commodity areas, such as the drug trade, counterfeit goods or prostitution, to targeting criminal groups themselves. Tactical enforcement remains important, but the emphasis is on prioritization in order to more effectively use resources. OMGs, Asian-based gangs and traditional organized crime groups top the list of organized crime priorities.”
Even if “organized crime groups” include Black criminals, the implication then is that all groups involved in criminal enterprise be carded. Equally. In addition to the above, anyone who has seen any of the biker gangs on the move knows what the links between crime and power look like. These fellows do not hide their intent. They have been known to coerce, target, threaten and even murder prison guards and police. A public appearance by them is such a royal do, it only lacks corgis on their leash. Journalists genuflect. The public gawks. The police make way.
In an interview aired some years ago on the CBC radio, one ranking RCMP officer detailed the following: “Biker gangs control all criminal enterprises in Canada. They are a national criminal phenomenon dealing in drugs, prostitution, extortion, human trafficking etcetera.”
According to this officer, (at the time) they numbered about 4,000 members Canada-wide, and annually grossed more than $20 billion.
In addition, they are known to threaten and hurt truckers who refuse to carry their “goods” across the border. They are also the “dons” of crime. Black criminals, in my opinion, probably rank as mere “associates/foot soldiers”. Again, anyone involved in criminal enterprise, regardless of ethnicity, colour – and social status – must be pursued and punished to the apt.
To any community, especially in those already vulnerable from the oppressions of unemployment and under-employment; from ghettoized housing; from under-education; from social despisement and historic denial, the added burdens of crime therein, are exponentially injurious. And regardless of circumstances which excuse crime as an option, any such option is, at the core, self-serving and impoverishing.
So, by primarily over-carding Black males as a means to stem the increase in crime, any “special treating” of Toronto’s Black youth for inordinate involvement in crime is directed more at communal vulnerability than at communal criminality. Therein are the objectives of carding counter-productive. First, it makes innocent communities less secure and more unsafe. Second, this occurs because carding weakens any communal resolve to stem crime in our midst. Third, it ironically weakens those opposed to crime while, simultaneously strengthening those engaged in crime who can conveniently and cynically hide behind the mask of anti-Black racism.
Carding also weakens Canada’s Constitution, which already allows policing fairly wide latitudes of search and seizure. In addition, such contacts allow an officer the legal right to use deadly force. However, these powers must be “reasonably applied”. But what exactly is “reasonable”? Does “reasonable” differ according to skin-colour? Especially exercised in a climate of anti-Black racism, and under official practices of colour-based stereotyping?
From among my personal experiences decades ago, pulled over one night under the concrete buttresses siding the Allen Expressway south of Hwy 401, I experienced what it is like to stand before two individuals who over my future, at the time held the power of life and death in ways which should belong, only to the Almighty God. Theirs were South African accents.
In addition, by stating his unequivocal endorsement of carding, Mark Saunders, the first Black Chief of Police of Canada’s largest municipal police force, grants, even if inadvertently, other police officers across Canada cover to assume that Black youth wherever found are “suspects”. Would these “suspects” include Black officers who might be off-duty? No absurd assumption this since, in the U.S., the biggest killer of Black officers are White officers.
So, if the above info is sound, why is carding not equally applicable to all regardless of colour and social status? There are at least three possibilities. Is it possible that carding is an updated policy for advancing the annual police budget? Once upon a time, in the 1980s etc., carding – by another name – encompassed Black communities, and also others like the homosexuals and the prostitutes, etc. Then, one might predict the following: that several months before the tabling of the police budget to city councillors in the fall, there would be media-activity on police activity rotated across Metro. Raids would occur one year, for example in Regent Park. In another year, Jane-Finch. Or raids on downtown “bathhouses” where “gay-men” met. Our assumption was that any resulting media coverage might have assisted passage of this budget.
What unintended impact can this practice have on innocent Black men? For their financial stability, employment possibilities, building family, travel, education, etc.? Inadvertently, this practice can eventually have effects on their lives and livelihoods similar to what is occurring in prison states like Louisiana. There, where more public schools are being closed, and more prisons are being privatized, more and more Black men – and women – eventually find employment…in prison: a plus for globalization’s cynical push for low-wage, and no-wage labour at home and abroad.
Other possibilities include perceptions of a Black community so leaderless, rudderless and powerless, that unlike other communities in multicultural Toronto, ours is one on which to experiment. For sure, the high-decibel silence of Black community representatives: elected, appointed, clergy etc., is at best disconcerting. Leadership on this issue has fallen intolerably on the vulnerable shoulders of our youth. May the Almighty strengthen, and preserve them.
In conclusion, what are some options? Cease “re-acting” to circumstances. “Act, instead”. That is, take the lead on what affects us. For example, if you have been “carded”, wear a small button (size of a quarter or nickel): Black background, and on it, print a large letter “C” in bleak yellow and quotation marks. Engage other Canadians on the subway, at school, work and play when they ask about it. Canadians must acknowledge what is being done in their name, and to their constitution.
Finally, seek robust allies. Legal organizations and unions – teachers’ and others are splendid places to begin. Take our case to the courts of Canada. If these fail, to Embassies of the European Union. Then to local embassies of the BRICS union of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The International Court of Justice. And as the First Nations are forced to do for relief, also consider the United Nations as an option for us.
Some of us and our families, for our efforts might not be left inviolable. I know from experience. But we owe it to our ancestors, to our progeny, to our sense of honour, and our patriotic duty to carry on because, while others might stand aside, it is we, Black Canadians who now “stand on guard for Thee! O Canada”!
To be continued.