Carding? Then turn off your lapel camera

By Pat Watson Wednesday May 20 2015 in Opinion
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One hundred Toronto police officers are now wearing lapel cameras in a one-year pilot project, apparently testing out three different types. Fine. Given how the bad behaviour of too many police officers is affecting the Black community, the community of homeless people, and people with mental illness it is a good move to have recorded evidence of officers’ encounters with the public. But, why the limit on when to record?

Why when they stop and question young Black males not committing any crime are they not required to have those interactions recorded?

To those who have suffered the humiliation and the terror of being accosted by police officers for walking while Black, the reason is obvious. The disturbing nature of those interactions would shine even more light on what those who are targeted for racial profiling have been saying all along.

We here in Toronto are such a highly educated society that we like to study everything before coming to our own conclusions and recommendations. We will do studies sometimes to the point of absurdity. So, here we go again with lapel cameras.

Why would the Toronto Police Service not simply look at best practices from the wealth of information available from across police departments in this and other jurisdictions to begin implementing this mode of documenting police-civilian encounters? The argument regarding privacy has been addressed elsewhere, so it does not have to be a mystery how to navigate this area.

It remains therefore the responsibility of the general public to keep voluntarily maintaining a record of these interactions. We all want a police organization we can trust but until such an entity is realized, then we will rely on mobile phone cameras to police the police.

The local police organization must stop using this offensive surveillance program of relentlessly stopping and questioning persons of colour going about their daily lives. What is it but a form of busy-work to ensure patrol officers have something to do and as a way of justifying their hours?

Can we not begin to apply new paradigms for policing? It would be hard to accept that the police do not have hold of the information that the rate of crime in any society hovers around five per cent. It would be hard to accept that these individuals who are trained to detect criminal behaviour would not know what it looks like as they go about their duties of observation. It would be hard to accept that the police do not know that the rate of criminal activity has been falling for the past 20 years or so.

It would be hard for them not to recognize that in tough economic times, with high unemployment having a negative social effect, there would be social unrest.

What is really hard for them to admit though is the anti-Black racism that propels this on-the-street interrogation practice called carding.

A note on dismissing and minimizing…

National Post columnist and CBC pundit Rex Murphy recently wrote a cleverly verbose piece on rejecting the term “White privilege”. Murphy dismissed the validity of the term, blaming those darned university educated intellectuals for making this stuff up, then laid into a history of hard done-by Anglos in places such as Newfoundland, where he is from. That the Irish have had a history of being relegated to the bottom of the British Isles pyramid is not news, of course. But, to dismiss White privilege at the same time is at the very least disingenuous. What Murphy and others who are defensive about racism fail to understand is that one would need to make a conscious effort to stand apart from it to recognize it. When the whole world was telling Rob Ford that he has a substance abuse problem, Ford denied it assiduously because he was highly resistant to having an honest look at his actions and taking responsibility, like a mature adult. Racism deniers are the same. Taking an honest look at the system of colour privilege would mean having to take responsibility for the ugliness of it and moreover taking responsibility for future behaviours or a commitment to change. It’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist and then to hide instead behind tales of your own tribe having been victimized.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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