Chief Blair gives finger to the Black community

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday April 01 2015 in Opinion
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On his way out the door, the Chief of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) has essentially given the finger to the Black community. In spite of your protests and condemnations, Black community, the Toronto Police Service will continue to stop and record information about community members, and we have the power to do so.


Sure, there are updated guidelines to clarify when, how and why “community engagements” should take place. The police officer, or the “Service member”, has been given specific instructions as to what constitutes a community engagement so that the community member is clear that he or she is not being detained – including psychological detention. But, the Service member is not required to tell the community member that he or she has the right to end the “engagement” if he or she so chooses.


Now, it is possible that if there are witnesses around, and someone decides to end an engagement, he or she can do so without fear. What happens if that young person is encountered alone? As an older person, I would probably have the guts to ask if I were being detained. If the officer says no, I could, and would be within my rights to say that this engagement has ended and walk away. Can you imagine a younger person saying that without fear?


The point is, that officer has much more protection than that young Black person. All the officer would probably have to do is enter a claim of resisting arrest, or something along those lines, and with no other witness, other than perhaps an accompanying officer, that young person could be in trouble.


One can read into Chief Blair’s draft policy procedure recommendation that although at the outset of his appointment as chief, he acknowledged the existence of racial profiling, he fails to see the connection between carding and racial profiling.


The statistics unearthed by the Toronto Star’s research on the carding issue and racial profiling; the findings of the Commission of Systemic Racism and the Criminal Justice System, and all the reports that have been done on police-Black community relationships, point to the fact that people of African descent are more likely to be stopped and dealt with more harshly than Whites within the criminal justice system. So, in my interpretation, by reinforcing the carding procedure and, further, not requiring officers to inform an individual that he or she has the right to walk away, Chief Blair is suggesting that the assumption of criminality in the Black community is real. In other words, most young Black men have a greater propensity to commit crimes. Thus, access to their information is vital to the police as part of its investigation of a crime.


Now, this is a draft recommendation that Chief Blair has put forward. The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) will meet later this month to consider this draft recommendation. If they accept it, it certainly will become Blair’s legacy and the new chief will be expected to comply.


The TPSB has some options open to it. It can, of course, approve or deny the amended draft procedure and policy. It is also possible that they can decide to table the discussion for further consideration as a way of delaying its implementation until the new chief is on board. I would urge members of the board to, at the very least, defer the procedural amendments approval until the new chief is in full command.


Blair is positioning this amendment as a balance between policing work and developing the trust between the community and the police. I don’t see this balance being achieved. Policing wins out.


Over the weekend, the Toronto Star published a story looking at two of the leading candidates likely to replace Blair, Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders. Both men are of African descent. If one of them is given the nod, either one, he will have a significant task ahead of him. The balancing act will either make or break him.


The Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER), which is a foundational document on which the new policy is based, recognizes this gap. “Clearly, community engagement is a high-volume, high-risk activity that has produced both high-value public safety results and high social cost outcomes.” Something has to give. Which has greater value? Your answer is as good as mine.


One assumes that they are more profoundly aware of the uneasy (to put it mildly) relationship between the police and Black community. As chief, Blair is expected to bridge that gap. Maintaining carding, a contributor to racial profiling, would not be an acceptable precursor to that bridging.


Email: /Twitter: @pghntr

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