By Dr. AJAMU NANGWAYA
The unchecked lovefest displayed toward John Tory by the African Canadian petty bourgeoisie in Toronto’s 2014 mayoral election prevented this class from looking out for the best interests of the community.
The African Canadian newspapers, public figures, the notables and media workers failed to provide the Afrikan working-class with a critical assessment and interrogation of John Tory’s policies and conservative ideological commitments. The newspapers were too eager to serve as cheerleaders as opposed to affirming the dictum that “The job of the newspaper (or the media) is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
The Afrikan petty bourgeoisie characters who supported Tory could only point to the charitable contributions that he made to community initiatives, his charming and personable character traits and him never experiencing “a scheduling problem”, unlike other White political figures who were invited to Afrikan Canadian public events. Some members of this group also focused on their personal friendship with Tory, which glossed over his conservative policies.
It is quite instructive that not even one endorser has pointed to public policies and social and income security programs that have been championed by Tory to advance the material interests of the Afrikan Canadian working-class, or even the interests of the members of these bourgeoisie elements who contend with White supremacy and/or patriarchy in society’s institutions.
The exclusive fixation on Tory’s personality, the financial crumbs that he throws at charitable causes, and his willingness to fraternize with Afrikans might be an unwitting admission that his policies are irrelevant or hostile to the interests of this racialized community.
During the 2014 mayoral election campaign, Tory called for the reform of the Toronto Police Services’ carding regime that stops, questions and documents personal information about members of the public during non-criminal encounters. The racialized working-class community and Afrikan Canadians are disproportionately targeted by the cops for carding. There is overwhelming opposition to carding in Toronto’s Afrikan community because Afrikans and other racialized communities are racially profiled by this practice.
Tory was speaking at a forum directed at the Afrikan community and clearly articulated his support for the continuation of carding:
“I think that something that has become known as carding has been reformed but it hasn’t been reformed enough. I think what we have to do is what the police services board is doing which is continuing the reform of the how and the when and the who and the where and the why.”
Anyone who supports carding in Toronto is knowingly or unknowingly promoting racial (and class) profiling. The residents in the largely White and wealthy neighbourhoods of Toronto such as Rosedale, Lawrence Park, Bridle Path, Kingsway, York Mills and Forest Hill are not the people who are impacted by police violence in the form of carding. It is the people of Jane and Finch and other racialized working-class communities who are targeted by the cops.
The petty bourgeoisie members in the Afrikan community were quite aware of Tory’s position on carding during the election campaign. On April 16, Tory voted for a new repressive carding policy that repudiated an April 2014 adopted policy that claimed a human rights focus. We have a few of the same petty bourgeoisie endorsers of Tory’s successful mayoral bid now howling their disapproval of his action on carding and lamenting over their support for him.
Soon after the inauguration of Tory as mayor, he sent a clear message to the Afrikan community on the value that he placed on pleasing the police chief by not re-appointing a “transgressive” member on the civilian-controlled Toronto Police Services Board (TBSB). Share newspaper’s publisher and senior editor, Arnold Auguste, called out Tory on this troubling action:
“It was terribly worrisome to many of us in the Black community, especially those of us who supported John Tory for mayor, that one of his first major decisions following his election win was to remove the only Black city councillor (Michael Thompson) from the Toronto Police Service Board.”
It should be recalled that Share newspaper endorsed Tory for mayor so the removal of a police accountability critic from the TPSB ought to have been taken as a sign of things to come.
Samuel Getachew, in an article entitled “John Tory’s Support of Police Carding is an Insult to the Black Community”, blasted the mayor for his stance on this issue. Tory’s fellow Progressive Conservative Party member, Getachew, declares, “By voicing his support of carding, Tory has given a slap in the face to the (B)lack community as well as to the ideals of a civilized and moderate society. Too bad we do not have a recall legislation to reject bad politicians like him in Canada.”
The overtone of the essay is akin to that of a jilted or spurned lover.
Journalist and endorser of Tory’s campaign, Royson James, had this reaction to the new Tory-supported carding policy: “Imagine this. A police officer sees my two boys on the street. They are not being investigated, don’t match a description of a fleeing felon, are not suspects, but easy pickings for a police fishing expedition, a ‘carding’ exercise designed to fill police databanks with as many random elements as possible that might provide a match for some undefined act in some undetermined future.”
Tory is probably not James’ most favourite politician at this time. James’ described Tory in his endorsing column thus: “John Tory is exactly the mayor Toronto needs: balance, integrity, consensus-builder, healer.” Tory’s healing power would probably be ineffective against the blues that James is experiencing.
Should we attribute the failure to do due diligence on Tory’s policies and their likely impact on the community to rank opportunism or infatuation with his personality or a combination of both?
Tory is a hard core supporter of the discredited racist and classist “broken windows” theory of policing and crime prevention. Tory outlined his views on policing in the policy document, Time for Action: A Report on Violence Affecting Youth in 2005 during his tenure as Leader of the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s provincial parliament:
“I am a believer in the ‘broken window’ theory. If we just let the so-called ‘little things’ go because we don’t think they really matter or because we don’t have the resources to deal with them, offenders will conclude there are no consequences to their actions and more brazen and serious criminals acts will follow.”
In this report, Tory calls for measures that support “the police to carry out aggressive forms of policing to help end violence in our communities”. He also supported “strict minimum sentences for gun-related crimes” and an “aggressive form of violence prevention” such as “warrant sweeps of high-risk areas to target those trespassing and those with outstanding arrest warrants”.
Mandatory minimum sentencing is a way to feed the prison industrial complex with Afrikan people and other members of the working class. Warrant sweeps would serve as a legal cover to engage in racial profiling. It would be difficult to tell who is trespassing in an area or being sought on outstanding warrants. The race and/or perceived class status of the community members would likely be the basis for stopping and questioning them.
The Canadian Supreme Court recently struck down the federal government’s mandatory minimum sentencing provisions on illegal gun possession, and other such sentencing guidelines could suffer the same fate. But Tory is a champion of mandatory minimum sentences.
John Tory’s position on the city’s provision of affordable childcare, promotional prospects of women in the workplace, denial of the reality of White privilege, and the subway versus LRT (light rail transit) expansion in Scarborough were overlooked by his class privileged Afrikan supporters. They failed to see the way that Tory’s policy preferences and political stance on social and economic issues would negatively affect Afrikans and other racialized people.
One would have to conclude that the Afrikan petty bourgeoisie’s class aspirations, pandering to pragmatic politics and/or the suspension of disbelief about Tory’s conservative credentials might have gotten the best of them.
The radical organizers within the Afrikan Canadian community need to politically marginalize the petty bourgeoisie. The latter group does not have a mass base among the people and is out of touch with the expressed needs of the people. Furthermore, most of them are not organizing around the needs of the people in a way that calls into question the oppressive character of capitalism, patriarchy and White supremacy.
This relatively privileged class is a politically bankrupt force. The fact that Afrikan partisans from the main political parties and political independents could have coalesced behind Tory’s campaign is an indication of the narrowness of Canada’s and the petty bourgeoisie’s ideological consensus around social and economic policy and politics.
The petty bourgeoisie is too willing to trade the interests of the people for charitable alms from Tory’s substantial personal fortune or the pursuit of its class interests. Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words are quite relevant on this point: “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” We ought to demand social policy and programs that address the needs of the Afrikan working-class as well as that of other members of Fanon’s “wretched of the earth”.
At the end of the day, Linton Kwesi Johnson is right, “dem a Black petty-booshwah /dem full of flaw”. Therefore, left-wing and nationalist organizers need to centre the goal of fostering class consciousness and class solidarity within the community through political education initiatives and other organizing projects.
The liberal and conservative members of the Afrikan petty bourgeoisie are flawed and irrelevant and have no value in the people’s quest for justice, freedom and dignity.
Ajamu Nangwaya, PhD, is an educator, organizer and writer. He is an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.