By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“Each year officially since 1979 we have used the month of August to focus on the oppressive treatment of our brothers and sisters disappeared inside the state run gulags and concentration camps America calls prisons. It is during this time that we concentrate our efforts to free our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and all other captive family and friends who have been held in isolation for decade after decade beyond their original sentence. Many of these individuals are held in the sensory deprivation and mind control units called Security Housing Units (S.H.U. Program), without even the most basic of human rights.”
Black August Organizing Committee, THE ROOTS OF BLACK AUGUST.
It seems that at least once a week there is a video on YouTube with images of police across the United States brutalizing, maiming or killing some hapless African-American man, woman or child. With the proliferation of cellphones that have the capability of video recording, these images now seem commonplace.
What is not commonplace is a sense of outrage and action when these videos are viewed. Usually there are a few comments/questions ranging from: “what happened before”, “people need to do whatever the police order” and/or “there are three sides to every story”. Then there are the comments by the obviously cowardly White supremacists who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet to spew their vitriol and hate of racialized people.
The over-representation of Africans in the prison industrial complex of North America (Canada and the U.S.) has been a concern for many decades. The “school to prison pipeline” has also been a hot topic in both countries. The people who we elect to govern us municipally, provincially and federally are never held accountable for the decisions/laws that make these atrocities possible. There have been studies done and promises made that were broken/ignored while we dutifully vote in every election, never asking the questions that concern the future of our communities. With a municipal election on October 27, we still have time to question the candidates about where they stand on the over-representation of racialized people in the justice system before we cast our ballots.
Judging from the actions and non-consequences for the actions of the Mayor of Toronto over the past year, it seems that there is one law for rich White men and another for the rest, especially young African Canadians. The stories of the Mayor’s dodgy behaviour abound in the White daily newspapers of Toronto, yet he has never been arrested.
Imagine if this was the behaviour of an African Canadian of any educational or social status in this Great White North. Here is a quote from a story published in the Globe and Mail on March 28, 2014 reporting on an interview of the Mayor on CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning, hosted by Matt Galloway: “Don’t call me a criminal Matt, because I’m not a criminal, Mr. Ford said as Mr. Galloway peppered him with questions about his admission that he smoked crack cocaine and about the on-going police investigation into his activities.”
Quote from a story published in the National Post on February 3, 2014: “The investigation, dubbed Project Brazen 2, was undertaken after media reports last May said Ford was filmed smoking crack cocaine. The investigation led to extensive surveillance of the mayor and his associates, much of which was eventually released to the media through court documents.”
And finally a quote from the Toronto Star published on November 13, 2013: “The police document has numerous references to times when Ford appeared severely impaired. There are other points when, usually at a time when Ford is under the influence of something (staff are never sure what, but in interviews with police some say it may be cocaine) Ford allegedly tries to hurt one of his young staffers. These alleged assaults have been the subject of police inquiry, but no charges have been laid.”
All of these “escapades” are publicly known yet this man continues to walk free among us. The man has lied until confronted with incontrovertible proof followed by excuses that would not allow most five-year-olds to weasel out of consequences. He has challenged the law and order authorities to hold him accountable and so far they have failed to do so. If the Mayor was a racialized person and especially if he was an African Canadian male he would not be walking free right now. However, such is the way White skin privilege works in this Great White North.
In 2011, African Canadians were 2.5 per cent of Canada’s population but made up 9 per cent of its federal prisoners. Between 2001 and 2011, the numbers of incarcerated African Canadians increased by 40 per cent, according to a report by the “Office of the Correctional Investigator”.
The African bodies in Canada’s prison industrial complex are a direct result of racial profiling and over policing. Unfortunately, these activities are not documented and distributed on the Internet as is done in the U.S.
The Canadian “Office of the Correctional Investigator” offers these statistics: “The 2011/12 Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) identified Black inmates as one of the fastest growing sub-populations in federal corrections. It highlighted the increasing over-representation of this group relative to their proportion within the Canadian population. Over the last 10 years, the number of federally incarcerated Black inmates has increased by 75 per cent (767 Black inmates in 2002/03 to 1,340 Black inmates in 2011/12) with most of this increase occurring in the last six years (2006/07 to 2011/12). Black inmates now account for 9.3 per cent of the total federal prison population (up from 6.1 per cent in 2002/03) while representing approximately just 2.9 per cent of the Canadian population. The majority of Black inmates under federal sentence are incarcerated in Ontario and Quebec (61 per cent and 17 per cent respectively); however, there are also sizable populations in the Prairie and Atlantic regions where approximately 11 per cent and 8 per cent of Black inmates are incarcerated.”
In an article entitled “Bankrupting The Prison System – Part 1,” published December 23, 2013, African-American author Dr. Sinclair Grey III wrote: “During a panel discussion with current mayors of Los Angeles, Houston and New Orleans in 2012, NPR’s Michele Norris offered a chilling report which claimed, ‘The prison industrial complex will look at the test scores of a city’s third grade population. If the test grades are low they know that they’ll have to start building a prison.’ To better understand this perspective, let’s look at the state of California for a moment. Since the 1980s they have built 23 prisons and only one school campus. California has more than 130,000 prisoners, a huge increase from the state’s 1980 prison population of about 25,000. Prisons cost California taxpayers close to $10 billion, compared with $604 million in 1980.”
African Canadian children are also targeted in the education system leading to what has been described as the “school to prison pipeline”. On June 6, 2009 the Toronto Star published an article under the heading “Suspended sentences: Forging a school-to-prison pipeline?” discussing the specter of a school to prison pipeline in Ontario: “The Safe Schools Act, in force from 2001 to 2008, took students out of school. It resulted in a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to bad behaviour. In 2002-03, the number of students suspended in Ontario spiked to 157,436 – an increase of almost 50,000 from two years earlier. Almost one in five of those suspended was identified as having a learning disability or special need. The number expelled shot up to 1,786 from 106 in 2000-01. The ‘Roots of Youth Crime’ report to the provincial government last fall argued that zero tolerance ‘increased the criminalization of marginalized youth.’ Critics argued it was targeting low-income and racial minority pupils, particularly Blacks. Parents turned to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which filed a discrimination complaint against the Ministry of Education and the Toronto board.”
In the June 6, 2009 Toronto Star article there was information about the targeted communities: “A Star analysis shows Toronto schools with the highest suspension rates tend to be in areas that also have high incarceration costs. The findings combine school suspension rates for 2007-08 with a snapshot of sentences and postal code data for inmates in Ontario’s provincial jails, obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request.”
There is a direct correlation between the miseducation of our youth and the rate at which they are incarcerated. The Liberals, while they were in opposition, had trumpeted the idea of repealing the Safe Schools Act. However, that did not happen when they gained power. Instead the Liberal government passed Bill 212 (Progressive Discipline and School Safety) which is not much better than the Safe Schools Act of the former government. These issues were not addressed during the recent hurriedly-called provincial elections but we have the opportunity now with the municipal candidates.
Commemorating 36 years of (Black August) the Network for Pan-African Solidarity, a community organization, will be hosting “Black August” events on August 15 and 16 from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. at 252 Bloor Street West, 5th floor.