When conditions between Toronto police and Black men in this city are being compared to apartheid South Africa, we are in trouble. When, as has been detailed in the Toronto Star’s most recent “Known to Police” report that examined data on police stops from 2008 to mid-2011, more young Black men have been stopped, questioned and entered into the police database than live in Toronto, we have a serious problem. When, by the Toronto Police Service’s own acknowledgment, the number of persons a police officer stops and records in this city is factored into consideration of the police officer’s promotion prospects, there is cause for great concern.
The police agree that racial profiling, and even carding, or what the police refer to as Field Information Reports, are either illegal or too intrusive, yet they still focus on collecting information on as many Black young men as possible. Trying to pass it off by using different names does not make it any better. Neither is handing receipts to individuals after their personal information is put into the police database.
We have lost count of the complaints we have received at Share from people who have suffered from the bully tactics of police officers who stop, question and record information about them seemingly for no other reason than they are Black young men.
When their names and other personal information are placed into the police database there is no indication recorded as to whether or not they are suspected of a criminal offence. And the best Deputy Police Chief Peter Sloly, who has been reviewing police practice, can offer is that the names of the innocent will remain in the database for seven years before being removed. (If they are innocent, why are their names recorded in the first place? Or is it that it would take seven years for them to prove – or for the police to determine – that they are innocent?)
Black men are stopped at more than three times the rate of other demographics, and in some areas up to eight times more frequently. It is common knowledge that some officers use provocative and aggressive tactics that can increase the possibility for arrests. Any reaction to these tactics can instantly result in charges, the most common being assaulting an officer or obstruction.
According to the police, officers stop individuals who ‘look’ suspicious. But what criteria do the police use to decide who looks suspicious and why it is that Black men appear to them to be more suspicious than members of the wider population?
We know from reports we receive from many who have been stopped that they reflexively become wary when they see police vehicles approaching because they are all too familiar with the aggressive and humiliating tone of officers that is standard in these encounters. They have reason to be afraid. In the wake of the hasty shooting death of 17-year-old Sammy Yatim trapped alone on a streetcar, or in other videos where we see police officers kicking people who are already on the ground, does it seem as though police officers are being more aggressive and violent these days? Or is it that more of them are being caught on video? By the way, can you imagine the uproar there would be across this land if someone was seen kicking a dog the way police officers have been seen kicking people?
In response to the Star report, police officials have been holding community meetings to hear from the very people who they have so assiduously targeted as they work to refine this policing strategy. But will they reconfigure their surveillance methods to ensure that it will not continue to be an assault on the Black community?
The fact that carding has actually increased over the years since the Star’s first “Known to Police” report a decade ago confirms that Toronto Police have become much more reliant on this information gathering strategy. The question is what changes, if any, will be made to correct this travesty when the police insist that this disturbing action is an integral part of their policing and crime prevention policy.
The pattern of racial profiling and carding must end, not only because it is a violation of Charter Rights but also because the ongoing assault on this particular community is wrong.