By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
When our soon-to-be-sworn-in new police chief told an audience of Black folks last week that he has no plans to end carding, no one should be surprised. As the Toronto Star headlined Royson James’ column the next day: “Meet the new chief, same as the old chief.”
Actually, the new chief might be worse for us than the old chief if he feels that he has to prove something to those to whom he owes his meteoric rise to the top job.
We have gone down this road before. We are always elated to see one of our own get one of these top jobs only to be disappointed later on to learn that our love is not reciprocated.
If we are honest with ourselves, in many instances our own have been worse for us than those they replaced.
Think about it. Have you heard any Black politician speak out against the carding of innocent Black people? In fact, has anyone heard anything from any of those high profile Black appointees who we so love to celebrate and give awards and accolades? What about our pastors and church leaders? Anything?
What are they afraid of?
I don’t know what to expect from this new chief because I don’t know anything about him. However his early pronouncements do not give me much hope.
One of his first curious comments (apart from the ‘collateral damage’ one which he later somewhat walked back) was his statement that he was not a superhero. Did he mean that the Black community was so difficult to deal with or the problems we have with police were so severe that we would need a superhero?
If that is the case, his tenure does not seem to favour better relations between the police and the community.
His comments regarding the carding issue reflect those of his predecessor, former chief, Bill Blair and, of course, our mayor, John Tory, who has so far been our biggest disappointment. He did fool us, didn’t he?
Police officers and members of the community see the carding issue quite differently. The police see carding as a vital tool in their crime-fighting arsenal. They say it is important for them to be able to stop and question people, especially in high risk areas, in order to get to know the community and, hopefully, gather intelligence on possible criminal activity.
I don’t know of anyone who has a problem with police officers stopping and questioning people regarding criminal behaviour. It is part of their job and we would be horrified if they were not doing their job.
Police officers have always had the power to stop and question suspicious persons. The only reason that has become a problem for us is when some police officers decide that all Black people – especially young Black men – are suspicious persons.
What are we to think when Toronto’s first Black police chief seems to suggest to a Black audience that to end carding will result in an increase in crime?
To quote the chief in the Star: “If we remove the ability of our officers to engage with the community, all I can tell you is that will put us in a situation where there will be an increase of crime.”
Is he saying that it is Black people who are responsible for this city’s crime? Because our concern over carding is the stopping, searching, questioning and documenting of innocent Black people, especially young men, going about their legitimate business. Not people involved in criminal behaviour. So, how would ending the carding of innocent people lead to an increase in crime, chief?
I don’t know how else to say this. People in our community, the Black community, as far as I know, are not against police stopping anyone who they suspect might be involved in criminal activity or have knowledge of criminal activity. What we are dead set against is police stopping innocent people and carding them.
“Carding” is the operative word/action here.
Carding means that they are being documented. Which means that information on them is being recorded for entry into a police database. Which means that this information will find its way into a police computer somewhere for someone to pull up sometime in the future. And with no context as to how and why that information was collected and entered into that computer, the individual could end up with the designation “known to police”.
For a young man who has done nothing wrong to end up with the designation “known to police” could be life-altering. For example, in order to graduate high school, that young person may be required to fulfill some type of work program. If a prospective employer calls up for a police record and that youth’s name shows up, regardless of the reason, he could lose that opportunity. Which means he may not be able to graduate high school.
What about a young man heading to the U.S. to study and who is stopped at the border by U.S. authorities who have received a dump of data from Canadian law enforcement and his name shows up?
Someone who was involved in criminal activity and turned his life around might be aware that there is an opportunity, after a certain period of time, to have his criminal record expunged. It is doubtful that someone who has never been involved in such activity would even think about checking their police record until it is too late.
The policy approved by the former police service board (before Mayor Tory put himself on it) required police officers to tell people they stopped for a chat that they did not have to speak with them. Tory, once he became a member of the board, and his pal, Blair, rejected that. And although if you are innocent you really do not have to speak with the police, most people would want to cooperate. After all, decent, law abiding folks do respect the police.
If the person stopped and questioned is found to be innocent of any knowledge of criminal activity – just a good, law-abiding person – why would the police still want to document them?
If they do not have to speak with you and choose not to do so, you won’t be able to document them anyway because you won’t have any information on them unless you take it by force. Right?
So, if, as good citizens, they choose to speak with you, why not just have a chat, wish them a good day and let them go on their way without documenting – or carding – them?
Why can’t that be an option for the police and for this new chief?