Police behaviour reflecting society’s expectations

By Lennox Farrell Tuesday December 30 2014 in Opinion
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Please advise. Is it hoping for too much that the world into which you’d made your entrance should become better, safer and more honourable as you draw inexorably nearer to your exit?


Without doubt, the recent events in America of Black men being shot by White police officers who are routinely acquitted by grand juries, can leave your soul numb. In fact, a harbinger of rising dread if you also have grandsons, coming of age, wide-eyed.


In addition, there is the unceasing carding of Black youth by Toronto police. In the Jane-Finch community again. The reoccurrence of these practices, given the exhausting and risky struggles once launched against them, like feeble webs in unkempt corners, has a déja vu sense of uselessness to them. And yes, when one only glances at headlines, rather than sit and read the despairing percentages of Black youth lodged in Ontario prisons and in Children’s Aid Society holdings, one is forced to reassess the social utility of solidarity and the efficacy of justice.


Furthermore, if one is victimized by, rather than regulate one’s internal dialogue – that inconsiderate chatter which memories loop repeatedly between sleep and wake – there isn’t even the after burn of conviction to drag one to reassess why yesterday’s victories return as tomorrow’s defeats. Is it because convictions water the seeds of certainty? That when certainty like shifty companions falter, justice itself becomes untrustworthy? Because, without these arrows of certainty, what else is left in one’s quiver of hope? If hope in justice is your aim.


Allow me to tell of a man once young, whom I remember. A young idealist brimming then with the possibilities of goodness and light; believing that even against long odds and longer vindications of iniquity, right will prevail because it is right! Thus, independent countries, former colonies, could bring forth leaderships who would value morality in public affairs. Then reality, served more bleak than vengeance, meddled.


Carding is Black male reality. He experienced it for the first time in his life in Canada. Having emigrated from Trinidad, in the first three months while awaiting a train in the Castle Frank subway he felt himself being unceremoniously yanked from the platform, neck first up the stairs. He was kept from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the dispatcher’s booth. Then, released after the subway had stopped running, he was not told why; not given any apology. “How could they accuse him,” he thought naively, “a Farrell from Morvant”. It was only the furnace warming up, before it hit full heat.


It blazed when, in one year he was stopped nine times. Always he was advised, because “he looked like someone who had robbed a bank. In Montreal”. Why only Montreal? For variety sake, why not also Sudbury in Northern Ontario? Or Tukuyaaqtuuqt in the Northwest Territories? Or even a more urban freshwater Centre Island? (Not unlike a saltwater Trinidad where he’d learned to balance his sea-legs).


The heat really grew intense when one morning, now a qualified teacher on his way along Finch Ave. to school, he was pulled over. Just like that. It wasn’t even a Black man in snazzy car by way of the officer having an excuse. With the temerity to ask why, he was ordered out. Spread-eagled on the hood. Frisked. With cars, school buses, the TTC rubbernecking as they slowed by. Released, without being informed why, nor given apology, he later realized that as bad as the experience outdoor in winter had been, that there was worse to come.


This occurred when in the staff room, aggrieved over the incident, and communing with colleagues, one with whom he had taught for years, in sincerity asked, “But what did you do?”


Carding occurred on other occasions. One, while traveling west on College Street to Dufferin during rush hour. Observing a squad car behind, he automatically tensed-up expecting the usual: being pulled over. Detained as the officer, lights flashing behind, checking, checking, checking. Meanwhile curious drivers and pedestrians staring, possibly at yet “another Black criminal, drug-dealer”, etc. from whom the good citizens really needed “serving and protecting”. Then, what should have come as relieving news to him, but which instead overcame him with deep anger and equally hopeless sense of anguish, remembering that he was in a streetcar.


Carding may not be criminal. But carding is criminalizing! The police are not blameless. Nor inhumane. In fact, I as a Black man, as surely have others, have met officers who are courteous and professional individuals. The police are not the cardinal villains. But they, and others as citizens, become villains, when remaining as artless as a silverfish about how societal expectations decidedly affect, for good and ill, different segments of our society.


A Black man as generally seen, not as a potential CEO, Prime Minister, responsible father, nor college graduate as much as a potential detainee, dropout, inmate in a prison or asylum, etc.


This is not overstating reality as experienced, particularly by young Black men. One said, “every day is another ambush”. This is because what teachers and employees, for example, might potentially do with chalk and rejections, the police might do more dramatically with Tasers.


In short, the police are essentially the urban-armed, officiating frontline, of society’s expectations. As such, in my opinion, they oft respond implicitly based on the ubiquitous understanding, that while for some – Whites, Asians and others more easily cradled within the embrace of White centrality – the assumption is that one is “innocent until proven guilty”; for Black males particularly, “one is guilty until proven not guilty”.

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