On the same day that the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) announced a $65-million racial profiling class action lawsuit against the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and the Toronto Police Service Board, the board held a public meeting at city hall to get input on what to do about police carding and racial profiling.
Board Chair Alok Mukherjee has decried the practice of police stops that overwhelmingly targets Black and brown-skinned people in this city. Yet, it is not the first effort by the board to rein in the activities of police officers on street and traffic patrol who the numbers show racially profile those they stop, question and record for police files.
The police may argue that this practice is an important part of their crime prevention strategy, but the numbers show that in carrying out this practice it is Black men, and young Black men in particular, who bear the brunt of this intrusive exercise.
TPS’ own statistics show that Black men are stopped at least three times as often as members of other racialized groups, and depending on the area of the city as much as eight times as often.
Despite this pursuit of numbers, the ratio of useful information to numbers of people stopped and recorded is some 10,000 to 1. That hardly seems a practical use of either the police budget or human resources.
The collateral damage is that the practice has engendered a level of fear and mistrust that bodes ill for the type of crime prevention that depends on community cooperation.
There is also the matter of the psychic and emotional damage that officers leave in their wake as they try to rack up the numbers in their daily records, since high stop numbers impact their chances for promotion and other career advancement.
TPS has made some effort to respond to this travesty, with Deputy Chief Peter Sloly heading this file. It is under his guidance that the Police and Community Engagement Report (PACER) was delivered last fall. But the report has been criticized by community activists and legal experts as not going far enough to mitigate the strategy, and for trying to essentially hold on to the practice of carding. Calling the practice “community engagement” does not change the intimidating and terrorizing nature of the transaction.
In the strongest words possible, the practice has been condemned by community representatives who speak for Black youth as well as legal experts who have stated clearly that this procedure is in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code, and must end.
We would like to see the police board take a much more proactive stance in putting a stop to this heinous practice. That means ending it. As long as the practice of racking up numbers is an incentive for advancement, officers will continue to over-police the most vulnerable.
It isn’t as if there aren’t other tried and proven methods for maintaining law and order that show results in lowering crime, with encouraging outcomes for police and civilian cooperation and trust. Boston, as well as Chicago which has a notorious rate of violent crime, is having success with engaging in more community policing and offering incentives and disincentives to known wrongdoers as motivation to disconnect from criminal activities.
The PACER report states its vision for the future of TPS is to be “a world leader in bias-free police service delivery.” This is a noble and worthwhile aspiration, one on which every community in Toronto would agree. But, unless and until those words become reality, members of the much-targeted Black community will have little option but to take the kind of action to which BADC has had to resort, which is this class action lawsuit.
The unrelenting abuse of Black men in this city, with systemic reinforcement by the police structure has resulted in this action. So now it will be up to the courts to decide.
BADC is encouraging those who have been the target of these police stops to contact the organization at (416-656-2232).