By PATRICK HUNTER
It is a curious thing, isn’t it? The Toronto Police Service (TPS), in alliance with other police services, recently conducted another raid on a community that is largely made up of people of African descent. The news release from TPS said that they arrested 19 people, seized a considerable quantity of guns and narcotics and money.
Before I go any further, let me say this: there are a number of young people out there who do stupid things like committing very serious crimes and expect to get away with them. Many of them are from our community. We are aware of some of the reasons why this happens and we can empathize. But that does not make it right. So, if you do the crime, our laws say that you must do the time. Hopefully, at the end of that period, you will have changed your ways. But that is another story.
Now back to our main point. Over the past few years we have heard about, read about and seen on television, raid after raid being carried out on a number of enclaves of African-Canadians. Heavily armed police officers execute these raids, usually at pre-dawn, and there is always footage of persons – men and women – being led out, handcuffed. Then, somewhere later, at a news conference to “celebrate” another successful raid, the officers will sometimes display the “trophies” of their hunt.
Comparatively, over the same period, you will find that raids on other presumed criminal elements in non-Black neighbourhoods are rarely trumpeted in the same way. It is, I daresay, a rare event to hear of such a raid.
One almost gets the feeling that if you eliminate the Black community, the budget for the police service would be significantly smaller because they would not, for one thing, require all the military-type armaments they use to conduct these “operations”.
It is unlikely that the police or the political apparatus that supports these actions would interpret this “scorched earth” approach as damaging. As they would interpret it, they go in, clean up the mess, and allow for better relations to develop. Hence, in the wake of “Operation Traveller”, you now have “Operation Clean Slate”. This is designed, they tell us, to develop a better relationship with the community, with a higher presence and visibility of the police as a preventative measure.
But, there is another interpretation to these measures. To the general, “law-abiding” public, these actions brand these communities as lawless hubs of gang activity and recruitment. You take your life into your own hands if you, as a stranger, venture into these enclaves. What you will find in these neighbourhoods are mostly Black people; ergo criminal activities are a daily past-time.
Do the community and race relations advisors attached to the police services, point out that the approaches that the police take in these areas, serve to enhance that stigma – the stereotyping of the communities? I am sure they do. Furthermore, I am sure the police command and officers know it.
It is important to note that this form of “profiling” is not exclusive to the Black communities. There have been other raids – sometimes against motorcycle gangs or in the Muslim communities. We have come to look on those raids as drug-dealing or money laundering operations, in the first instance; and supporting terrorism in the second. These are some of the stereotypes that recreational biker associations, many of whom do valuable community work, fight against. It is also the kind of belief that Muslims, as a religious community, have to struggle against.
But the apparent frequency and the breaking-news elements of these invasions of neighbourhoods are what is remembered. The stories of the release of people who were arrested in the mass roundup because the charges or the evidence gathered did not support the arrests are often not told. Who pays for the damages done to the property of the innocent whose lives were interrupted in this manner? What happens to the mentality of children who witness their innocent parents carted off in this way?
Most, if not all, of the neighbourhoods that are subject to these operations contain affordable housing. Most of the residents are employed in precarious or minimum wage jobs. There is a correlation between the economy of these neighbourhoods and race and ethnicity of their residents.
Another factor is that a certain sector of society views the residents of these neighbourhoods in a similarly stereotypical manner, negatively. The vision is that they exist on welfare and are therefore a drain on society. So, any action taken by the police in those communities can be overlooked.
It is a truly depressing scenario, but can anyone interpret it differently? Let us face it, like racism, individuals will deny that they have those feelings. But the collective provide an anonymity in which those feelings can hide and are only reflected in the way those communities are treated.