Police shootings point to a larger crisis

By Pat Watson Wednesday January 07 2015 in Opinion
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On the way through 2014, public reaction to the shooting deaths of unarmed Black males in the United States reached critical mass, even a march on Washington, D.C.


Perhaps, the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012, the subsequent social movement to have his killer – self-appointed vigilante George Zimmerman – brought to trial and the devastation following the jury’s decision to acquit the self-confessed killer had been the decisive event.


In the United States, in cities across Canada and other parts of the world, protests have occurred in the wake of the widely publicized killings by police of two unarmed Black men in particular, Michael Brown, 18, of Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner, 42, in New York City.


There were other lives ended under similar circumstances. The U.S.-based group, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement reports that “in 2012, police summarily executed more than 313 Black people – one every 28 hours”.


More recently were the following: Tamir Rice, 12, killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio, while he was playing with a BB gun in a park near his home; John Crawford, 22, killed by police in Beavercreek, Ohio, as he was on his way to the checkout to pay for a pellet gun in a Walmart store; Ezell Ford, 25, killed by police in Los Angeles, California, during a stop and frisk; Dante Parker, 36, killed by police in Victorville, California, after he had been Tasered, mistaken for a robbery suspect; Darrien Hunt, 22, killed by police in Saratoga Springs, Utah. He was wearing a Japanese costume and waving around a Samurai-style sword.


The over-policing of Black males in this city and of aboriginal people in other Canadian cities is within this spectrum, and Toronto Police Service Board’s attempt to rein in carding by police is in response to this dilemma.


Because of concern about carding, during the recent Toronto mayoral race, candidate David Soknacki repeatedly called for a review of our policing model, a more reasonable approach than any suggestion coming from other candidates, however well-meaning other responses may have been. Olivia Chow had called for an end to carding, but did not offer to pursue why it is happening in the first place. John Tory would not rule it out and Rob Ford seemed to think that carding as not a targeted practice aimed most directly at persons of colour. (He could be pardoned for this perception, given how much he was purportedly targeted.)


The slogan emblazoned on police cars, “To serve and protect”, is a source of mockery among those who feel neither served nor protected by those appointed to uphold the law. The feeling is that persons of colour need instead to be protected from the police.


But who is to blame? Whose orders are police following when they feel they have the authority to carry out these extrajudicial killings?


Part of why carding became such an often-used tool in policing is that officers were rewarded for it and the practice was given due consideration for job promotion. Police officers benefited their careers by harassing Black men.


Critically, the danger to the lives of Black men is strongly tied to an economy in flux. There is a prevailing theory that poverty and crime are concomitant. So people classed as poor are heavily surveilled in anticipation of criminal activity. The logical outcome is the perception of the criminal bent of people who have less. The more people there are in society who have less, the greater the perception that they are the clear and present danger. Further, racialized people falling within poverty make up a larger group, proportionally.


Canada’s Conservative government has spared no resource in building up the criminal-industrial complex here while doing pitifully little in the interest of people who have the least, making this government culpable in this pitiless economic paradigm.


Protesters are shouting “I can’t breathe” at the very system that has its foot on our collective neck. But that’s not quite how change comes.


A note on politics and semantics…

For people born in Canada, would Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander also regard their citizenship as a “privilege” and “not a right”?


Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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