Police stops of Black males like an undeclared war

By Pat Watson Wednesday October 02 2013 in Opinion
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The Toronto Star has been reporting again on the actions of Toronto police officers regarding the over documenting of Black males in this city.


This activity is a grievous issue, and there does not appear to be any intention on the part of the police to put a stop to it. The best the Toronto Police Service (TPS) has been able to offer so far is that they will give a receipt to those men that they stop. Not sure what that is supposed to do. This is at best an empty gesture.


The news media do a particular effective job of regularly reminding everyone about what terrible lives Black people live. And if someone didn’t know any Black people, just their portrayal in the mainstream media alone would make readers wary about getting to know any.


Thankfully, the very core of Share’s purpose is to counter the narrow presentation of the lives of Black people that permeates the mainstream.


Frankly, I do not know any Black people who have committed the kinds of serious crimes that are presented with regularity in the mainstream media. I do not know any individuals who are members of gangs.


I do know a lot of hard working, God-fearing Black people who go about each day trying their best to live respectful lives. I know a lot of Black people who would like to spend more time away from being preoccupied with how they are maligned in the public mind.


The data the Star looked at show that Toronto police officers disproportionately stop young Black males. The notion is that where there are crime hot spots, police have to be on top of what is happening there in order to catch lawbreakers or head off any planned criminal activity. Most people would agree that is reasonable and necessary. The police are there to uphold the law.


Yet, it is not the what, it is the how. When a few police officers burdened by conscience uncover the culture of racial abuse that is operating in this system of ‘carding’ their targeted population, we can automatically expect some official response suggesting that such behaviour is unacceptable and that these are the actions of renegade individuals. But the numbers don’t bear out that response from the higher-ups.


A few months ago, I went into downtown spaces that are not high crime hotspots to ask Black men if they had ever been stopped by police. With one exception, they all said they had. Not only that, none of them described those stops as respectful and cordial.


The sense of disgust, or worse, hopelessness and depression, that each man expressed was daunting.


What will be the answer to this undeclared war on Black men? Police executives have said they are reviewing practices and will have a new model in place in the future. But what will be the remedy for all the men who are now traumatized by repeated stops, by being labeled wrongdoers when they know they are not. What does it do to a man’s psyche when he knows he is the hunted?


To hear them speak of the ways they have devised to avoid being targeted is unsettling. One man explained that he does not go out at night wearing dark clothing, since officers interpret that as a signal of criminality. (So there are police and then there are fashion police?)


We need a solution. We need a détente between police and Black men. We need regular public gatherings between the groups at which each has to listen to the other. We need punitive measure within the police service for those who are blatantly bullying Black men. We need this war to end.

A note on ‘drinking the Kool Aid’…


That was some speech U.S. President Barack Obama gave at the United Nations last week. Obama told the world that indeed U.S. exceptionalism had a rationale; that America will continue to be the world’s policemen because there’s no one else to take up the job. Perspective really is everything. So many of us look forward to the day when being our recalcitrant brother’s keeper would not mean bombing him into submission.

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