By PAT WATSON
The man with dreadlocks pushing his bicycle said yes. The tall, distinguished looking man wearing the bike helmet said yes as he unlocked his bicycle. Then he had a lot more to say. The bus driver said yes. So did every one of the men encountered in the subway, including the father of two young sons, the one from Edmonton and the one wearing a hoodie and eating a patty.
The soft-spoken young man reading a book while sitting on a bench on the University of Toronto St. George campus said yes. The University of Guelph student walking with a group of companions also said yes. There were others as well, and all, except one man of middle age who had come here from Africa 10 years ago, said ‘yes’ when asked if the police had ever stopped them.
Along with their responses, the other thing all these men have in common is skin colour. They are all Black males. Their recollections were strikingly similar. Some recalled shock because they couldn’t find the logic in the encounters. They all said they were just going about their daily lives when police officers stopped them in their tracks and asked a battery of questions.
Some did not want to believe what was patently obvious. None said it was a pleasant encounter. Some, when questioning why they were being stopped were given a remarkably similar answer; something along the lines of them looking like someone the police were searching for.
One man recalls that he was shown a picture of the suspect but the picture looked nothing like him; he is tall with a lean build, whereas the picture, he said, depicted a man much heavier, rounder of face and with lighter skin tone.
One man recalls that he was stopped six times in one night. He drives a Mercedes.
One said it is time to file a class action suit, but most seemed resigned to the situation. ‘There’s nothing you can do about it’ was the common sentiment.
This four-hour informal weekend survey did not take place in so-called crime hotspots. It occurred in midtown Toronto, places such as Yorkville, and the U of T downtown campus.
The question opened a well of emotion and thoughts. Each man had a lot more to say. It was heartbreaking to see their pain, so close to the surface and unresolved. They need a place among themselves to work through it.
It is obvious to any right thinking person, yet it is also obvious that it needs to be stated: Every Black male is NOT a criminal. Well-known statistics suggest that in any modern society, five per cent of the population is involved in criminal activities. Where in the study of criminology does it say that the best strategy for identifying criminals is to catalogue every single member of society? Further, if such a theory or strategy is being postulated, then why are males from other subsections not being catalogued at the almost 100 per cent rate as Black males? Or are Black males just the test case?
In the 1930s in Nazi Germany, Jews were made to wear yellow Star of David symbols sewn into their outer clothing as a way to separate them out from the rest of society. It was the initial step to the horrors of genocide. In 2013 Toronto, Black men’s phenotype is being used as the marker to separate them from the rest of society.
Black men in this city live imprisoned by an awareness that most men living here will never know, the sense that they live in a police state, along with subsequent post trauma of feeling under constant surveillance.
Yet, what are we doing about the psychological warfare on Black men and the daily assaults on their spirit?
Picture this: On August 1, Emancipation Day, every Black male who has been stopped by the police here for no good reason and who has been carded – put into the police data bank – assembles at police headquarters at Bay and College. They are all wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘Carded’. Their message: Stop making every Black male a criminal suspect.
As it is now, ‘profiling’ is a misnomer; this is more like persecution.
A note on municipal troubles…
About Rob Ford, the putative mayor of Toronto, this foolishness has got to stop.