On New Year’s Day, 2005, crossing the U.S. border with our son, we overheard the U.S. immigration officer repeat to others, “two Black men”.
Our son was returning to medical school, and had a plane to catch. He and I were both pulled in. My van was searched, ostensibly as a routine, random search, “for drugs, weapons …” as one officer replied to my asking him. A dog, meanwhile, clambered through my vehicle.
This is not an unusual occurrence, and for many other people. However, the description from the officer, on reflection, reminded us of the shooting days earlier on Boxing Day near the Eaton Centre between ‘Black gangs’, in which an innocent young woman was killed.
The most recent shooting this month, this time in the Eaton Centre – an iconic landmark at the commercial heart of Canada’s most symbolic city, Toronto – became an example that is as vast as it is egregious to us, and to all other Canadians.
The consequences for this action, most specifically to Black Canadians, unfortunately and undeservedly will go far, far beyond those consequences justly visited on the perpetrator.
Apparently, with revenge on his mind, despite his serving house arrest for another illegality, he saw it fit to go to the Eaton Centre and exact a toll felt much beyond the immediate object of his vengeance.
Specifically regarding him, and other youth acting as he, the act is as incomprehensible and selfish as it is criminal. One acquaintance goes further describing is as, ‘carrying hallmarks of being suicidal, disembodied …’ as if such perpetrators are more robotic in their actions than cognizant of their crimes.
It surely was an act carried out by someone without a ‘sense of consequence’ before the act; or having an understanding of ‘consequence’ only after the act was taken; only after its enormous impact dawned on the perpetrator. He surrendered to police with ‘legal counsel’.
Our Black communities affected, and most especially our youth, cannot resort to such protection to avoid also being infected as carriers of the guilt the perpetrator deserves.
Put another way, in the same way other ethno-cultural communities carry a ‘brand or symbol’ by which they are most readily recognized, Black communities also carry brandings: stereotypes, profilings, which negatively affect, not only the criminals in our midst, but all of us; giving truth to the basest lies believed about us and about our youth.
We are the only community branded, stereotyped and profiled, not by those most successful and noble among us, but by those most base and baseless. How many of our other youth – “ghetto youth” one character called them – who, doing their best to be wise, do not also have to carry the burden of those who choose otherwise.
Our son, having been detained for seven hours, missed his plane. Can we as a community also miss this opportunity to devise plans by which to address the conditions and conditionings which create such characters in our communities? Do we so lack in ability, in concern, in hope?
While we have the right to be frustrated, angered, and get on with our own lives, we are also not responsible for every other person’s actions. However, regardless of our being individually innocent, we are collectively judged ‘guilty’.
Also, there are solutions. Among these are devising programs to assist our youth mature from boys and girls to being responsible adults. Programs regarding ‘rites of passage’, ‘Rides of the Middle Passage’ to inoculate our youth against the mass infections of values which are self-destructive and community destroying.
If not now, when? If not we, who?