The evolution of protest – from the streets to the courts

By Arnold Auguste Wednesday November 27 2013 in Opinion
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By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor


The recent shooting death by police of teenager Sammy Yatim on an empty streetcar hit home to many in this city. It was not surprising then that crowds poured out into the streets in protest.


It reminded me of the days when we as a community also protested on the streets over issues we felt powerless otherwise to address.


I remember as a young (youngish?) reporter some 40 or so years ago covering these protests. They were, at times, very hard to watch – the passion, the pain, the sense of frustration that no one was listening, that no one cared.


But the elders of the day, some now no longer with us; others who have grown old and tired, persisted. They knew that this was their only way to be heard.


Eventually people began listening. Politicians, the police, some in the media. People of goodwill. Eventually some of the issues that concerned us, that burdened us, began to be addressed.


Interestingly, there were a lot of people within the community who didn’t support this form of protest. They probably were embarrassed by them; these loud, placard waving people shouting slogans such as “No justice, no peace”. The protests probably made them uncomfortable among their colleagues.


But it didn’t matter. A statement I heard on a day so long ago has never left me. At one of the many stops along University Avenue where a particular demonstration took place and where speakers took turns addressing the gathered crowd, one fellow said that it “only takes one car to cause a traffic jam”.


I have never forgotten that remark. It didn’t matter if the entire community was not on side. It didn’t matter if the crowd turning out was large or small; it only mattered that someone would stand up and be counted. And the crowd that day – small in relation to the size of our community – was making a difference. It would be the car that would cause a traffic jam.


We have come a long way since then. We have made a lot of progress. So much so that this form of protest seems to have become a thing of the past.


Is that because the need for protest no longer exists?


It is because we have achieved the “justice” we demanded those decades ago?


Or is it that more of us have become too affluent; too comfortable to notice?


The lawsuit launched last week by the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) might be, in part, an answer to these questions.


While life has been good for many of us, there are still those for whom time seems to have stood still. Young Black men in particular.


Call it profiling; call it carding; call it police intelligence gathering; call it what you will, the fascination of the police with young Black men is terrifying. And not just to those in the so-called disadvantaged communities anymore.


When I was young, we raised chickens. When the eggs had hatched and the hens were done with their nests, there were always a couple of eggs that didn’t hatch. These would be fed to the dogs. Eventually, the dogs, not being able to discern between the good and bad eggs, began to raid the nests and eat the good eggs.


For much too long we, as a community, have looked the other way at news of racial profiling. You see, it didn’t affect our sons. Until it did. Until our children began to be stopped and carded, their personal information entered into a police database although they were not arrested, charged or even suspected of criminal activity.


Until it was discovered that young Black men were being carded by police in larger numbers than any other sector of society. And until those who felt their sons were safe from this practice found that it was not so.


Now, all the eggs look alike.


So we are back to protesting. Not with placards and bull horns, but through the courts. One can say it is the evolution of our protest. Our protest movement has evolved from the streets to the courts.


The police have been very stubborn in their defense of the despicable practice of carding. All reasonable attempts to explain how this practice affects, traumatizes and criminalizes young Black men have fallen on deaf ears. Now, the courts will decide.


Apart from the apparent racism involved in the practice of carding, the Black community seems to have been looked upon by police as a soft target. We don’t protest anymore. We don’t make noise. We just seem to take things in stride now. I can’t think of any other community in this city – ethnic or otherwise – in which the police would be allowed to treat their young men the way they treat ours.


The practice of carding is wrong. It must be stopped. And if it takes a lawsuit, then that is what it takes.

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