UARR statement of Ferguson and racism in policing

By Admin Wednesday December 03 2014 in Opinion
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Dear Editor:

The Urban Alliance on Race Relations stands in solidarity with people in Ferguson, Missouri and people worldwide who are protesting for fairness and accountability in policing and in the justice system.


UARR works in Toronto on emerging issues; we are not experts on U.S. law. However, anti-Black racism is a social issue and is common in both the U.S. and in Canada; our respective histories, political landscape and justice systems provide a different context.


There are some parallels to comment on: Policing is essentially public service – for it to work well, a police force reflects the diversity of the population they serve for understanding and connection to the larger population.


A reflective police force is an important component of community policing, but demographic representation only gets you so far in gaining confidence of the population: there is also unconscious bias or established culture of an organization that systemically marginalizes certain groups on the basis of race (although other factors such as poverty, mental illness and other forms of disability, immigration status and LGBTQ status also play a role).


Demographic data should be kept on the use of lethal force by police on the people they are to serve and protect. People are protesting in Ferguson and in other parts of the U.S. and here in Toronto because there are disturbing patterns that illustrate that non-White citizens and residents are more vulnerable to state violence than White citizens and residents.


When there are established patterns of police violence against unarmed and non-White residents, then the social contract of fair treatment for all under the law is broken, the system is broken. This broken social contract extends further in the workplace, in schools, in housing and in the street by well-established disproportionate treatment that advantages White people and disadvantages non-White people. This is the social context for Ferguson at this time. It is predictable and will happen again until there is social change toward fairness.


Here in Toronto, the UARR has been involved in race relations issues since 1975, often working in the area of policing to hold police accountable for bias. Currently, our focus is Toronto Police Services Community Contact policy, commonly known as “carding” – which has been found to be a form of racial profiling. A small proportion of Toronto’s population is “known to police” as a result of multiple police contacts, where personal information is taken, without any reason that is related to a crime.


Too often, Black and brown youth are considered dangerous when they are not; or criminalized when crisis intervention is a better solution; over scrutinized in almost any civic encounter. Walking or driving while Black, or being followed in a store because you are Black – these are real experiences, not paranoia. Discriminatory policing shames and diminishes us all when some people are more vulnerable to police action – from carding to lethal force – just because of the colour of their skin.


Black Lives Matter does not mean that only Black people care, or that only the Black community is concerned – this should be everyone’s concern, because we are all in this society together, and police services exist for all of us.


Gary Pieters

President, Urban Alliance on Race Relations

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