By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
In an article published in both Share and Pride Newsmagazine last week, Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya, explained why he didn’t believe the naming of a Black chief of the Toronto Police Service would solve problems that exist between the community and the police.
Although he used much stronger language.
“As a member of the African-Canadian community, I am quite puzzled by the exuberant display of irrationality and misplaced expectations by some African-Canadians over the possibility of the appointment of either Deputy Chief Peter Sloly or Deputy Chief Mark Saunders as the next chief of the Toronto Police Service (TPS),” he wrote, adding that it was “the African-Canadian petty bourgeois elements who are loudly clamouring or serving as cheerleaders” for the respective candidates.
“These social climbing characters are infatuated with celebrating the ‘first Black’ this and the ‘first Black’ that, as if they are the measurement of a substantive change in the economic, social and political condition of working-class African-Canadians.”
For one thing, the need to celebrate “a first Black” chief is not the primary concern in this situation for most of us who are worried about who the next chief is going to be. Our primary concern is to have the board name someone who can take the force in a different direction where community policing will really mean something and community engagement will mean just that, and not the criminalizing of our youth.
Secondly, the fact that we are still, in 2015, looking forward to celebrating “firsts” speaks more of this society than it does of us. And, in any case, why shouldn’t we be happy to celebrate the naming of the first Black chief of Canada’s largest municipal police service?
And, thirdly, “petty bourgeois”? Really?” Are we still doing this to each other?
Dr. Nangwaya does stand on solid historical evidence, though, when he suggests that the naming of a Black person to important decision-making positions might not provide the “substantive change” we expect or need.
We are thrilled when we hear that a Black politician has been elected; a Black lawyer has been elevated to the Bench; a police officer moves up the ranks etc. And why not? Our expectation is that to have “one of us” in these positions could help ease the way for others. To have “one of us” in the corridors of political power; in the halls of justice; on the streets of the city enforcing the law, could help level the playing field so that fairness and justice would prevail.
That this might not always happen, that some of the folks we delight in seeing elevated might not care about the rest of us and our community is not on us; it is on them.
But that doesn’t mean we give up. That doesn’t mean we reject any other of us who we feel may have a chance to do good.
Share was one of the entities Dr. Nangwaya singled out for the position we took on the hiring of a new chief of the TPS.
“Peter Sloly’s candidacy for this position recently received a ringing and enthusiastic endorsement from Share newspaper, the weekly publication with the highest circulation in Toronto’s African-Canadian community.”
Yes, and we stand by that endorsement. Readers would also have noticed that while there were two Black officers, Deputy Chief Sloly and Deputy Chief Mark Saunders, being named as top candidates for that job, Share was clear in its endorsement of D.C. Sloly.
For us, it wasn’t that we just wanted to see a Black person in the job, our endorsement was based on our knowledge of D.C. Sloly over many years and the expectation that he would bring, not only the right skillset, but the right attitude and sensitivity to this important job.
We couldn’t say the same for D.C. Saunders because we don’t know him as well as we know Sloly. For all we know, he might make an even better chief but we don’t know that. As such, we can’t endorse him over Sloly.
For us, and for me, personally, since I wrote that endorsement, it was not just endorsing a Black person for the job but endorsing someone who I know has worked with the community on issues of interest to the community and who has had firsthand knowledge of the problems dogging the community such as carding, and who has expressed a commitment to make a difference.
The fact, also, that the old guard in the service, those officers who like things the way they are and have been for just about ever, don’t care too much for Sloly is further proof for me that he is the right person for that job. We need someone to shake things up.
If we weren’t facing the issues we are facing and I was satisfied with the status quo I could also have supported my friend, deputy chief Mike Federico, who I know to be a good, decent man.
Could Sloly let us down? Sure he could. And we will hold his feet to the fire, should he get the job, as we would anyone else. But we probably would have a lot more leverage with him than with someone from out of the city who we don’t know and who might not even care what we think about what they are doing.