With police carding, ‘collateral damage’ is not collateral

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday April 29 2015 in Opinion
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On the basis of merit alone, everyone is certain that the appointment of Toronto’s new Chief of Police, Mark Saunders, was an appointment for which he was eminently qualified. And being the first Black person chosen – we’ve been among Canada’s (unofficial) Founding Nations since the 18th century – probably means that many others of similar mettle and race have, in the past two centuries, been passed over. So, the question is not only why him, but why now? And why under such convoluted circumstances?

It appears that regarding the issue of Toronto’s Police and our youth, what City officials have given Toronto’s Black community, in exchange for what they expect in return is “a more dubious form of carding, in exchange for a tactical Armistice”. To what extent did Chief Saunders agree/disagree with, or was au courant with their plans? At best, too, the déclassé transfer of responsibilities appears to follow a route used by White officials in other North American cities, i.e.: to address urgent issues affecting Black residents, not with policies crafted to solve these, but with policies to better manage them.

In a general sense, it is for these reasons why I’m not optimistic that generations of Black people surviving into the future will see the end of anti-Black racism. Hopefully, I’m wrong. I also think Chief Saunders should be welcomed by members of the community, possibly in a church ceremony. That way, it would also be known that we, too, have his back.

So, what are possible options to today’s challenges?

For starters, what are some concerns had about the earlier responses of Chief Saunders – this “cop’s cop”, endorsed by a police union, intransigent on too many issues of racist policing – to questions by the press: on “public safety”; “collateral damage”; etc.? It is fair to say too, that I’ve found older police officers to be the more mature. In addition, how might some of these and related solutions be addressed by way of studies done in other disciplines on poverty; by way of other jurisdictions and their “solutions”; by way of the “core values of the Toronto Police Services (the TPS)”? Are these core values at odds with carding?

The Mission Statement of the TPS is: “We are dedicated to delivering police services, in partnership with our communities, to keep Toronto the best and safest place to be.” Note the phrase, “to keep Toronto the best and safest place to be”. Do the terms “best and safest” apply equally to all Torontonians? And while the word “justice” is not in the Mission Statement, it can still reasonably be inferred.

Moreover, in addition to the Mission Statement, the TPS has four sets of “core values”. Note the re-occurrence there, of the phrase, “members of our communities”. These can be found in toto on the website listed. (www.torontopolice.on.ca/mission-values.php)

Listed in these “four core sets of values” are headings, words and terms as: “(being honest), truthful and open in our interactions with…members of our communities; Fairness, (treating) everyone in an impartial, equitable, sensitive and ethical manner; conscientious, professional, responsible, and dependable in our dealings with…our communities; “bringing” positive and constructive influences to…our communities; Integrity, (striving) to do what is right; Respect(ing)…all members of our communities; showing understanding, and appreciation for our similarities and differences; Teamwork…Freedom from Bias, (respecting and upholding) the rights and freedoms of all individuals and ensure, in all of our interactions and in the exercise of our discretion, we are not influenced by any prejudice or stereotype.

Question: Is the current practice of carding congruent with, or against the Mission Statement and Core Values of the Toronto Police Services? Legally? Operationally? Are these values and expectations to be followed by members of the TPS – legally allowed to use deadly force – in carrying out their duties? Should these values and expectations thereby allow for civilians who are carded, to also have automatically, and advisably available, the means to effectively counter-card an officer?

Since we’re considering solutions here, are there other jurisdictions which might have policies which Toronto could find useful with regards to felons trying to re-enter society through completing their education, etc.? One of these might be Richmond, Virginia, USA. The program is Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD). One founder, Dr. Wendell L. Hylton said: “In an effort to make a difference, we must do something different.” (www.rihd.org/Pages/LegislativeNews.aspx)

Programs like these offer hope of rehabilitation for individuals who might want such an option. There are, no doubt, similar ideas had in Canada and in Ontario, or they should be. One of these, Crime and Justice: The Experiences of Black Canadians, is worth the read. (www.academia.edu/535442/Crime_and_Justice_The_Experiences_of_Black_Canadians)

There are also other studies done, and over several decades showing the impact of poverty on the lives of disadvantaged communities, particularly those like in Jane-Finch. One of these shows how “carding” (they do not actually use the term) can be defined according to one’s postal codes. Among these studies is one (of several) done by The United Way: Vertical Poverty. “Vertical’ as in the public housing highrises where an inordinate number of Black youth are raised, stopped and questioned. (www.unitedwaytoronto.com/research-and-reports)

In short, carding in these areas follows patterns which demonstrate how disadvantaged communities pay more for less. There, too, are found more “high-interest loan outlets” than banks. There, too, residents are “carded not hired” by (un)employers. There, too, schools have fewer resources available, in comparison with other schools in more advantaged locales.

For example, in November 2014, Education writers for the Globe and Mail, Caroline Alphonso and Kate Hammer, raised questions about how fundraising affects “equity in public-education systems”. (www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/fundraising-clout-gives-torontos-affluent-schools-a-wider-edge/article21421933/)

Chief Saunders also made reference to trying to “minimize collateral damage” in efforts to possibly continue “carding”, while hoping to reduce any negative impact on the innocent.

It should be clear that as a former teacher and resident in the Jane-Finch community, I am aware of the injurious roles played by lawless individuals who take advantage of families already vulnerable. I have no brief for criminals. For, unlike the police who might abuse power, these abuse poverty. I’ve taught many, however, and can testify to the immense possibilities through education in rehabilitating individuals who feel little hope for themselves.

I also know about the vast and abiding effects of “collateral damage”. On others. On myself. And on my spouse, married for almost five decades (almost Chief Saunders’ age).

Stopped nine times in one particular, I always expect(ed) on going anywhere to be pulled over. But there was one particular experience with the police which ever rankles. It occurred following a press conference called by us, members of the BADC, to condemn a police raid on the Lawrence Heights Community Centre (1980s?). Shortly after, my spouse was arrested in the Jane-Finch Mall. Handcuffed. Taken to the station, and charged with “shoplifting in a mall in Scarborough”. She was proven innocent. Compensated. However, not only did this deeply affect our family here, others also elsewhere: in England, Trinidad, the U.S. also sought intercession with the Almighty. Talk about horrors? It’s unfair, unjust and amazing how one officer could completely alter the innocent trajectory of your whole damn life, like it’s a free donut. Period.

Who is my spouse? A mother, wife, friend par excellence, and formerly a math and science teacher who tutored Grade Nine students, to successfully participate in Canada-wide math competitions. Some in consecutive years, came in #37; #24 and #1. She’s possibly the only teacher on record in Canada to accomplish this. I was also an Ontario Teacher of the Year.

Finally, on one occasion before that destabilizing arrest, and her sitting in the passenger seat as I drove, two officers pulled me over for, “wobbling”. On religious and prudent grounds, neither of us “drinks nor smokes”. Because she refused to comply with the other officer, on her side of the car illegally demanding her ID, he called her a “ni**er b*tch”!

Talk about the venomous aftertaste of “collateral damage”?

To be continued.

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