Blue vs. Black : Racial Profiling in the streets of Toronto

By Elizabeth Renato

Episode Intro

Why is a black man in a hoodie seen as suspicious? Why does a woman hold her purse closer to her when she passes by a black man? Why does she suddenly feel uncomfortable when riding an elevator with a black man? Why are black men often followed in stores, or watched with care? Why should they have to live in surveillance?

This is called racial profiling.

Racial profiling is making stereotypical assumptions about someone using race or ethnicity as grounds of suspecting they have committed an offense. To understand racial profiling, we must first understand the history of racism; which is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another. Racism began in the thirteenth and fourteenth century and later founded its way to the well known Atlantic Slave Trade, which began in the seventeenth century. Historically, there have always been assumptions made about certain races, which is exactly what racial profiling is.

My name is Elizabeth Renato, and in this podcast, I will explore the many ways in which the black community of Toronto has suffered racial profiling.

My topic matters because it speaks deeply to those going through the same situations, as well as will open the minds of those who aren’t.

In Toronto, black people make up about nine per cent of the population, yet they are three times more likely than whites to be pulled over by the police, in a practice called carding.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what carding is, just ask the Torontonians who are most affected by it to tell you. It’s a new name for an old problem: random police checks that target black men.

This problem has been going on for decades…even in the United States.

How could you stop a man because he was wearing a hoodie or looked ‘suspicious’?

Then proceed to shoot him when he did nothing wrong.

How could you deem he was a criminal just because he has darker skin and a wider nose?

Jermaine Carby, Andrew Loku, Kwasi-Skene Peters. Do those names sound familiar to you?

Probably not.

What about Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, I could go on and on but I shouldn’t have to.

All these men share the same story. They were racially profiled, watched, and targeted by the police for looking like “a big black dude”. When they questioned why they were being harassed, they were shot to death.

Now can you imagine how their families felt?

Being black is not a crime, but apparently to the system it is.

And I know a lot of you are probably thinking, “well at least we’re not in the U.S”.

But just like the United States, Canada faces the same issues of racial profiling, which result in the contradictory issue of police brutality.

But our country, and in particular, Toronto, continues to show that we are worse than our neighbor when it comes to holding the officer accountable.

At least the Americans know the names of the officers who shot and killed those men. Canadians don’t.

Unfortunately, in both countries, the shooters walked free while the victims lay six feet under.

For this very reason, the organization Black Lives Matter was formed, in hopes to shine light upon the violence, police brutality, and racism towards black people that the legal justice system ignores.

This organization is a movement, created in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi shortly after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his shooter George Zimmerman.

The movement was later adopted throughout Canada in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax and more.

Black Lives Matter Toronto was founded by Janaya Khan and Yusra Ali in October of 2014 following the killing of Jermaine Carby.

When asked why she felt it was necessary to spring up the Black Lives Matter Movement here in Toronto, miss Khan stated that they want to resist anti-Black racism in the GTA and prove that racism still exists.

“Everyday we get negative responses”, she says. “it’s usually from those who can’t relate to anti-black racism or don’t care enough to pay attention to it.”

Do you think the police in Toronto are racist?

“No, but the institution is.”

Now I think Black Lives Matter is a great way to shine light upon violence and injustice, but a lot of people disagree.

“All Lives Matter”, they say.

And yeah, all lives do matter…but that’s not what we’re talking about.

Chanting “All Lives Matter” refocuses the issue away from systemic racism and Black lives. It distracts the message that Black lives matter or that they should matter more than they do.

Arguments and debates have been circling the web with thousands stating that “Black Lives Matter” is code for “White Lives Don’t Matter”, but that’s not the case.

Black Lives Matter focusses on black lives. The white on black crimes performed by those expected to protect, but instead they kill.

“But what about black on black crime? Or black on white crime?”

Yeah, yeah, yeah we get it.

Race and crime is a huge, controversial topic that we can go on and on about until the end of time. But my podcast will focus on white police officers profiling and killing black men.

It is very hard to find race based statistics on police shooting black men, because no such data has been recorded.

The system fails to provide relevant information to it’s people.

But when is it appropriate for someone to get shot?

Some may argue to say that some of these men had harmful objects and failed to follow police orders, resulting in their own deaths. The officers claim it was an act of self-defence, but how can you say that when one person is alive and the other is dead. We can never be certain if we haven’t heard both sides of the story.

But this is Canada! We are supposed to be the nice ones.

It’s the Americans who have a race problem, not us! 

False.

Statistics Canada says the number of hate crimes reported to police in 2013 dropped by 17 per cent from 2012.

Black populations were still the prominent target of hate crimes, with 22 per cent of all incidents.

I went around Toronto and asked a handful of black men if they have ever felt racially profiled by the police.

“Oh yeah” “for sure” “all the time”, they said.

Casually.

Now I’m sure we’ve all gone through different types of mistreatment that may differ from others, however a black man’s life is constantly under surveillance because he is perceived as “the typical black male”.

What’s that supposed to mean? The “typical black male”...?

The “typical black male” in society and in the media, is usually wearing a black hoodie and known to be a drug dealer, a gang member or a thug.

Now I didn’t know criminals had a dress code. And I’m pretty sure you all own a black hoodie, but not once have you been arrested for trying to keep warm.

In 2002, the Toronto Star published an article on the issue of race and crime. They provided their own analysis of police arrest data since it has never been recorded. It was revealed that Black people in Toronto are over-represented in criminal activity, as well as make up about six per cent of the incarceration rate. The Toronto Police have since then denied all allegations of racial profiling and often don’t take the situation seriously.

And again, in 2013, a human rights group in Canada filed a lawsuit against Toronto police over racial profiling of minority groups; especially black citizens. 

This makes people distrust cops and distrust the government, believing that the government works for some people and not for all people.

So what are we gonna do about it? Since the police aren’t doing anything.

We must acknowledge it, face it, and embrace it.

We as a community need to collectively try to stop racial profiling as best as we can.

Now, I know it isn’t easy, considering the fact that our own law officials are doing it, but maybe we need to speak up and stand up.

If you see an officer illegally doing something wrong, why not call him out on it? You have every right to do so.

The government needs to train the police to become members of the community and not just armed patrolmen.

Violence should never be the answer. There should be a policy where other officers can intervene when they feel like one officer is using excessive force when they don’t need to.

How many times have you been in a situation where you’ve seen something wrong happen, but didn’t do anything to stop it?

“Maybe the police stopped him because he was driving too fast. “Maybe the store clerk is not following him, but just doing their job.”

Maybe … But maybe not …

Episode Outro

Bibliography

Carol Tator and Frances Henry (2006) Racial Profiling in Canada: Challenging the Myth of ‘A Few Bad Apples’: University of Toronto Press

Ronald Weitzer and Steven A. Tuch (2004) Race and Perceptions of Police Misconduct: Oxford University Press p. 305-325

David M. Tanovich (2006) The Colour of Justice: Policing Race in Canada: University of Windsor

Black Lives Matter blacklivesmatter.ca; www.facebook.com/blacklivesmatterTO

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice: Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/09/24/blacks-three-times-more-likely-to-be-carded-by-peel-police-than-whites.html

http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-loku

https://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2016/06/30/toronto-cops-cleared-after-man-shot-dead-in-2015.html

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/05/13/officer-who-shot-jermaine-carby-says-he-wouldnt-do-anything-differently.html

Toronto Star (2002) Racial Profiling in Toronto : Singled Out

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trayvon_Martin