“Okay… you know what? I don’t feel protected. You try living for 15 years thinking that you’re one person, and then in five minutes, you find out you’re a princess. Just in case I wasn’t enough of a freak already, let’s add a tiara!” - The Princess Diaries (2001)
This past week, Toronto Police were disinvited from the city’s Pride parade after a brave action from Black Lives Matter; Sheila Fraser was appointed special adviser to address widespread and systemic sexual harassment in the RCMP; and American cops were caught on video executing two Black men – the latest in an endless index of lives lost by a ruthless organization incredulously referred to as our nations’ “finest.”
If the police were a foreign state, we would have invaded and removed its regime. If it were a workplace, we would have busted the union and closed it down. How many Black people need to be murdered, how many Indigenous women need to disappear, how many female cops need to come forward with accusations of endless abuse before we start referring to decent cops as “one good apple”?
I say this as a white man who has never had my life threatened by the police, as a middle-class person who relies on them mostly to protect my private property and as a Canadian citizen who depends on them to patrol the boundaries of my state and preserve my nation’s wealth from scroungers and miscreants.
It is impossible to overstate how dysfunctional our police forces are – even before we add the charge of murderous. Police spending in Vancouver – one-fifth of the entire budget – has been the only municipal core service to see its funding increase every year since 2008. The Toronto Police Department saw its budget pass the $1 billion mark last year and no one seems able to even suggest it might be time to rein it in. Meanwhile, crime rates languish at historic lows.
The epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls continues to disgrace an entire country and our Boys in Blue have shown little interest or aptitude to stop it. Aboriginal people are disproportionately incarcerated for minor crimes and the racist practice of carding continues to be defended by Toronto police and its allies.
With this kind of calamity passing for a public service, why aren’t we asking law enforcement to stand up and defend its existence? It’s a question worth asking: what is a police force good for?
The answer is elusive. David Graeber wrote last year that only 10 per cent of the average American police officer’s day is spent pursuing criminal matters “of any kind.” The rest is annoyance: ticketing, infractions, bureaucracy, regulations. “The police,” he writes, “are essentially just bureaucrats with weapons.”
Transit police in Vancouver – the only armed transit cops in the country – apprehended Lucia Vega Jimenez in 2013 for riding the SkyTrain without a ticket and turned her over to the CBSA for deportation. She hanged herself in her cell a few days later. Medical marijuana shops across the country – in the face of the Trudeau government’s promises to legalize the stuff – continue to get raided and shuttered by law enforcement with other ideas.
In his blistering essay in The Nation last year, Mychal Denzel Smith called to abolish the police. It’s an audacious demand to say the least, and one that doubtless invites bafflement, if not hostility. But it is not naive.
When I say, “abolish the police,” I’m usually asked what I would have us replace them with. My answer is always full social, economic, and political equality, but that’s not what’s actually being asked. What people mean is “who is going to protect us?” Who protects us now?
Who indeed. And the answer to that question – if you are Black, Trans, homeless, Indigenous, disabled, female or otherwise vulnerable – rarely wears a uniform.
And while “full social, economic and political equality” would be nice, I’m not sure we have to wait that long. The fact is that most of our communities already function and flourish without police. Most social interactions do not require surveillance and intervention by armed guards of the state. What do police add to these existing relationships of compromise and negotiation?
And besides: it’s been done. Restorative justice models and “no-exit” cultures provide social alternatives to criminalizing and incarcerating difference backed by state-sanctioned violence. The Paris Commune of 1871 stripped the existing police prefecture of its political attributes and turned it into an “agent of the commune,” paid at a labourer’s wage and rendered its privileges revocable at any time. Compare this with the six-figure salaries and latitude to murder Black boys in the street many current officers enjoy.
So why do we need cops? It’s a provocative question, without a doubt – but the lies we are told about the threat of racialized and colonized bodies are equaled only by the lies we are told about the virtuous and noble role of the police.
If it’s a question you can’t answer easily and convincingly, abolishing the police is a solution we need to start taking seriously.
[…] Officially known as the Community Contacts Policy, carding allows police officers to detain, question, and store personal information about individual people’s addresses, height, weight, skin colour, accent etc. into a vast police database; all without arresting the individual.
Toronto Police Service (TPS) says the practice of carding is simply an intelligence gathering initiative and that it does not purposefully target individuals because of their race. However, members of black and other racialized communities testify that they are being targeted simply for the colour of their skin. And after Ontario launched an investigation into the practice, the data collected reaffirmed the communities’ assertions that they are disproportionately represented.
The final regulations put into place by the province of Ontario on the practice of carding come into effect on January 1, 2017. After the new year, officers must inform the person of their right to not provide identifying information and they must also provide a reason for requesting the information. The regulations are also very specific citing that the reasons cannot be arbitrary, based on race, or because the person refused to answer a question. Officers must now also offer a document that includes their name and badge number and information on how to contact the office of the Independent Police Review Director if there are concerns about the detainment and questioning.
Although new regulations were imposed on the practice, there are also exemptions in place that critics say make the guidelines easy to ignore. Ontario’s Community Safety Minister, Yasir Naqvi, who introduced new regulations to the policy, says the exemptions are necessary in order for the police to be able to do their jobs properly.
The exemptions are:
If the person is legally required to provide information (e.g. during a traffic stop)
If the person is under arrest or being detained, or when the officer is executing a warrant.
If complying with a specific aspect of the regulation would compromise an ongoing investigation or compromise safety.
If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the interaction is necessary to their investigation of an offence that has been committed or that the officer reasonably suspects will be committed.
This week, a group of black intellectuals, writers, and community organizers issued an open letter to the Province of Ontario and City of Toronto regarding the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) decision to continue carding in communities.
Signatories to the open letter include Canadian writer and Toronto’s third Poet Laureate, Dionne Brand, and Rinaldo Walcott, director of the University of Toronto’s Women and Gender Studies Institute. The letter asks for an outright ban on the practice and sights the legal implications and the historical detriments it has had on the Black community specifically.
“The new regulations confirm the intention of ongoing, sanctioned intrusion into the lives of Black citizens. If we say that young people are our future, then the clear message that carding and data collection and storage send to young people of African descent is that they have no future in this country. The new regulations signal open season on Black life. This is unacceptable in a multiracial and multicultural society. In fact, carding is an abhorrent practice that mars any claim of a just society in the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto, let alone the country,” reads part of the letter.
Signatory Rinaldo Walcott, who also helped in drafting the letter, spoke to VICE and stressed that the act and practice of carding itself is not something to be reformed, and thus legitimized, in the process.
“We want to make clear that carding is not acceptable to us. We want those responsible for its continuation, even if reformed to know that they have endorsed an anti-black racist policy. We want it on record that black Canadians object strenuously,” said Walcott.
Noting the historical connections between modern day carding and slave passes, Walcott does not believe the regulations will protect him from arbitrary detainment and questioning by police.
“That I can be questioned as a black man walking the street, forced to produce identification, have it recorded and stored makes Toronto an open air jail for me. Carding is the late modern passbook. This is no different from the slave pass, the passbook in apartheid South Africa and so on. We should be clear that such behaviour has no place in a modern society,” says Walcott.
Provincial or municipal officials have yet to respond to the open letter from the community