“How ‘serve and protect’ can often become ‘fear and distrust’ for black men and women in Toronto.”
By Senator Mobina Jaffer
On March 2th 2014 the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights held a meeting on visible minority youth and the criminal justice system. Since that meeting young people from across the country have contacted us to share their experiences living as a visible minority and I want to share one of their stories with you. To protect the anonymity of this young person I have removed her name from this article:
Although I have yet to personally experience racial discrimination at the hands of police or Toronto’s criminal justice system, systemic discrimination is very much a part of my reality as it has, for a long time, affected two immediate members of my family: my father and my brother.
As a daughter and sister to black men, I have seen, first hand, the effects of carding, racial profiling and the ‘stop and frisk’ tactics committed by the Toronto police force largely against men of my community. My first, most visceral experience with racial profiling happened when my brother shared that, while walking home from school, he was stopped and questioned by local police in the area. An elementary school student in his early teens, my brother was leaving school when police asked to see whatever form of identification he had because they were looking for a suspect of whom my brother fit the description. It is interesting because I remember the day he told me this like it was yesterday. Sporting a black hoodie (hooded sweater), not unlike the one Trayvon Martin was wearing when he was brutally shot and killed, my brother appeared suspicious and out-of-place enough to have police flag him as a possible suspect, stop him and question him about his whereabouts. Too young to understand at the time, as I got older, I continued to see those close to me experience this kind of surveillance and systemic racial discrimination. I also began to see the increasing detriment of racial profiling and the aggressive treatment of black men immediate to me and not, which ultimately made me extremely apprehensive of and distrusting towards police and the criminal justice system as a whole.
Recently, this past year, my family had another encounter with police. This one, however, was less subtle and more abrasive, causing for more fear, apprehension and distrust on the part of my family towards the police. One night while my parents and I were asleep, we were woken up to the sounds of loud, frantic banging on our front door and bright lights shining through our glass windows. As I stood by my bedroom door and my father and mother scrambled to answer the front door, all I could hear was, “Open the door, this is the police!” My father, similarly, distrusting of the police after years of being stopped, frisked and profiled by them, reluctantly opened the door to figure out why these officers were at our home at 3:00 o’clock in the morning.
After much needed clarification, it was quite evident that the police were not looking for members of my family, but instead were looking for the man to whom we had rented out our basement apartment. Before my father could direct the officers to the man’s whereabouts, one officer (as there were two – one standing in front of my father, guarding the door and the other a few steps behind) began to enter the backyard of our home without our permission. Upon noticing this, my father yelled, “Excuse me sir, where are you going? You aren’t allowed to enter onto my property just like that” and attempted to go outside to ensure that the officer seemingly trespassing heard him. In that immediate moment, my anxiety towards the police heightened because all I could see was my dad attempting to move past the first officer and that officer not moving, continuing to block the door way and then preceding to hold back my father. I screamed, “Daddy, just wait! Just wait! Don’t move any further.” While seeing the police restrain my father, I was reminded me of the rash, fatal shooting and tasering of Sammy Yatim and feared that my father could too have suffered a similar fate if the officer mistook his desire to stop his partner from entering the backyard of our home for defiance.
After the police finally left, my parents and I talked about the anxiety, distrust and fear we felt, and continue to feel, towards the police, especially as a black men and women. The aggressive and violent tactics of the police towards members of my community (men and women alike) is apparent, becoming more apparent over the past few years and making me more wary of the police force as one meant to ‘serve and protect.’ My countless experiences of this nature with police in Toronto have made me unlikely to call on them in times of need or assistance. They have shown that they do more harm than good in my community and, without reform or improvement, run the risk of worsening, intensifying the criminalization of and systemic discrimination they enact on black men and women.