DEFUND THE POLICE! REFUND THE POLICE! ABOLISH THE POLICE!
NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.
Accountability, transparency…..and control….are long ago prototypical standards waylaid by a self-serving agenda licensed by complicit civic leaders and an inattentive citizenry. This lives wherever democracy is presumed but unguarded, and it can’t be put on police or politicians. It rests at the feet of everyone and anyone who ignores their inherent communal responsibility. As former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner liked to say, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident.”
When Breonna Taylor’s family recently agreed to a U.S.$12 million settlement with the city of Louisville in Kentucky after she was killed by police, it included an apology from the mayor and an undertaking to “reform” police practices. This included changes to how warrants are handled, establishing a housing credit program to prod officers to live in some low-income areas, encouraging police to volunteer two paid hours of work every two weeks in the neighbourhoods they serve, and tracking police use-of-force incidents and citizen complaints.
Ms. Taylor’s family insists that this is “only the beginning of getting full justice for Breonna,” her mother said. “We must not lose focus on what the real job is…..it’s time to move forward with the criminal charges (against the police officers involved)…..” Aside from cashing the cheque, what changes happen in Louisville will depend a whole lot more on Breonna’s family and the people of Louisville than on its civic leaders and the police.
Eric Adams pushed for police reforms from the inside. He is presently the 60-year-old Borough President of Brooklyn, New York City, was a Democratic State Senator in New York for eight years, and previously served 22 years in the NYPD, leaving with the rank of captain. In 1995, he co-founded the reform group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.
When Adams was 15 years old, he and his brother were arrested for criminal trespassing. “My brother and I were both arrested together, and we were both abused together, and the police officers who arrested us did not hit us all over our body. They just kicked us in our groin repeatedly. ……it caused the urination of blood for almost seven days.” He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after the incident and believes his brother still suffers from mental health illness in 2020 because of the beating in 1975.
This space can only sketch a sampling of what Eric Adams learned during those 22 years in the service. He and other black NYPD officers constantly fought systemic racism within police culture to get the promotions and placements they earned. And, while he didn’t see the changes he hoped, his comments are informative and revealing.
“….if every encounter you’ve had with a police officer was a negative symbol, then when you see that uniform, that shield, that gun, it becomes a symbol of repressive behaviour. We police based on the behaviour of the numerical minority that is committing crime. That small percentage of people who commit crimes in a community becomes the methods that’s used for the entire community.”
“If police show up at a birthday party, they’re not there because they were invited. Police see only the worst in a community.” Adams criticized the policing of communities by cops who don’t live in the communities they police.
“Police have two rights that even the president does not have, the right to take liberty and to take life…….And that is why I critiqued and looked at how we were policing to say, if you’re going to wear this uniform and this badge, you must be of the highest quality.”
“The arrogance of – don’t question us because we protect you – is a thing of the past. Steve Jobs made everyone now a director of a movie that could determine what the end of the script would be. For many years, people of colour were talking about being shot, being brutalized, being arrested. And it was ignored because – I always borrow from Jack Nicholson’s comment in ‘A Few Good Men’ when he said that you really don’t want to know the truth – the reality is that much of America did not want…..(to handle the truth).”
Racism, systemic racism, hate groups have taken centre stage in 2020 to challenge both police and policing. These are major concerns facing law enforcement everywhere, and with Toronto’s police service and other Ontario police forces, they head a long list of issues that have been neglected for decades.
This is but a short primer on where we stand in Toronto.
“Province blasted over ‘outdated’ police training” read the headline over Wendy Gillis’ byline under the Toronto Star banner on Tuesday, October 6 of this year. The deck added, “Ombudsman wrote damning report in 2016 lashes out at the ‘glacial’ pace of reform.” Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé’s 2016 report, A Matter of Life and Death, received short shrift from the Toronto police board and city politicians who claimed it was under careful review while in truth it was stuck in an intentional gridlock looking for a path to nowhere. “If you persistently fail to respond to calls for reforms that are evolutionary, you eventually get demands for changes that are revolutionary,” Mr. Dubé concluded in the Star story.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (www.ohrc.ca) presented the Toronto Police Service Board with its latest report, a follow-up on ‘A Collective Impact’ that focused on use of force by Toronto police. Dated August 2020, ‘A Disparate Impact – Second interim report on the inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service,’ it found that the charge rate against Black persons was 3.9 times higher than against White persons. The OHRC gave this report to the police board in July followed by a two-hour briefing in August, but then said the board talks a lot about collaboration but doesn’t do it.
The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (www.tpac.ca) is a group which encourages debate about police policy issues, and is devoted to making the police more accountable to the public. It publishes a bulletin at least once a month.
The TPAC noted that of the 81 recommendations in the Toronto Police Service Board’s ‘Police Reform in Toronto’ report, all of which were accepted at the Board’s August meeting, few “actually involve specific actions apart from preparing reports.” Further, “It was clear the Board has no intention of responding to public interest in changing the way in which policing works in Toronto.”
And finally, we posted “Toronto police – mercenaries?” on May 1 of 2016, and “As we said….mercenaries!” on February 10, 2019. From the 2019 entry, “The problem with parachute policing.”……“When neighbourhood residents know their officers as invested stakeholders in the community’s fortunes, the relationship generally changes for the better..…as it stands now, the perception that officers have no stake in the community once they’ve stowed their badges and guns can only further erode resident trust of police, given the history of random street checks, brutal force applied to citizens who have committed no crime, and failure to report incidents to the civilian oversight agency.”
Last word….if people want change, people can make change.