By Ajamu Nangwaya
"Any individual or group that would aspire to lead society must be ready to pay the costs of leadership: to accept the responsibility, to suffer calumny, to surrender security, to risk both reputation and fortune."
- George S. Counts
On June 7th, Toronto’s Mayor John Tory made a seemingly stunning and dramatic reversal of his support for carding. He announced at a press conference his “intention, at the next meeting of the police services board on June 18, to seek the permanent cancellation of carding once and for all.”
Carding is similar to New York’s “stop and frisk” practice. It is a repressive tool used by the cops to stop, question, document and store personal information of people in non-criminal encounters. This surveillance instrument is disproportionately used against Afrikans and other racialized people. It is mainly deployed against members of the working-class.
I have never seen such a display of euphoric support for a politician’s rejection of a programme in one breath, while expressing support for its continuation in another. This conservative mayor is essentially calling for a neo-carding regime under the pretense that it is “befitting a country whose values are founded on respect for individual and human rights.”
Is Mayor Tory returning to the April 24, 2014 carding policy that billed itself as a “proactive rights-based approach to the way in which members of the Toronto Police Service interact with members of the public”? It definitely looks like he is trending in that direction. That policy was still seen as carding, albeit an improved and sanitized way of executing the social containment of Afrikans and other socially marginalized groups.
Tory’s declaration is clearly indicating that he is still in favour of the police collecting personal information of Torontonians in non-criminal encounters. According to this master of policy optical illusion, he will pursue the “goal of putting in place strict measures dealing with the treatment of collected data. I think most of this as it relates to random encounters with innocent citizens could in fact be eliminated.”
He does not anticipate an end to carding people who are not suspects in criminal activities. Tory is looking for an approach that will significantly cut down the number of ‘random encounters with innocent citizens.’ Is he in favour of targeted encounters with residents in non-criminal interactions? Afrikan people would love the cops to just stay away from them, if they are not suspected of committing a criminal offence.
In supporting an end to the current carding regime, Tory expressed the desire “to start over with a clean slate.” The problem is that he is signaling to discernible minds that his new slate would not be substantively different from “a practice [carding] which has come to be regarded as illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful.”
Those of us who have being working on the resisting-police-violence file for years are not impressed by the public relations performance of slick or sincere sounding politicians. We measure the commitment of politicians and other public officials by their deeds, and not lofty words about respecting human and civil rights.
Mass public might be seeing Tory’s rhetorical change of heart as a progressive development. If the positive and approving response of most callers on June 7th to the “Grapevine with Fitzroy Gordon” programme on radio station 98.7FM may be used as an accurate measurement of public support for Tory’s announcement on carding, he has successfully sold Toronto a “6” for “9.”
Journalist Desmond Cole and vocal opponent of carding, while expressing a desire to see the eradication of all vestiges of carding had this to say, “You can imagine how excited I am” about Tory’s announcement.
Audrey Campbell, immediate past president of the Jamaican Canadian Association and civilian co-chair of the mortally ill Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) expressed her appreciation for Tory’s declaration, “Policy has to be set. It is a milestone. This is a great announcement. Now we have to look at what this will look like.”
Many political actors are not aware of the fact that the promises of politicians are as brittle as those of lovers who are caught up in the intoxicating and mind-blowing throes of passion. A neo-carding regime in Toronto is totally unacceptable to the members of the racialized working-class and the working-class in general.
The liberal petty bourgeois elements within the Afrikan community and those across Toronto might be willing to accept a renamed and “human rights-focused” carding programme, as demonstrated by their support for the Toronto Police Services Board’s April 2014 so-called progressive policy.
Anthony Morgan, a policy lawyer with the African Canadian Legal Clinic, is of the opinion that Peter Sloly, an ardent, if somewhat “enlightened” supporter of carding would be an ideal candidate to stickhandle John Tory’s post-carding investigative or intelligence gathering regime.
According to Morgan, “We know that there is a track record of progressive policing with Sloly. Saunders would be most wise to rely on that right now, and have (the two of) them work together through these issues.” These two police officials working on a successor programme to carding would be the equivalent of allowing the fox into the henhouse and appointing the former as the chief of security.
Even before the advent of carding in Toronto, the cops had been extracting personal information from people in non-criminal encounters. Yet it is the constitutional right of people in such situations to refuse the police’s request for information.
However, many accosted residents do not feel that they are in a position to tell the police that they will be leaving the scene since they are not being detained or under arrest.
It is only the organized power of the people in their neighbourhoods that is going to give effect to their right to not share personal information with the police. People of good conscience should organize and create the enabling environment for Torontonians to end carding through their collective effort.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an educator, organizer and writer. He is an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.