By Ajamu Nangwaya
In the eyes of the Afrikan community, Marley’s Sheriff John Brown is symbolic of all police, or of Babylon in the language of the Rastafarians, for whom Marley is a chief icon. In the world view of the Rastafarians, and Afrikans in general, Babylon and the police are interchangeable terms for the most visible, oppressive, and racist presence of the criminal justice system.
In 2011, Afrikans comprised 2.5 per cent of Canada’s population but made up 9 per cent of its federal prisoners. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of Afrikans in Canadian prisons grew by 40 per cent, according to a report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator. The police are on the front line of the prison-industrial complex, and their racial profiling and overpolicing activities generate the bodies for the court and prison systems. “Every time I plant a seed” for liberation and dignity, the police “said kill it before it grow.”
The police are at hand to keep Afrikans in their place and to prevent or discourage overt resistance to their exploited condition. In 1989, the Toronto police carried out a surveillance program against 13 organizations and 18 individuals who participated in the campaign for police accountability measures. In 1994, a report exposed the RCMP’s secret monitoring of black power organizations, documenting the racist language and stereotypes used by the police in their descriptions of these groups and their non-violent activists.