By Clem Marshall
During the eighties I was co-chair of the Rally Against Apartheid, which marched on Queen’s Park thousands strong. We never dreamt back then that two generations later we, and all those who look like us, would become the victims of a creeping, corrosive system of underhand apartheid in Toronto. As a Black man, I know personally how humiliating this practice is. It forces us to live second-class lives. If “pass laws” in far off South Africa pushed us to boycott, demonstrate and protest, surely “carding” challenges every fair-minded Torontonian to reject attempts to coerce or reconcile us to the “stink” of discrimination right under our nose. Our human rights must always remain non-negotiable or they will be put at risk.
I remember several hopeful editorials in the Black press when Chief Blair first took the reins. As he prepares to leave, however, the taste of prejudice in his “carding” prescription remains a bitter reminder of failure in our mouths. Under his watch, “carding” has polluted and poisoned the very quality of daily Black male life. For example, security cameras around one Toronto building captured a police officer punching out a Black teenager for just walking away. But that’s what the police publicly insist individuals not arrested have every right to do! Thanks to the media, a stack of similar situations is slowly coming to light.
Let’s be clear! The reforms touted by officials, from Mayor John Tory to Police Board chair Alok Mukerjee, do not make Black Toronto feel respected or safe. “Carding” is a knife plunged gratuitously into our backs. Their proposed “reforms” only promise to pull that knife partly out.
Substituting Black male faces in high police places gives no guarantee that rank-and-file officers will respect the rights of Black men, youth and boys. Indeed, our community dearly needs Black officers who have also suffered or seen “carding” discrimination to step forward and tell their truths now.
If, as the Deputy Chief has suggested, they need “carding” in case of future crime, then why not card all mayors, given the record of recent years? Why not bankers, given recurrent scandals of money laundering, insider trading and mortgage fraud? Why not cabinet ministers, given repeated investigations of suspicious relationships between governments, public assets and wealthy private hands?
If Chief Bill Blair, Mayor John Tory and males in their families don’t have to keep looking over their shoulder for police because they are White, why should the law-abiding, tax-paying sons, fathers and brothers I know have to because we are Black? As long as we respect the rights of others and fulfill our civic responsibilities, the police should leave Black folks alone.
It is a burden having to constantly wonder if and when you are going to be stopped yet again. It is a burden worrying about what someone in uniform has written about you in secret and can pass on to others with power to do you harm. In my case, until I filed a Human Rights complaint, I did not know what and how often police had written statements about me. It’s scary. Where does such information go?
Why, in the name of our sacrificed Ancestors, are the police still permitted to reinforce specious, pernicious slurs that link crime and Black skin? As Black men, dignity demands we reject their hollow litany of good intentions. In our ears that can only sound like hypocrisy, played out against a backbeat of “carding” abuse.
Like all Torontonians, our Black sisters and brothers have every right to be left alone to enjoy our comings and goings in peace. It offends our human rights that police can track or hassle us at whim, or create records potentially damaging to our reputation for archives we aren’t allowed to see.
How dare authorities claim that carding is not “social engineering” when, as the Star reports, Blacks are stopped 17.3 times more than Whites? Clearly, most males are unlikely to be as repeatedly stopped and questioned by police as young, stigmatized Black males. This “carding” onslaught has left our community no choice but to band together for equal justice. Only equal justice tells the world we are indeed fully human and free. Knowing that this board lacks a Black presence, we must be super-vigilant in demanding that it defend everyone’s humanity. End carding NOW! Respect and restore Black Human Rights!
Clem Marshall, PhD