This Article was featured in the June 2020 issue of the Observer and will be featured in the October 2020 issue of the Police Association of Ontario Quarterly Magazine.
As we head into June 2020, we continue to face the worldwide pandemic COVID-19, and the issues around systemic racism. First off, I would like to express my gratitude for living in this country. My experiences living and working here, in London Ontario, includes: freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the space to be heard; the ability to move throughout the country without fear; and access to a higher level of education.
Growing up in the south end of London meant I faced different obstacles then my peers from the north and west end of the city. It was through the support of my best friend, his family, my teachers and coaches that I was able to overcome these obstacles, becoming the successful individual I am today. My mother was the stereotypical single black woman, raising three children on her own. She worked long hours to provide for our basic needs, meaning there was no extra money for extracurricular activities. Knowing the financial struggles our family faced, my best friend’s parents paid for my flag football entry fee. This Scottish man took me in and treated me as a son, which included driving me to my sporting events if a coach was unable to do so.
Growing up in this part of the city meant that the police were individuals to avoid and not seen as part of the community. I remember having these long talks with my mom about NOT being brought home by the police “ I’m not joking with you, go play with your friends and better stay out of trouble”, this was reinforced by the other kids in the housing complex close to where I lived. As I’m sitting writing this article, I can’t remember anyone in my circle of friends having a parent as a Police officer, Firefighter, Teacher, Nurse, and Doctor etc in my neighborhood.
The turning point for me looking back was sports at school and organized football. I was able to develop good friendships at this young age and the support of all my teachers. At this time, my friends of colour who were not involved in sports were telling me of the difficulties that they were having with the police but I never thought much of it at the time, as it did not directly involve me. Sports was an outlet that shielded me from some of the systemic racism that we’re still facing today.
As I imagine everyone has seen and heard the reported situation in the United States regarding racism and police brutality. I would like to take this time to address a few of the issues this has brought to the forefront. Many people are surprised to find out that I have personally experienced racism. Many people see my success in sports, education and career; yet do not realize the different obstacles I have overcome to get here. Name calling and offside comments and/or jokes aside, being a black male living in the south end of London, meant I was stereotyped into a certain category. Yes, when I was a teenager, I was pulled over by the police often. I was polite, listened, and never had any confrontations, yet I knew when I saw a police vehicle it would tail me for long distances or pull the U-turn to pull me over. I was scared and pulled over to the side of the road and surrendered all my documents. I was never issued a ticket due to my gift of gab. Nonetheless, I was always nervous around the police due to the fact that they could alter the course of my life by a simple traffic ticket. This might not seem like a big deal until you apply for a job and was told that you did not get it but for the fact of a ticket or their perception of me.
Living in the south end of the city meant that I shopped at White Oaks Mall. I would enter the mall and was followed by loss prevention throughout the stores. I always had a part time job, and the money to purchase items, yet I was feeling uncomfortable during my shopping experiences being followed and watched. This stereotype was now an obstacle I had to overcome. This example is a simple one to help start the conversation on the awareness of systemic racism. No, I’m not calling anyone racist. After watching the disgusting and inhumane demise of George Floyd. It’s was obvious to me that something was horribly wrong with policing in the United States. These events have been going on for decades and if not for social media would not have been brought to the forefront.
The difference living in Canada rather than the United States is that systemic racism might have played a part in me being pulled over, yet it never led to extreme use of force or violence. The protests we are watching worldwide are bringing both of these issues to light. I believe it is important to note that under the umbrella of these two topics, in my opinion, the lack of training is a contributing factor to the unnecessary violence we are witnessing. Diversity, uses of force and community partnership are examples of the types of training that are mandated for our police officers in this country. Training across Canada is at a high standard. We are taught to work within a partnership with our communities. We are not perfect, there are gaps in the system, but I am confident that we will continue to evolve and maintain our standards and community involvement.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been approached and asked what’s the big deal with all the protest. “I’ve never been stopped by the police”, “the police have never used violence against me or my friends”. That’s the point of the protest, unlike you and your friends, some groups within our population have been stopped by the police, have had force used against them or their friends”. I’m sure that no one is disputing that police have to use force to affect a lawful arrest. It’s the excessive force and disconnect between certain cultures and communities that we’re focusing on.
The one common theme that I would agree with is that we are NOT the United States. Canadians as a people are not so divided on political lines that they’ve lost sight of the love and respect for each other. This does not mean that we don’t have our own problems and can continue to improve within our profession. I believe that all dialogue is good and we can all express our views and experiences.
The public is crying for changes in the United States, frankly they are demanding it. I can only speak for being a police officer in Canada, that we have seen drastic changes over my career. The level of Use of Force training, Diversity training, and being partners within the community, have changed drastically. Today’s officer is much more accountable for his/her actions due to the demand from the public which have created such oversight bodies as Office of the Independent Police Review Director, Special Investigations Unit, and internal bodies such as Professional Standards Branch which deal with policy and procedure/Chiefs complaints.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you some of the contributions that our Civilian, Sworn and retired members have made to be partners with our community. Charitable contribution or support to a variety of local initiatives like the food bank, women shelters, Random Acts, Salvation Army, Association of Black law Enforcers, LGBTQIA+, Children’s food programs etc.
Now, when you watch the chaos in the United States, I am hoping you can relate back to our training, and understand its necessity. Without this training, we could be in a similar situation. To understand the reality and experiences of others not like you, will only benefit us all in the long run. We will have more diverse, empathetic, engaged, police officers to uplift all members of our community.
In conclusion, I would like to mention to the diverse members of our community that the majority of people are in support and want to see you succeed. When these individuals reach out to assist you, accept their help and assist others within your community. To the officer that comes into contact with that diverse male or female, take a moment to truly see how you can alter someone’s life from your interaction. Try to make this interaction a positive one and it will filter down throughout the community and change the next generation of young people.
We still have a lot of work to do but these movements will assist us moving in the right direction. On a side note, I still have a small stone that a white lady gave me back in March when COVID 19 closed the province down “Heroes”.