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Shree Paradkar: Toronto police reaction to Marci Ien shows woeful ignorance of racism basics

For having the courage to share her story, Ien is now placed in the centre of a circle of doubt.

Journalist Marci Ien said in her account of the incident in the Globe and Mail that she was pulled over for the third time in eight months — this time in her own driveway.

Colin McConnell / Torstar file photo

Journalist Marci Ien said in her account of the incident in the Globe and Mail that she was pulled over for the third time in eight months — this time in her own driveway.

A predictable quality about air bubbles is that they always rise to the surface.

So it is with the light weight of ignorance.

Late last week, a senior Toronto police officer went on Twitter to dispute journalist Marci Ien’s account in the Globe and Mail of race playing a factor in being pulled over for the third time in eight months, and this time in her own driveway. She described the subsequent and now all-too-familiar fear and uncertainty and anxiety and fatigue of DWB, or Driving While Black.

She said she did nothing wrong, and was not given a ticket.

“You failed to stop at a stop sign,” a tweet by Staff Supt. Mario Di Tommaso read in part. “It was dark. Your race was not visible on the video and only became apparent when you stepped out of the vehicle in your driveway.”

His views were echoed by Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon.

“We are accountable,” she wrote on Twitter. “The whole event (incl. the traffic infraction) is on camera. The ethnicity of the driver is not visible until after she was pulled over, when she exits the car.”

Then Toronto Police Association chief Mike McCormack swooped in with a spectacular bit of you-asked-for-it-ism, tweeting an excerpt from a 2005 Globe and Mail interview of Ien where she said she liked speeding.

How easy it is to disrupt the innocent Black person narrative.

She said this in 2005. Therefore she must deserve being pulled over three times in 2017-18.

Unsurprisingly, they led the conversation down the path to square one: Was it racism or not?

What is worth noting is that a police force that talks of building relations with the Black community and setting up “sensitivity training” remains out of its depth even with the basics of racism.

Racism isn’t just about intent. It’s also about outcomes.

Racism can occur without anyone having to be a racist — or without someone being actively prejudiced against a person of colour.

A Black person could be stopped five times by five different police officers, without any officer consciously disliking Black people.

For having the courage to share her story, Ien is now placed in the centre of a circle of doubt, a position that so many people of colour find themselves in when they speak of their experiences.

Disrespected, based on her account, by the cop who stopped her.

Disbelieved, humiliated and dismissed by the cops who challenged her story.

When police spokesperson Mark Pugash told the Star, “Ms. Ien has made some very serious allegations and we would encourage her to file a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director,” he means she should initiate a process that would hinge on proving whether the individual officer who stopped her was racist.

Nowhere in Ien’s piece is the allegation that the man who stopped her was racist.

But Pugash, and indeed his senior brass, depressingly show no understanding of systemic racism; in this case, a system not set up to mitigate a bundle of experiences that belong to the umbrella of racism.

What is being asked of Ien is to ignore the countless experiences and stories of humiliation, and manhandling by police. Ignore the needless deaths, some captured on videos that have scarred so many.

Ignore all those individual stories that stitch together to show a pattern of racial profiling and prove this particular incident to be racist.

In her book So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo says, “Those who demand the smoking gun of a racial slur or swastika or burning cross before they believe that an individual encounter with the police might be about race are ignoring what we know and what the numbers are bearing out …We are being targeted.”

Data from traffic stops found that Ottawa police are more likely to pull over disproportionate numbers of Black (and Middle Eastern) drivers.

Black people are three times more likely to be street checked in Halifax, according to information released by the Halifax Regional Police.

In Toronto, the seven-year long Black Experience Project found 79 per cent of Black men between the ages of 25 and 44 have been stopped by police in public places.

How Black people (and Indigenous people and other marginalized people) experience police is different from how people with specific status of race and age and wealth experience police. How we all experience police at the point of help is different from how we do at the point of criminalization.

“The power and corruption that enable police brutality put all citizens, of every race, at risk. But it does not put us at risk equally, and the numbers bear that out,” writes Oluo.

An individualistic society lead by those with status whose interests the police uphold has no impetus for changing the system.

And the wilfully ignorant, they go along for the ride.

Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar

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