by Shree Paradkar
Is it possible that we really don’t understand the difference between acts of criminality by Black people and police violence against Black people?
Could we be so compassionless as to not see that the former is grounded in historical violence and discrimination, and the latter is the enforcer of that discrimination?
Do we see the lack of equivalence, the power differentials between the shooting in the Annex on Monday, say, or the weekend shootings in North York and the allegations that Barrie police in June beat, tackled and Tasered a Black man reaching for his ID after they asked for it? That man, Olando Brown, is now dead.
The Black Lives Matter group organized a rally seeking justice for Brown last Wednesday.
A response I hear far too often is: where are BLM when Black people are killing each other?
This is a question often repeated on social media. I’ve heard journalists ask this. And on Sunday, in response to a Toronto Sun reporterís tweet on “Black crime,” an elected official from Markham, Unionville ward councillor Don Hamilton, responded:
“Why haven’t we heard from the Black Lives Matters group? Its (sic) Blacks killing Blacks and so far we haven’t heard a peep from them.”
BLM isn’t the only representative of Black people, but it is the most visible and therefore also feared and reviled.
While I don’t belong to the BLM movement and I don’t speak for its members, I find them to be provocative, courageous, profoundly committed to anti-racism and successful in moving the needle on larger societal understanding of issues that harm the marginalized.
Surely, it’s obvious even to those who don’t share my admiration and the most desultory of observers that BLM is not a security force that can prevent acts of criminality.
Why should a civilian advocacy group speak out against criminals just because its members share the same skin colour? Shouldn’t it be a basic assumption that everybody agrees killing is wrong?
Itís like blaming Greenpeace for climate change, asking its activists to be accountable for hurricanes, floods and droughts even as they fight the very conditions that give rise to those problems.
It’s like asking white LGBTQ advocacy groups to be accountable for the actions of the alleged gay village serial killer Bruce McArthur.
When people ask why BLM members donít protest Black criminality, it shows how little they understand what is being protested. Black criminals donít kill each other over their race. Theyíre killing for the same reason white criminals kill: money, power, control.
But when Black people are overpoliced – something that began with 19th-century laws that criminalized them unduly – the police violence carries the weight of a state-funded institution with severe to fatal consequences for people who happen to share shades of one skin colour.
The people pointing to Black activistsí lack of outrage over Black criminals also unwittingly show how much they have aligned their own identity with that of the power structures of the state, and how much they support a system designed to uphold only their interests.
Why else would they view a critique of the police system as a critique of white individuals? That police system could well have Black or Asian or other POC individuals who perpetuate the same whiteness-upholding system.
Journalists, too, mistakenly assume the race of a police officer who shoots a Black person is relevant to establishing racism as a motive.
A Black person engaging in criminal activity has naught to do with the colour of their skin but much more to do with poor education, inadequate housing and lack of hope for the future among other circumstances that they find themselves in. Most people are defined by their circumstances. Only a few defy and transcend them.
How we frame these conversations around criminality and Black people impacts attitudes and influences actions.
Toronto Mayor John Tory’s comments calling criminals who happen to be Black “anti-social sewer rats” may come across as justifiable anger to some but, given the context of sweeping anti-Blackness in society, it only serves to fuel simmering, racist hostilities.
In the absence of thoughtful leadership, what we, as individuals, need more than ever are insightful and compassionate perspectives that begin within viewing Black people as humans first.
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services