Dr. Dawg

Chief Billy-Bob keeps the Blacks in line

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Bill Blair.jpg

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is a happy man. Premier Dalton McGuinty, who had Blair’s back while hundreds of G20 protesters and ordinary citizens were having their rights violated by his uniformed thugs at the G20 protest in 2010, has announced permanent funding for an elite goon squad called Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS).

Fancy monikers like that tend to be a kind of public relations perfume, and in this case the musk is sorely needed. TAVIS officers are making a name for themselves, and it’s not a good one.

Here’s a particularly ripe example, which actually resulted in a rare conviction. More recently, four Black teenagers learned the hard way what “anti-violence intervention” is all about.

The kids had the usual bogus charges dropped with the help of a video camera, which is why I’m so ambivalent about the things. Ordinary folks like myself may dislike ending up on countless visual records when we go for a walk, but it was an active videocam that caught these cops gone wild.

Blair’s idea of policing appears to be one of intimidation—especially against those of darker skin complexion. The Toronto police have amassed a huge data-base filled with information gleaned largely by stopping innocent people and interrogating them on the street. Most of those citizens happen to be of the non-white persuasion. And TAVIS is front and centre in the information-gathering:

TAVIS officers, deployed in pockets of the city where violent crime is taking place, do stop, question and document citizens at a higher rate than normal patrol officers.

A Star analysis of contact card data obtained in a freedom of information request shows that of the 1.27 million citizen contacts between 2008 and mid-2011, TAVIS stops accounted for 120,000 — or almost one in 10 — of those. That’s 32,000 more than the next highest police unit, which is a police division.

Isn’t there a disjunct between this industrial-strength snooping and the bromides offered by the Harper government as it tore up the long-form census? Why, yes, indeed—not to mention the on-going obsessive interest in on-line surveillance by the government’s Paraguayan wing, with proffered assistance from our secret police. The information that Vic Toews appears to prefer is the sort gathered by people in uniform—some of them bearing electrodes and cables.

The Toronto cops are not, of course, the only force interested in the gratuitous harvesting of information from law-abiding citizens. It’s happening in Ottawa, in Vancouver, and no doubt in other major centres as well. It could get you a ticket where others get a warning; it could cost you your livelihood. And you have no way of correcting these records, sometimes constructed out of a cop’s biased impressions.

I owe a serious mea culpa, incidentally, to some of my commenters on an earlier post about the Toronto police’s bulging data-bank. I had suggested just walking away when a cop stops you for a street interrogation: and by so doing, I was expressing smug, white, middle-class privilege. The kids who actually live and breathe oppression know better, and I defer:

Before their arrests they had all taken a voluntary justice program, offered by the Ontario Justice Education Network. It ended with a mock trial before a real judge, and certificates were issued.

One thing the well-spoken young men said they learned is that they have rights during encounters with police.

“And then we learned that we didn’t have them,” said one of the teens, referring to the arrests.

“Everyone gets stopped in our area, because there’s lots of black people,” said the twin who was punched. “Lots of black people get stopped. Guys get stopped a lot more than girls.”

Asked if he would ever try to walk away from police again, the twin who was punched replied: “I’m not walking away and getting beaten up and charged again. If that video camera wasn’t there, I’d have no chance. It would be my word against police.”

The others agree that would be a bad idea.

Being Black in Billy-Bob Blair’s Toronto means living inside a blue cage:

The four teens from Neptune told the Star that, collectively, they have been stopped and documented by police in their neighborhood on more than 50 occasions.

“They stop you, you know everything you have to tell them,” explained one of the teens. “Your height, your age, your weight, your address, your phone number, where you live, where are you going, where are you coming from.

“Sometimes, I don’t have ID and that’s when it’s kind of scary. Now I have my health card and my driver’s licence.”

Try to imagine growing up in a world like that.

[H/t Min Reyes and Chris Tindal]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on August 7, 2012 5:04 PM.

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