Frances Henry & Carol Tator

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RACIAL PROFILING: CHALLENGING THE MYTH OF A "FEW BAD APPLES"

INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK

"Profiling is the inverse of law enforcement. In law enforcement, a crime is discovered and the police then look for a suspect who might possibly have committed it. Profiling means that a suspect is discovered and the police then look for a crime for the person to have possibly committed"(Martinot, 2003:168)

This book on racial profiling begins with a story. The narrative of "Peter Owusu-Ansah's Nightmare", written by Carol Goar appeared in the Toronto Star on August 15, 2004 . His story is repeated daily on the streets of Toronto and in towns and cities across Canada . The victims are often Black, but racial profiling also impacts on other racialized minority populations including Asians, Muslims and Arabs, Hispanics, and especially Aboriginal peoples. The following is an edited version of the Star article:

Peter Owusu-Ansah is young, Black and hearing impaired. Over a four year period, he had been stopped by the police while riding his bicycle to work, while sitting in the coffee shops, while walking down the street - a total of seventeen times. He was ordered to empty his knapsack and pockets countless times and pushed against walls. "Now, every time I see them coming, I'm afraid." The first seventeen times the police stopped him for questioning, he was cooperative. The eighteenth time (Sept, 2002) as he and a group of friends finished a game of basketball at the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf in Toronto , followed by a stop at McDonalds and then a walk to the bus stop, a police cruiser, lights flashing, stopped them for questioning. When the two officers got out of the car and started asking questions Owusu-Ansah, who can lip-read, explained that his friends were deaf and he was hard of hearing. One of the officers demanded that he produce identification and he responded that he did not have any on him. She asked for him name, address and birthdate. He responded: "Why are you asking me all these questions?" Two more officers were summoned. Owusu-Ansah was then separated from his friends and interrogated by another constable. What happened next has become the subject of two legal actions and a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The police say that they questioned him in relation with a reported robbery at a near-by high school. He alleges that he was pushed into the police cruiser and taken to a spot behind a high school and there was punched in the head and in the groin repeatedly. He couldn't understand anything the officers were saying because he cannot lip-read in the dark. Finally, the police officers put him back in the car and dropped him off at a bus stop. Owusu-Ansah filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and also launched a suit against the two police officers for assault. Elizabeth Brückmann, the lawyer handling his human rights complaint, held out little hope that the two officers would be convicted arguing that "When you have the word of a young Black male against the word of two police officers, the young Black man is going to lose every time."

Narratives like Peter Owusu-Ansah's were a catalyst to the launching of a series in the Toronto Star in October 19, 2002 on the racial profiling of African Canadians. It is an issue that has resonated within the Black community and other racialized minority communities - affecting the everyday lives of men, women and youth of colour. T he Toronto Star, a paper that has a long history and a solid reputation for doing in-depth series on important social issues, ran the first of a series of articles on racial profiling of African Canadians/Blacks. The articles were based on a two-year probe of race and crime statistics gathered from a Toronto police database that documents arrests and charges laid. The database detailed more than 480,000 incidents in which an individual was arrested or ticketed for an offence, and nearly 800,000 criminal and other charges laid by police from late 1996 to early 2002. The data was accessed through the Freedom of Information Act after police denied the Star access.

A statistician from York University was consulted on the methodology and analysis used throughout the study. The study of the crime data revealed significant disparities in the ways in which Blacks and Whites are treated in law enforcement practices. More specifically, the data showed: (1) A disproportionate number of Black motorists are ticketed for violations that only surface following a traffic stop. (2) Black people, charged with simple drug possession, are taken to police stations more often than Whites facing the same charge. (3) Once at the station, accused Blacks are held overnight for a bail hearing at twice the rate of Whites.

The publication of the Star series on race and policing resulted in hundreds of news stories, columns, editorials, and letters to the editor. While the coverage was primarily in the Star, the issue was also covered in other print media including alternative presses such as Share, the African Canadian newspaper and carried by television and radio local and national news programs. Following the publication of the first articles in the Star there was an immediate and hostile set of responses from the Toronto policing authorities including: the Chief of Police, the Toronto Police Services Board, The Toronto Police Association, and the President of the Toronto Police Union. Many other public authorities including politicians and journalists from other papers adopted a common discursive position: categorical denial that racial profiling existed. On the other side of the divide, the voices of the Black community affirmed the reality of racial profiling as a persistent and systemic problem in their lives. With almost one voice and a single narrative they validated the Star's findings.

The series in the Star provoked a discursive crisis that continues to reverberate. The concept of a 'discursive crisis' refers to a set of conditions that has a profound impact upon society, and more specifically, the state of minority/majority relations. The crisis may have a short duration, but as in the case of the subject of this book, the crisis was prolonged. Two years after the first article was published, the struggle against racial profiling continues, as does the battle of the Black community to give voice to their struggle against racism in policing and in the other sectors of Canadian society.

 

The Theoretical Foundation of the Book

The framework that informs this book on racial profiling has been influenced by many disciplines including cultural studies, critical criminology, and critical race theory. In grappling with the sometimes acrimonious debates over the efficacy of one theoretical model over another in academic and other forms of research, we concur with Cottle (2000), who suggests that the clash of frameworks on the questions of knowledge, methodology, and the role of politics in academic life, can be a positive force in helping to address issues of critical concern to society. It can also help to push the boundaries of knowledge into new, productive and creative areas of discovery. We believe that critical theory in the social sciences, criminology, and the law and the critical analytical approach that forms the core of cultural studies is an appropriate methodology for undertaking a study of the highly conflicted issue of racial profiling. Critical theory addresses the contested constructs of ideology and hegemony, power and powerlessness, domination and resistance, representation and misrepresentation, normality and abnormality. It acknowledges the dialectical nature of knowledge, truth and "commonsense" beliefs. A critical approach also supports the importance of discourse and discourse analysis, dominant and counter-narratives, essentialism and difference, identity and subjectivity, meaning and myth, as vehicles for understanding the dynamics of racism in democratic liberal societies. Thus, the many disciplines that are influenced by critical theory offer both common and different strategic tools in uncovering the nexus of race, racism and crime, as well as providing alternative approaches and insights to the study of how racial profiling functions within policing and other institutional sectors and systems.

We have used the discursive approach in much of our recent work. (see Henry and Tator, 2005, 2002, 2000, 1998), which has been strongly influenced by scholars such as Hall (1978; 1997), van Dijk (1988, 1991, 1993), Fiske (1994, 1999, 2000), and Fairclough (1992, 1995), among others. This approach emphasizes the belief that in democratic liberal societies discourse is not just a symptom of the problem of racism, but it essentially reproduces the racialized beliefs, values, norms and actions of the White majority. Thus, we, and our contributing authors, Charles Smith and Maureen Brown, have chosen to use this 'discursive event' as an accessible way of approaching the many complex and challenging issues that racial profiling continues to raise in Canada today.

Although the book is framed around a particular set of phenomena, it is important to emphasize that the issues addressed by the Star series and the responses that it produced have their roots in the larger historical and contemporary struggles of Black people to be treated as full and equal citizens of a democratic liberal society. The contestation over the issue of racial profiling reflects the deep chasm between the dominant and unchanging, White political, cultural, and social systems, and those who suffer from their disenabling and marginalizing effects.

The crisis that the Toronto Star series provoked took the form of a highly charged and conflictual set of dominant discourses across a broad spectrum of public spaces that included newsrooms, courtrooms, government agencies and academic and government-sponsored conferences. The subject of racial profiling was hotly contested in meeting rooms of the police service board, and forums organized by social agencies and community and youth agencies. Perhaps the most wrenching of these "conversations" took place in the private spaces of Black families. Royson James, columnist at the Toronto Star wrote of how racial profiling affects his own family:

. . . only some of us parents know the palpable, paralyzing fear that the car will be stopped by Toronto, Peel, Durham or York police, searched, have its passengers harassed and humiliated - simply because the driver is our black son.

. . . Ask your black colleague and he or she will share DWB stories. That's Driving While Black. They have the scars, most emotional but some physical as well to prove it.They know the stereotype of the angry young black male; that a significant number of police officers feel blacks are criminal beasts deserving attention from law enforcers; that some elements of society harbour such racist sentiments; that black don't have the same freedom to make mistakes like everyone else because the consequences could be harsher, the punishment more severe . . . . ( Royson James, "Why I Fear For My Sons." Toronto Star , October 21, 2002 ) .

The Toronto Star series on race and crime and the responses from the White public authorities offer critical insights into the way in which racialized discourse is used to deny and deflect attention away from the general issue of racism in policing, and more specifically, the highly contested issue of racial profiling of Blacks. Racial profiling is a manifestation of "democratic racism" in which racialized bias and discrimination "cloaks its presence" in liberal principles. Democratic racism is an ideology in which two conflicting sets of values are made congruent to each other. The consequence of this tension ensures that commitments to justice, fairness, and equality conflict but coexist with values and behaviours that include negative feelings about people of colour, and differential treatment of them (see Henry and Tator, 2005).

The term racial profiling is of rather recent origin (see Harris, 2002:11). It is usually confined to discussions of policing racially diverse communities. In this book these practices are described, especially in relation to the Black community by contributing author Charles Smith in chapter three. However, our use of this term is broader and deeper and includes the various discourses that are articulated by public authorities such as police and government officials and media in their efforts to rationalize and justify racialized behaviours and practices. We think of racial profiling as yet another word for racism or racialization, and therefore, race is given a discursive meaning as it applies to all social institutions and aspects of everyday life within systems of social control and representation. Like Hall (1978, 1997 and Foucault (1977,1980) we analyze the ideological underpinnings of racial profiling as revealed in the everyday dominant discourses of elite public authorities including police.

This approach, which draws upon both Hall and Foucault, does more than illuminate White dominant beliefs and values systems, but actually reveals how the "the body of the criminal is produced and disciplined " within discourse, according to the different discursive formations - the state of knowledge about crime and the criminal, and what counts as 'true' about how to change criminal behaviour (Hall, 1997:50; Foucault, 1977: 63).

Our approach to the issue and practice of racial profiling is to deconstruct the hegemony that shapes the lives of Black people and other minoritized communities by identifying the markers of meaning that underlie the everyday text, talk, and actions of the policing community, as well as other White elite who maintain and preserve systems of social control and representation (see Hall, 1980).

Another major thread in our discursive analysis of racial profiling is to incorporate the oppositional narratives of African Canadians and other people of colour as told to Maureen Brown, the Ontario Human Rights Commissions, the Toronto Star and in countless other reports, studies and forums. These stories provide a huge body of evidence that challenge the dominant narratives of White authorities that racial profiling does not exist.

 

© Carol Tator & Dr. Frances Henry
franceshenry@sympatico.ca | ctator@yorku.ca

 
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© Dr. Frances Henry & Carol Tator

franceshenry@sympatico.ca | ctator@yorku.ca