By Gerald V. Paul
“Race matters and there is still a lot of work to be done to truly reflect America’s or Canada’s vision of a just society,” the president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations told The Camera in reacting to the police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Gary Pieters said, “What has happened in Ferguson has left many across the United States of America and around the world feeling deeply unsettled that rather than de-escalating the situation, the militarized response has the opposite effect of making communities feel less secured and vulnerable about the manner in which rights can quickly evaporate at the hands of a militarized force.”
Born in England of Guyanese heritage, Pieters said the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, is “chilling, deeply troubling, and serves as the microcosm of the deep racial disparities and the racial divide still exists in America despite the fact that its president self-identifies as African American.”
Pieters was part of 24 community organizations documenting the challenges in the community with the title: Embracing Hope: Building Community-Based Solutions on Violence Prevention in Toronto. They discussed the intensity of gun-violence, with regards to the city’s Summer of Violence.
He said Ferguson brings to the forefront many critically important civil rights issues including police use of lethal force, allegations of racial profiling and disproportionate use of lethal force by police against African-Americans, people of colour, heavy-handed and militarized policing of predominantly Black communities, resulting in a society less secure and under siege.
Previously, Deputy Metro Police Chief Peter Sloly told The Camera at a gathering of ethnic journalists at Queen’s Park that “according to the Police and Community Engagement Review recommendations (PACER Report) the service will create a new core value articulating the service’s explicit, continued commitment to delivering bias-free police services and that a new values statement reflecting the new core values is embedded in all related service governance.”
Sloly, executive sponsor of the project which made 31 recommendations, noted the service will use PACER to drive the necessary changes. “The mission of PACER is to end racial profiling and to make the Toronto Police Service a world leader in bias free police delivery.”
Over the past year, the quantity of contact cards has been reduced by about 90% and in the same period, major crime was also reduced by double digits. Police officers will also be required to inform people they approach that they are free to leave (unless they are detained or arrested). They will also be trained to use “respectful language” in a non- intimidating way in these encounters. And those in leadership positions will ensure that street checks are not used as a “pretext” to get the information police need to detain an individual.
Pieters stressed that issues of racial profiling, carding and racialization of poverty are still areas of concern for minorities, whether in the U.S. or Canada.
“Significant as well, is the squashing of people’s legitimate right to protest police violence.”
On Saturday, several dozen people peacefully demonstrated at Dundas Square, holding their hands in the air and chanting “Don’t shoot, I’m unarmed” in solidarity with those in Ferguson.
The Camera made repeated attempts to contact Metro Police spokesmen for an update on how the force currently handles cases involving race but calls were not returned by the deadline on Wednesday.
Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder
to Ferguson to speak with the various law enforcement agencies involved in investigating the fatal shooting of Brown, 18, and the ongoing protests.
In a statement announcing his trip to the region, Holder said, “I intend to meet with FBI investigators and prosecutors on the ground from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office officials about the ongoing investigation.”
Holder also said he found “the selective release of sensitive information” in the case “troubling.”
Diddy to Obama – get on a plane!
In the music world, everyone from J. Cole to Frank Ocean to Moby has commented on the Ferguson tragedy, with rappers Diddy and Nelly becoming more pro active.
Diddy called out U.S. President Barack Obana on the issue and
Nelly decided to get in touch with Michael Brown’s family to start up a scholarship fund in his name.
While watching TV coverage of Ferguson Tuesday night, Diddy took to Instagram to deliver a video message to Obama.
“This sh-t ain’t right,” Diddy said. “Obama, get on a plane – it’s serious. These are your people, baby. These are your people.”
Obama has addressed Ferguson in carefully worded statements but has yet to visit the volatile city. “We’ve got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances and maybe long-standing grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior,” Obama said during a Monday press conference.
During his show at Uforia festival in Los Angeles, St. Louis-born Nelly addressed the issues facing Ferguson since the police shooting. He told Billboard Magazine backstage it’s his responsibility to make sure the rest of the country is aware of what’s happening in Ferguson.
“If you really want change, then you gotta change the mentality and the strategy. It’s frustrating sometimes because we want a different outcome but we’re not taking a different approach. And that’s what I think my job is, to help say, ‘Listen, man, it’s a better way we can do this, but we have to change our mentality, we have to strategize because what we’re up against is already strategizing’.”