What was the TTC thinking!!!
One day in February 2018, a 19 year old black man named Reece Maxwell-Crawford was stepping off a streetcar near St Claire Ave West and Bathurst Street when he was tackled and forcefully brought to the ground under the weight of three Toronto Transit Commission officers. Despite his screams of “you’re hurting me”, the pressure was eased only after Maxwell-Crawford was handcuffed by police who had arrived at the scene. He was later released without a charge being laid.
The TTC and the Toronto Police Service after conducting separate investigations into the affair did not lay any charges, criminal or otherwise, against the three fare inspectors who were involved in the incident. The TTC released its report in July 2018, which said that there was not enough evidence to prove that there was misconduct on the part of the inspectors.
We suspect that we would not have heard much about the incident at this time if the City of Toronto ombudsman, Susan Opler didn’t look into the TTC’s investigation into the incident.
Opler’s report, released last Thursday, criticized the TTC investigation into the behavior of their three inspectors. Her report pointedly took issue with the TTC’s failure to find at least one employee guilty of misconduct. She said that the TTC investigation into misconduct and alleged racial discrimination by the inspectors was “not sufficiently fair, thorough or transparent to justify its conclusions.”
But for the ombudsman’s intervention we would not have known the following: that the transit inspector, who was on board when Reece-Maxwell entered the bus, claimed that the young man gave him a protracted stare with his hands in his pocket; that was why he jumped Reece-Maxwell with the help of two other inspectors as he exited the streetcar.
The inference that begs to be drawn from the testimony of the fare inspector, who initiated the attack on Reece Maxwell, is that a protracted stare, especially if it’s accompanied by hands-in-the-pocket is a sure sign of bad intentions; even if having your hands in your pocket in the middle of winter (February no less) is a practice as normal as shorts and sandals in July.
Furthermore, the TTC admits that the evidence they used all came from the videos that were shot of the incident. As to that the ombudsman said: “The first fare inspector as well as an independent witness said that they felt uncomfortable because this young man had his hands in his pockets and might have a weapon. In fact, he does not have his hands in his pockets at any point on the video,” she said.
Throughout the TTC’s investigation they accepted the words of one fare inspector who claimed that the young man on exiting the streetcar stared at him and entered “his personal space”. He pushed him back into the streetcar and the ensuing ruckus ended in the man being handcuffed and released. The TTC never mentioned that it was a black man or that he was completely innocent of all the assumptions they made that day; and that he was roughed up on a hunch that became fact simply because he was black.
The fact that all their evidence comes from a video which contradicted all the assumptions they made that day indicate that the whole incident would likely to have been covered up but for the intervention of the ombudsman. Furthermore, it seems that the TTC did somersaults in their probe in order not to look at what was really staring them in the face: the high possibility of racial profiling.
Since the incident Mr. Reece-Maxwell, who was studying to become a paralegal, became suicidal, lost trust of law enforcement, and has returned to his mother’s home after living independently for some time. In short the young man has been badly shaken and may well struggle to live a productive life. He has quite rightly launched a lawsuit against the TTC.
For us in Caribbean community, the abuse of Mr. Reece-Maxwell is but one of a sizable number of young black men who have suffered the same fate. But unlike this incident, these other young men suffer in silence because their stories will never see the light of day.