Lessons for Canada

Lessons for Canada

Given the gravity and the volatile nature of the issues involved, The Caribbean Camera finds it necessary to provide some extensive analysis to explain the basis for its forceful statement of principles and opinion which comes at the end of this Editorial.

The violent death of unarmed Black eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in an encounter with the white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, imposes on all of us the responsibility to ask Fergusonourselves some important questions. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the questions are only important for those who live in the U.S.

In the current racially charged atmosphere, are the American authorities and people capable of the calm and collaborative management of the explosive issues facing them? Must this specific case be seized upon as a timely and strategic opportunity for them to take an aggressive step forward in the pursuit of justice and equity in policing?

Is the increasingly high-level intervention of the American political authorities an effective strategy to address public concerns about the proper management of the Michael Brown case? Can the U.S. president, the federal Attorney General Eric Holder and the Governor of the State of Missouri Jay Nixon ensure the transparency, justice and efficiency of the investigations and the legal processes that must follow?

Is Canada any safer for Black people in terms of their encounters with the police? Are the Canadian political and police authorities any more capable than their American counterparts in addressing issues such as racial profiling, carding and the use of excessive force?

We do have a number of valid reasons to look at the principles and the legal and policy issues involved in this nationally and internationally significant “trial” by public opinion in which the “prosecutors” are the people and the family of the late Michael Brown, while the “defendants” are the Ferguson Police Department and the American Establishment (represented by the local, state and federal governments).

We need to examine the Ferguson case study from the perspective of its importance to and influence on our Canadian realities. The striking parallels between the Michael Brown case and the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida, two years ago lead us to ask ourselves whether we have similar experiences here in Canada.

The Toronto Police Service has been facing a decades-long torrent of accusations of racial profiling, carding and anti-black bias, and has recently been formally sued for same with multi-million-dollar claims for penalties and compensation. The most compelling comparison for excessive use of force may be with the Sammy Yatin case one year ago in which a Toronton youth (of Middle Eastern ancestry) apparently having mental health challenges, was shot dead in a hail of police bullets while alone in a public transport vehicle and unable to represent a danger to anyone.

Similarly, the Toronto Police Service’s handling of the G20 protests in 2010 has been strongly condemned in the court of public opinion for the excessive restriction of fundamental freedoms and the use of excessive force. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, whose overall track record is otherwise deemed by some analysts to be quite positive, was accused (at that time) of the same repressive and militaristic style of “leadership” as that for which Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson is now being reproached.

On the basis of the analysis detailed above, The Caribbean Camera feels it has a responsibilityto make a statement of principles and opinion.

Excessive use of force in the processes of detention and arrest is not only illegal and criminal, it is absolutely reprehensible. Whether or not Police Officer Darren Wilson is found to be guilty of murder in any degree, the fact remains that the violent death of Michael Brown was totally senseless. It is best not to rush to any precise judgment on the specific details, without the benefit of the full and official results of the relevant investigations and judicial processes.

The conduct of the Ferguson Police Department in the aftermath of the death leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, the conduct of the governor and the state security services shows more professionalism and a more holistic style of crisis management. The intervention of the federal attorney general and of President Obama is both appropriate and solution-oriented, adding as it does a sorely needed element of trust and fairness to the processes.

Protesters and security services should only have recourse to violence in the most extreme of cases. As it stands, the situation in Ferguson may call for strong protest and civil disobedience but does not justify the violence shown by some protesters and in some instances by the security services. It is likely that there are individuals and fringe elements among the protesters who may be sowing the seeds of violence.

The Brown family as well as most of civic organizations and prominent personalities, have refrained from advocating violence in their very strong calls for peaceful protest, justice, and mutual respect between the protesters and the security services.

All organizations from the smallest to the largest must have ethical principles, codes and policies to guide their operations. Canada does appear to have more of the structured mechanisms than the U.S. for addressing racial discrimination in the context of equity, human rights and justice.

On the other hand, such relevant issues of race are not as prominent in the statements of politicians and in Canadian electoral and political battles as is the case in the U.S. The core issue of slavery in the American Civil War points to the historical reasons for that.

The most important issue in the Ferguson upheaval for Canadians arises from the fact that we in Canada do not wish to acknowledge the extent of our race related challenges. On principle, we rise in solidarity to support the powerful struggle for justice that is being advanced by the Brown family and thousands of Americans. But, because we believe that blacks are better off here that south of the border, we not see our race issues as starkly as the families of our local victims of racism feel the pains of racism in its multiple forms.

For the Americans, it is quite a different story. They have felt the explosive consequences of racism so deeply, so publicly and for such a long time in their history that they are not as surprised as some of us are at the extended duration and the socially destructive nature of the developments in Ferguson.

One wants to believe that the Americans will somehow find a way to come out of this crisis with some significant enhancement of their structures and methodology for addressing issues of race, equity and justice. If they do not, then Michael Brown will have died in vain.


Eyewitness to Ferguson protests
By Jasminee Sahoye

Camini Seeram, whose parents are from Guyana, was born and raised in St Louis, Missouri, in what she describes as an affluent community in the city. However, as a person of East Indian origin, she says she has witnessed racism from whites and Blacks alike.

She says when her Black friends would come to her parents’ place, there appears to be some racial profiling by the police of Blacks in communities that are mainly white people who are seen as upper-class citizens.

Seeram says she has attended two daylight vigils in honour of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson and those were very peaceful.

She told The Camera by phone following the protests and looting in Ferguson, there have been some racist comments posted on her Facebook page. She has since “unfriended” those friends.

“I am a tolerant person and agree that everyone is entitled to an opinion … but wrong is wrong,” she comments on Facebook

She says “what is happening now is reverse racism,” referring to the protests and demonstrations against whites and caught in the chaos are some Middle Eastern business owners in the area.

The looting and chaos reported in the media, she says, are not by Ferguson residents but some residents of East St. Louis, which is not part of Misssouri. She says that is a community that is depressed with crime, prostitution, drugs and poverty. She adds that many African Americans in the state have always referred themselves as second-class citizens.