Black people have successfully demanded change from our politicians and police
Yesterday’s police board decision didn’t include everything the opponents of carding had asked for. The provincial government—which only three days ago joined the conversation on the arbitrary stopping and documenting of innocent civilians we’ve come to know as carding—will now have to address what Toronto’s police oversight body has left out.
Carding will likely be severely limited in future, but all the safeguards needed to end it still aren’t in place. This isn’t the victory I hoped to celebrate. But in the light of the remarkable movement Torontonians have created to name, expose and challenge racism and overreach in local policing, we have much to be proud of and to build upon.
Barely two months ago, the police services board voted to continue carding residents without many of the crucial accountability measures residents have been demanding for years. Mayor John Tory seemed convinced the practice needed to move forward, and he was depressingly bolstered by newly appointed chief Mark Saunders.
Then something exciting happened. We often talk in the media and in activism about the importance of starting and expanding conversations. Anti-racist activists shifted a fruitless conversation from the stifling walls of a police boardroom, and found receptive new audiences in the mainstream media. A carding conversation that had been simmering for years quickly caught fire.
Make no mistake: many of us, particularly the black people terrorized by racist policing in general and carding specifically, have been talking about this forever. But a great deal of recent activism and storytelling, including a piece I wrote for Toronto Life magazine, successfully urged the public to ask more questions about policing and anti-black stereotypes.
Yes, I served as a major catalyst and spokesperson against carding. But I benefited from the background work of countless brave local activists and community workers, many of whom I documented in Torontoist news stories years before I published my own story. Former police board members, policy makers and even many police officials have been struggling to challenge racial profiling and boost accountability.
I got extremely lucky: my Toronto Life piece came out just as the board had foolishly endorsed carding, and doubled down by appointing a new, like-minded police chief in Mark Saunders. Many in the public and media expected Saunders, who is black, to advocate with dark-skinned residents against carding. His failure to do so surprised some, disappointed others, and further fuelled the controversy.
Then coucillor Michael Thompson, a former board member and the city’s only black councillor, teamed up with former councillor Gordon Cressy to create Concerned Citizens to End Carding. Tory, who had consistently ignored the pleas of middle and low-income blacks, took notice of this mostly white and grey-haired group of his peers—former judges, former mayors, former legislators and power brokers—who were calling him out.
After defending the necessity of carding for months, the mayor reversed his support for it only four days after the elders held a press conference. Yesterday Tory and the board approved an incomplete but significant set of reforms that will cripple carding, and bring future arbitrary police stops under scrutiny.
In only two months we have witnessed media fixation on an issue that primarily targets black residents, a symphony of black activists and their allies pushing successfully for change, and a mayor who changed sided with community and against his appointed police chief in order to save his political skin. This is rare, in Toronto or anywhere else.
The carding fight is not over. The idea that police should inform civilians of their rights is only suggested within the policy passed yesterday. Carding receipts are mandatory, but they need not be the carbon copy receipts many of us demand. If we cannot secure these safeguards from city officials, we will demands them at the provincial level.
Beyond specific reforms, we have only begun to address the larger police problems of racism and profiling that make innocent black people suspects in our own streets. For now, let’s step back and acknowledge the incredible work of activists, allies, elders, elected officials and our media. Let’s acknowledge that this is not simply an important social justice moment, but a movement that must continue.