Jerry Agar's Tweets Explain Why His Black Lives Matter Column is Stupid
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Jerry Agar’s Tweets Explain Why His Black Lives Matter Column is Stupid

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On Tuesday, Newstalk 1010 host and Toronto Sun columnist Jerry Agar made headlines when he dug up a controversial tweet by a Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder. The tweet in question, sent out in February by Yusra Khogali (and printed by Agar, who seemingly hasn’t learned how to take a screenshot), calls on Allah for “strength not to cuss/kill these men and white folks out here today.”

The tweet may have been tongue in cheek, and it could be another example of someone tweeting before thinking through the implications.

Agar does not have the same excuse for his column.

Below, we deconstruct Agar’s column, and, because he kindly invited us to, use supporting evidence from the radio host’s own Twitter account.

All lives matter.1 Every human life is precious2 and worthy of respect.

1 “All lives matter” is a curious phrase. After all, when people say “Black lives matter,” they are not saying that other lives do not matter, but that Black lives matter too. It’s explained, of all places, on Reddit, but we’re skeptical as to whether Agar will appreciate the nuances.

2 A past Agar tweet—which the radio host dared the public to mine—suggest that he feels otherwise. In March 2012, in response to a National Post reader call-out, Agar tweeted his support of the death penalty with an emphatic “YES.”

But actions and tactics based on the choices people make are worthy of criticism and opposition3.

In that context, the Toronto version of Black Lives Matter (BLM) does not matter. They are a rabble resembling the Occupy Toronto group that set up camp and trashed St. James Park in 2011.

Occupy Toronto is gone and it accomplished nothing, because it really stood for nothing of substance, other than a hodgepodge of ill-defined complaints4 about wealth distribution.

By contrast, the complaints of Black Lives Matter do have substance, and would matter if they were presented by anyone else5.

3 So Agar argues that the rhetoric people use on Twitter matters, and reflects the organization that gives him or her credibility. Using this standard, let’s look at a recent tweet by Toronto Sun colleague Tarek Fatah, who wrote that Pakistan is a “cancerous tumour” that should be “surgically removed”.

Fatah is not a young activist. He has a regular Sun column, has written several books, and used to host a show on Newstalk 1010. In this tweet he does not meet Agar’s standard of “all lives matter,” but he has not and will not receive the same treatment. For some reason, the Sun, unlike Black Lives Matter, will not be painted with the same brush for this one comment.

4 “A hodgepodge of ill-defined complaints” is an apt description of Rob Ford’s political career, which Agar vociferously promoted and defended. He also argues that Ford wasn’t a bigot (we disagree).

5 The issues brought forth by BLM have, in fact, been presented by community groups and individuals in the city. Petitions, vigils, and public consultations were avenues through which activists called for change in how Black people are treated by Toronto police—but they gained little traction. It was only after two weeks of public protest by BLM that Kathleen Wynne agreed to discuss changes to policing in Ontario.

Toronto Police had to be called in after Black Lives Matter staged a vigil at Premier Kathleen Wynne’s home last week, leaving behind a number of items.

One was a bottle containing an unknown liquid 6 a spokesman for the group later said it was water — that was left in the premier’s driveway.

6 It is difficult to take Agar’s argument seriously when he doesn’t seem to know how to use em dashes.

Police, understandably, had to treat it as potentially dangerous. Wynne deserves criticism for her fiscally disastrous administration.

But protesting outside her house is an irresponsible public temper tantrum7.

7 This isn’t the first time Agar has decided what is appropriate for protest movements. In 2011, Agar took to his radio show to discuss why Slutwalks did not address a worthy cause. “These women need to find something better to rally around,” Agar tweeted.

Claiming the premier has not reacted in a timely fashion to their demands, BLM said in a press release: “So we have no choice but to bring our actions to them.”

Wynne briefly addressed BLM demonstrators outside Queen’s Park Monday and agreed to meet with them. 8Mayor John Tory told Newstalk 1010’s Ryan Doyle he agreed to meet with the group privately, promising a substantive conversation, but BLM would agree only to a public meeting.

Tory believes, based on past actions by BLM, that it only plans to grandstand, while shouting him down and calling him names.

If you were the mayor, would you meet under those conditions? Last week, city council unanimously passed a resolution asking the province to, “Ensure Police Services and Investigations are Fair and Transparent.”

Immediately upon achieving the small miracle of a unanimous vote9 by council, BLM unfurled banners, yelled slogans and marched noisily and disrespectfully through city hall10.

8 Please do not use double spaces after periods unless you use a typewriter.

9 Anyone who regularly follows council and understands its procedures knows that unanimous votes are very common. But hey, anything to make a rhetorical point!

10 This is a surprising take on Agar’s part, given that the columnist is a firm believer in free speech. In May 2013, Agar voiced his disdain regarding a story in which a real estate agent was chastised for distributing anti-gay flyers. “What happened to freedom of speech?” Agar tweeted. Now it’s fair to say that freedom of speech applies to freedom from the state, and not freedom without consequences. But those standards aren’t being applied equally by Agar in these two cases, and it leads one to ask why it’s a free speech issue when anti-gay flyers are distributed, but the focus is different when it’s a Black Lives Matter activist.

That demonstration of petulance suggests Tory is correct. A BLM member told City News, “We want the quality of our lives to be treated with dignity, and like we are human beings and with respect.”

That isn’t just something BLM wants, it’s their right, as it is everyone’s.

But BLM are not acting with dignity and respect11, so why should anyone accord them — as a group — respect?

As communications expert Bob Reid of Veritas Communications says, “When your tactics overshadow your message, you have lost.”

Several callers to my radio show who self-identified as black said the issues BLM are raising matter, but it is a poor representative of the community.

Wynne, Tory, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and other officials should meet with concerned citizens to address both real and perceived problems between police and minorities.12

11 Dignity and respect are important principles, and since Agar is calling BLM out on their lack of it, he is presumably an expert. Let’s examine some of his tweets to see the kind of dignity and respect he shows towards his critics.

If you’re going to tone police another individual or group, you should probably hold yourself to that standard.

12 Government officials have met with concerned citizens. Last September, a public consultation on carding (the banning of which was championed by BLM) brought dozens of Torontonians together to discuss what the government and police forces could do to improve the practice. While most attendees called for the banning of the practice, the Province did little to address that call.

After all, Tory represents the citizens of Toronto, Wynne the citizens of Ontario and Saunders the Toronto police force. But none of them has to meet with groups who aren’t seeking dialogue but confrontation.

Surely there are more intelligent and responsible people who are genuinely concerned about police-minority relations and who can work, seriously, on the problems13.

13 In these final paragraphs, Agar minimizes the fraught relationship between Black Torontonians and the City’s police force. For years, there has been what was described as “a crisis of confidence” between the police and the communities they serve—namely, tensions with the Black community. Agar manages to overlook this history for the sake of riling up readers.

It is fair to say that Agar does not hold himself, nor his colleagues, to the same standards that he uses to tear down Black Lives Matter and Khogali in his column and via Twitter. Where and when we choose to apply our principles is telling, and Agar should think about who he chooses as his targets. After all, he a public figure with several platforms, including a radio show and widely read column, to disseminate his message, and not a young person fighting for a grassroots cause.

CLARIFICATION A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Agar addressed the tweet in his column. He found the tweet after he wrote the column.