Christie Blatchford: Police and blacks in Toronto: The numbers tell a hard truth

Lot of coverage on the just released report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission but picked Blatchford given her generally more sympathetic coverage of police issues, with her column all the more devastating as a result:

There is nothing like solid data — naked, objective, hard data — even for someone like me, who struggles mightily with numbers.

Numbers are what’s at the core of an Ontario Human Rights Commission report released Monday. I don’t know that it’s the first time the commission has backed up the anecdotal with hard data, but it’s the most astonishing such marriage I can remember.

The report includes analysis of data collected from the Special Investigations Unit, the arms-length agency that probes all serious incidents where police forces in Ontario inflict serious injuries upon civilians.

For the first time, it also includes a review of the SIU director’s reports, a rich trove of heretofore unreleased detail — including descriptions of the circumstances of each incident, assessments of the civilians involved and the justification behind the SIU director’s decision to charge or not charge police.

Using that information, plus SIU investigator notes, case photographs, police documents such as officer notes and even media reports (solely when race couldn’t be otherwise determined) the analyst — University of Toronto associate criminology professor Dr. Scot Wortley — examined 244 completed SIU investigations of civilian/Toronto Police Service encounters in the four years from 2013-2017.

In those years, black people made up about 8.8 per cent of the population in Toronto. Yet, shockingly, they also made up 70 per cent of police shootings that resulted in death, 61 per cent of other sorts of lethal force encounters, almost 29 per cent of all Toronto police use of force cases and fully one quarter of all SIU TPS investigations.

As Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said, “This inquiry is different from past initiatives. We will examine racial disparities in how police services are provided in Toronto and will marry hard data with lived experience and case law.”

The report is called A Collective Impact, the commission’s interim report on its inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of black Torontonians by police.

Even its aim is different. “The goal of the inquiry is to build trust in law enforcement and make our communities safer,” Mandhane said. That’s exactly what such an inquiry should hope to do, but not all its predecessors have been so clear.

Now, to put this in perspective, it’s important to remember that Toronto police have about 30,000 encounters a year with those it calls “in crisis,” meaning people who are emotionally or mentally disturbed. About 97 or 98 per cent of these end without the use of any sort of force. And encounters with people in crisis account for a significant chunk of those who end up in use of force clashes — almost 30 per cent.

Another troubling note: In a “significant minority” of SIU cases, the SIU director had problems with Toronto Police co-operation, though, a small mercy, such problems were no worse in cases involving black citizens.

One of these issues was delayed or improper notification to the SIU; police are supposed to notify the unit immediately whenever a civilian has been seriously injured or died. Sometimes, police notes indicate there was early awareness someone had been badly hurt, but the SIU was still not called right away.

Sometimes, the SIU director questioned the legal basis for police to have stopped or detained the black person in the first place, or for conducting searches.

And black men were significantly over-represented in SIU investigations of sexual assault complaints — six times more likely than their numbers in the population would suggest.

The data lend heft to the “lived experiences” people have been hearing about for decades and which the commission heard about in focus groups — black Torontonians being stopped because they “matched the description” of a suspect, including a young black man who was running to school, excited about a special event, and was stopped in full view of his classmates, and a black man who earlier this year who was leaving his office and searched in front of his workmates and onlookers both.

“I was feeling embarrassed,” the youth told the commission. “This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be. After that, people were looking at me different, like I was a criminal or some type of thug.”

It’s funny, but not so long ago, I was in a room full of accomplished black citizens; this was the judicial discipline hearing into the conduct of Ontario Court Judge Donald McLeod, one of a few black faces on the bench. Many of them were upset that the hearing had even been called. McLeod is a distinguished man who made it to the bench from a hard background (single mom, subsidized housing) and who in his efforts to pay it forward by founding a non-profit national black organization allegedly crossed a line judges should not cross.

McLeod had been moved to act by the shooting of a pregnant young woman, which hit close to home; he’d gone to school with the young woman’s aunt.

There was a real sense of affront in the room, that somehow, even this good and honourable man who rose so high should have been brought down like this.

It’s not quite the same thing, rather a real sense of injury and injustice, when black people end up, in such out of whack numbers, dead or hurt after encounters with police. We leave it alone to fester at our peril.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Police and blacks in Toronto: The numbers tell a hard truth

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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