I’m a large black man living in Toronto, Ontario. My relationship with the police has been well documented via social media over the past 10 years. From rants written on message boards, to blog entries on Live Journal, it hasn’t been easy dealing with the cops.
Four years ago during Caribana weekend in the city, I had the unwanted privilege of being pulled over five times in a single night while driving my 1978 Chevrolet El Camino. Now I can’t express enough how humiliating it feels being pulled over in a very busy part of the city during a very busy weekend. I’ve been pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black) so I know how it goes, the cops flash their lights, present a false reason for stopping you, only to attempt to find out who you are and what you do. I try not to lose my cool, I smile, let them know I’m not one of the bad guys they’re looking for and usually it ends with a warning or tip from the boys in blue. But after being stopped for the fifth time, I was beyond furious. “Don’t you guys share information? I thought you job was to serve and protect, not profile and harass. Yes, this is my car. Yes, I have insurance. I’m just trying to drive around with my brothers and enjoy to fruits of my labour.”
Since that outburst, I haven’t been pulled over again while driving my classic car. I guess after they collected all the cards from their carding program and saw my information numerous times, they might have realized that I wasn’t a threat. I know how it can be for young black men in Toronto, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be black in America. Some police officers are shooting black men for some of the most unjust reasons of all time. If raising your voice results in getting a bullet, I would have been dead a long time ago.
I haven’t been sleeping very well lately. For the past few days, it seems like we can’t even go 24 hours without something crazy happening or seeing another tragic headline in the media. We as a society are being confronted with the ugly reality of discrimination and something has to be done about it.
About a year ago I was exchanging messages via Whatsapp with a buddy of mine, discussing the current state of race relations in Canada. South of the border our American neighbours were dealing with the deaths of two unarmed black youth (Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown) who were killed with little real consequences for their shooters. Ironically enough, he was in my El Camino for three of the five times I got pulled over during Caribana.
A strong, proud and opinionated Black man, he is one of the few black faces in his workplace and has often offered an opinion not commonly heard in his Bay Street office. “Miller, I can feel it coming. This new era of hate is upon us.”
His words of foreshadowing discrimination and hatred at the time seemed laughable and exaggerated, but sadly he turned out to be right.
Since that conversation, our society has been subject to countless shootings of unarmed black men. Their deaths have been caught on body cameras of police officers who pulled the trigger, while some of the footage has been caught on cellphone by witnesses and shared millions of times across the globe.
I saw what the Falcon Heights Police department did to 32-year-old Philando Castile in Falcon, Minnesota. Castile's dying moments were live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, causing outrage, protests and harsh comments from the state’s governor.
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police on July 5. Sterling was selling CDs outside the store, as he had done for years, when he was murdered by police responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun.
Charles Kinsey, an unarmed black man was shot by North Miami police as he was trying to help a man with autism, even though he had his hands in the air and was laying on the ground, he still took a bullet in the leg. Cell phone footage captured the incident and luckily he lived to tell his story.
I know some people aren’t too supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and are quick to say “All Lives Matter” but let’s be clear, not all lives are being murdered by police officers whose job is to “serve and protect”. You might not agree with the tactics used by the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement but instead of criticizing their antics, but try to understand their perspective and applauding their efforts to shed some much needed light on these issues with policing. We as Canadians have a reputation of being polite and passive, but when issues of injustice and arise, are you still willing to remain silent?
If all lives matter, we should all be standing with the black lives matter movement.