Carding – how about we just stop doing it?

Just a thought.

I mean, there’s a “reasonable policy debate” at the moment about what restrictions should apply to police when they stop totally innocent people and collect information on them which sits in some TPS database for we don’t really know how long. Should cops be obliged to tell the (mostly young black male) people they harass that they’re under no obligation to stay put? Should the (not actually being detained) detainees be given a “receipt” detailing the interaction, or just an officer’s business card on request?

Or how about we just scrap the whole racist train wreck of a program?

The above-linked op-ed by Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail tries really really hard to make this seem like a two-sided issue, but it ain’t.

The board and the police chief, Bill Blair, were at loggerheads for months on how to reform carding. The board worried that it was souring relations with minorities, given that men of colour showed up in disproportionate numbers in carding statistics compiled in a series of articles in the Toronto Star. The chief worried that ending or severely restricting it would prevent police from gathering useful information.

Both concerns are valid. Any city wants at all costs to avoid conflict between police and minority or disadvantaged groups. But it also wants cops to be able to get out in the city and do their job.

Chief Blair said on Friday that he doesn’t want his officers just hanging around the station “waiting for a radio call to say some catastrophe’s happened” then going out to put yellow tape around the scene. Instead, he wants his officers to hit the streets to make contact with the public, build trust with the community and gather information that might help solve or prevent crimes.

Shorter Blair: We need to coerce information out of communities of colour because they’re a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Like, that’s literally what he’s saying. We need to collect information on people of colour because they’re criminals, or potential criminals, or they know criminals.

And we really are talking about communities of colour here. A lot of news reports make it sound like a matter of opinion. The Globe in particular is tone-deaf on this one – in a summary of Blair’s last police board meeting, Selena Ross writes that carding “is thought to affect minorities disproportionately”. Robyn Doolittle uses identical language in a recent article on the search for a new chief. The phrasing makes it seem like there’s room for debate.

There isn’t.

In late 2013, you were seventeen times more likely to be stopped by police in certain neighbourhoods if you were black than if you were white. Seventeen times. That’s not a thought. That’s a fact.

And it’s facts like that which has led affected communities to label carding terrorism against their community, and to call for the repeal of carding, or at least requiring officers to proactively inform people of their Charter rights at the outset of any encounter.

Let’s stop pretending like this is a hard question. Cops aren’t able to point to any tangible benefits carding has brought. It was initially designed to be an outreach program in minority communities but looks like that didn’t work out too great, did it?

So how about we just scrap the whole thing? Admit it was a terrible idea and tell the cops to stop hassling people of colour whenever they feel bored?

Just a thought.

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The fact that it is spun as a community engagement tool is offensive. If community engagement were an authentic goal of the police force there are many options outside of carding, “information collecting” & racial profiling. Let’s see if TPS leadership change brings in some necessary improvements.

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