Fallacy Friday: Acknowledging police racism endangers cops, says RCMP officers’ association

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was criticized for acknowledging that there are racists officers in his police force. (Image credit: RCMP)

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was criticized for acknowledging that there are racists officers in his police force. (Image credit: RCMP)

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of police brutality, violence (including sexual violence), and institutional racism.

Early last month, RCMP Commission Bob Paulson (no, not that Robert Paulson!), speaking to a gathering of First Nations chiefs, made a somewhat surprising admission.

“I understand that there are racists in my police force. I don’t want them to be in my police force,” Paulson said to chiefs and other First Nations delegates gathered in Gatineau, Que., for an annual three-day meeting organized by the Assembly of First Nations.

Paulson’s candid response came after a First Nations chief confronted the top Mountie publicly, urging him to address racism within the force.

“We encounter racism every single day,” said Grand Chief Doug Kelly, leader of the Sto:lo Tribal Council in British Columbia. “Some of the worst racists carry a gun and they carry a badge authorized by you, Commissioner Paulson, to do the work.”

Paulson went even further, urging Indigenous community leaders to bypass RCMP processes for reviewing officers’ conducts and contact him directly:

“I would encourage you all, though, to have confidence in the processes that exist, up to and including calling me if you are having a problem with a racist in your jurisdiction or any other problem.

“We have elaborate systems to bring accountability to those people that are trusted, and in some cases not trusted but who are in power to deliver policing services,” Paulson said.

Paulson’s comments, though welcomed by Indigenous leaders as a good start to repairing a severely strained relationship, were met with condemnation from the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, which represents RCMP officers.

In an interview this past Monday, MPPAC spokesperson Rob Creasser slammed the Commission for his comments, insisting that they were “sweeping generalizations” which painted the force with a “pretty broad brush”:

Stung by the admission of Canada’s federal police chief that his force includes racist officers, the association representing Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers says the remarks put “officers in harm’s way both legally and personally.” […]

“I believe like any other occupational group, whether it be doctors, lawyers, journalists, police officers, there are a minority of members out there that may hold racist views,” said Rob Creasser, a retired RCMP officer and spokesperson for Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada (MPPAC).

“How is the public supposed to respect officers now, after their own Commissioner throws them under the bus?”

Creasser also condemned the commissioner for urging chiefs and community leaders to bypass the existing RCMP process for dealing with complaints of racism, claiming that Paulson is “asking people to believe in the system that he says works and at the same time he’s offering – almost as if the system doesn’t work – to call him”.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Creasser is being a disingenuous little shit here.

Yes, pretty much all lines of work have racists. Your point? Should the RCMP therefore not make any efforts to deal with racism in its ranks, or to acknowledge the fact that racist Mounties are out there and having a negative impact on the communities they work in? Clearly not – Creasser himself acknowledges that this is true at one point in his interview.

Also – and this may come as a shock to Creasser, but it’s true – a lot of people already believe that the RCMP is racist. They didn’t need Bob Paulson to tip them off.

How is the public supposed to respect officers now that they’ve been “thrown under the bus” by the RCMP’s own commissioner? News flash, Mr Creasser – a lot of ’em, especially in racialized communities, didn’t respect those officers to begin with.

And it’s not like this is some irrational bias that they have. When it comes to suspecting the cops of racism, racialized communities, and especially First Nations communities, have a litany of historical reasons.

For instance, there’s this:

A new report by a respected international human rights watchdog has accused RCMP officers of abusing aboriginal women and girls in northern British Columbia…

The most serious allegation involved a woman who told researchers that she was raped and threatened with death by four RCMP officers after she was abused in a remote location.

Other allegations include: young girls being pepper sprayed and shocked with a Taser; a 12-year-old girl being attacked by a police dog; a 17-year-old girl being repeatedly punched by an officer; women strip-searched by male officers; and women injured by excessive force during their arrests…

[Human Rights Watch lead investigator Meghan] Rhoad said about a dozen young women cancelled interviews with researchers because they were too scared of repercussions from police officers working in their small communities.

Or this:

The missing women inquiry into serial killer Robert Pickton has slammed police for botching their investigations…

[Inquiry commissioner Wally] Oppal found that families of missing women were given “degrading and insensitive treatment” by police.

“In a few cases, the barriers were so pronounced as to amount to a denial to make a report,” he wrote.

When reports were taken, they were not acted on with any urgency, he wrote.

Or this:

Claiming to represent a citizen’s group on the Stoney/Nakota reserve in southern Alberta, Greg Twoyoungmen has gone public with accusations of racial profiling by Cochrane RCMP…

Fueling the accusations of racial profiling is a statement from Judge John Reilly who presides over provincial court in the Banff/Cochrane area that has jurisdiction for most of the Stoney/Nakota First Nation.

Reilly told Twoyoungmen, and restated to Windspeaker [the publication], that he estimates that 75 per cent of the criminal court cases he hears involve members from the reserve. The Stoney/Nakota reserve comprises only three to four per cent of the population of the Banff/Cochrane area.

Or this:

RCMP Const. Kevin Theriault took an intoxicated aboriginal woman he had arrested out of a cell and drove her to his northern Manitoba home to “pursue a personal relationship,” according to RCMP adjudication documents obtained by CBC News.

Fellow officers teased and goaded him by text message to see “how far he would go,” and another constable observed flirting between Theriault and the woman, saying he “jokingly made a comment about having a threesome” with her.

The senior officer in the detachment first said “it wasn’t right” for Theriault to take the woman out of custody but finally said: “You arrested her, you can do whatever the f–k you want to do.”

Or even this:

A former RCMP officer who claims to have faced racism and bullying in the police force says she was not the only aboriginal Mountie to have experienced discrimination.

Marge Hudson, who was Manitoba’s first female aboriginal RCMP officer when she joined the force in 1979, says she quit in 2009 as a result of years of harassment, bullying and racism in the workplace.

But Hudson says she was not alone, as almost every aboriginal RCMP officer she knows has experienced some kind of racial discrimination and harassment on the job.

I could go on. (See here, here, here, and here if you feel up to it.)

So as for the ridiculous fragile-ego defence (the technical term here is “white fragility“), the idea that the public perceiving Mounties as being racists is going to make their jobs harder and more dangerous, makes me say “Meh”. In far too many cases, the police themselves are the danger, and the power that they wield is being wielded grossly inappropriately. If acknowledging this reality makes their jobs more dangerous while making the public at large safer, then that’s a trade-off well worth making.

And as for that existing system for dealing with complaints about racist cops? Doesn’t seem to be working out too well, now, does it?

Like seriously – suggesting that Mounties (or any powerful group) deserve to be above suspicion or reproach is a blatantly ahistorical approach to take.

It’s like saying, Let’s pretend that Robert Pickton and the Highway of Tears and decades of violence and neglect never happened. Let’s ignore the fact that the RCMP was founded in 1873 to aid the expansion of the colonial Canadian state into the Prairies and prevent a recurrence of the 1870 Metis-led Red River Rebellion, and was actively complicit in the genocide of Indigenous Plains peoples. Let’s make like we believe that “because it’s 2015”, we live in a post-racist society, and anybody who complains about racism is probably just “playing the race card” anyway.

That’s legitimately a point that Creasser tried to make in his interview with Radio-Canada (starts at about 4:40):

“I just want to give you an example, because I think that it will help exemplify what a difficult situation, uh, when people call you a racist. I was – I’m no longer a working RCMP member, I retired five years ago, but when I was working, I worked in traffic law enforcement and I stopped – as part of my daily duties I would stop people for things like speeding, not wearing seatbelts, that type of thing. And I pulled over an individual that I picked up speeding from some distance away. And one of the first things I was faced with was a comment saying, ‘You’re only pulling me over because of the colour of my skin.’ Well, at the distance I was, I could tell the colour of the car. I certainly could not tell the colour of the driver…So basically I was being called a racist for doing my job, and there are people who will play that card.”

Oh man I feel so bad for you! That person totally accused you of being a racist when really you were just trying to extract wealth from working folks for a victimless “crime” based on arbitrary and inconsistently enforced rules!

Meanwhile, the person driving the car has a lifetime’s worth of racially charged encounters with the Law behind them, encounters which are disproportionately likely to end with them in prison. 23% of prison inmates in Canada are Aboriginal, despite the fact that only 4% of the general population are Aboriginal. Blacks, at least in Toronto, are drastically more likely to be targeted by police for random stops. Police forces across Canada are increasingly going to great lengths to avoid collecting information on the races of the people they question, detain, and arrest, precisely to avoid scrutiny of their racial biases.

Maybe this one time, this one officer’s reasons for stopping this person legitimately had nothing to do with this person’s race – but was this person wrong to suspect that it may have been a motivating factor? Hell no! For Creasser, the problem here is that somebody assumed he was a racist just because he was a cop. The actual problem is that that person had every reason in the world to make that assumption.

And this cuts to the heart of the issue right here. Paulson was correct that there are some racists in the RCMP, but his comments didn’t go nearly far enough. What should be obvious from the sampling of stories quoted above is that this problem is a lot bigger than a few racist RCMP officers. The problem is that the RCMP itself is an institutionally racist organization. Racism is written into the force’s history, it is encoded in its DNA, and it is replicated in its actions right across this country.

It is true that there are some officers who engage in far more blatantly discriminatory and abusive conduct than most Mounties. But it is also undeniably true that those same officers are given the benefit of the doubt by their colleagues, who look the other way, excuse their behaviour, confine their complaints to ineffective internal channels, and take the side of their colleagues if they are accused of wrongdoing by outsiders. There is a name for this type of behaviour, and it’s institutional racism.

When the RCMP’s racist problem is framed as a problem of individuals and not of culture, as it’s framed by both Paulson and Creasser, then it’s easily solvable. We just need to find the racists – the “bad apples”, as the poorly-understood metaphor has it – and deal with them: discipline them, or suspend them, or remove them from the force altogether. “I don’t want [racists] to be in my police force,” Paulson said, as though it were that easy.

The truth of the matter is that the RCMP’s racism problem goes a hell of a lot deeper than a few racist officers. And there’s no amount of phone calls to the Commissioner that are going to make the force’s institutionally intolerant and abusive behaviour disappear.

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