It’s been a week since the street check report was released.

Despite all the politicians and police board members and police leaders being so “shocked and saddened” by the statistics, unsurprisingly, here we are a week later with politicians derailing action by talking about ending quotas that never formally existed and the police don’t admit to, pointless conversations about alternative recommendations to a ban, and people talking about “coming to the table” and continuing to try to negotiate for our humanity.

It doesn’t take special powers to be Negrodamus, just experience living as a Black person, so it’s also unsurprising that all of this is as I predicted it would be. And I don’t need a crystal ball to predict that the police will attempt in the coming months to rebrand themselves as philanthropical — a process already started with the new police foundation — that we will continue to be told these are “complex issues” that require patience in order to justify a lack of action, and that when the new police chief arrives we will be told to “give them time” and that it’s not fair to expect them to be up to speed right away.

Expect grants to be scattered over the Black community, closed door meetings to be offered to select groups in order to divide the community, Black people who refuse to play the game being branded as “angry” and “unreasonable,” and more cosmetic initiatives like hiring more “diverse” officers, money spent training police to see Black people as human beings, and the police handing out hotdogs at basketball games or whatever they call building community trust.

If anyone were really serious about both holding the police accountable and preventing crime, the vast bulk of the resources directed towards the police should immediately be given to Black communities to develop programs, jobs, mental health care, housing, and to resource ourselves to address the problems caused by generations of social and economic deprivation. Instead, more money will be given to the police so they can do the bare minimum of their jobs, as though expecting police not to harass and racially profile people is so high a bar to set that we can’t expect them to know how to not be racist without special training.

The bar is set so low for the police — people authorized to use force against us — that we are actually having a serious discussion about how if we order the police to stop violating people’s Charter rights, they’ll just do it anyway, so we should probably let them do it and just find a work-around.

If you show up late for your shift at Burger King after your boss warns you, you’ll lose your job, but the people who carry guns can’t be expected to obey the law.

This is all absurd, and a waste of Black people’s time and energy as we will find ourselves spending the next however many months and years trying to compromise on recommendations that already were tried and failed in other cities, under the belief that the people who have ignored every request for a moratorium, every previous statistic, every piece of testimony by Black people, and every previous ruling, are somehow still coming to us in good faith.

Today the Northern Guard were patrolling along Spring Garden road, #Halifax #NovaScotia, in a group of 6. They do this semi-regularily with the goal of recruiting more members. Be careful interacting with these guys. It is run as a vile White Supremacist gang.#nspoli #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/BKAyg3eR7u

— Ⓐtlantic PoliSci🏴🚩 Abolish the Police (@AtlanticPoliSci) April 1, 2019

Meanwhile, the Northern Guard is out “patrolling” Spring Garden Road, and oddly enough we don’t seem to see the police vans rolling up on them. I wonder why that is.

So with that said, let’s talk about how anti-Black the police are!

My favourite part of Scot Wortley’s report is when he talks to the police, and since they have anonymity they cut loose with some wild anti-Blackness. If you’re a Black person, seeing how the police think is both instructive and disturbing, especially when you consider they actually said these things out loud.

Now, now, El, some people will say. We need to move forward and come up with solutions. Just remember, though, that these are the people getting paid to police you in your communities every day!

Before I get to the highlights of police anti-Blackness, I want to talk a bit about a footnote that Wortley inserts on page 83 of the report. Wortley is speaking to officers about the difference between a quality street check and a bad one. One officer gives the following example:

A high-quality street check provides intelligence that could be useful to an investigator or analyst reading it e.g.: 2018/07/23 at 1600 hours observed Professor Wortley walking in the rear of 123 Main Street. Prof. Wortley was wearing a grey sport coat, purple shirt, navy pants, brown shoes, and carrying a black leather bag. Prof. Wortley is known for break and enter offences and has previous convictions for same.

Wortley inserts a footnote at this point that reads:

I can assure readers that I do not have a criminal record and have never been arrested for a break and enter offence.

This somewhat reads like it’s intended as a moment of levity in otherwise painful reading, but I want to address it for a moment. Because although Wortley is presumably being gently ironic here, in reality, nobody thinks the white professor from Toronto has a criminal record for break and enters. Nobody would ever assume that of Wortley.

However, Black lawyers and professors and doctors and military officers and teachers and whoever is supposed to have  earned titles and social standing are actually subject to that kind of criminalization. A Black person with Wortley’s qualifications would actually have to justify whether or not they fit the description of someone who has been arrested for break and enters.

Coming from Wortley, the moment in the report is a small absurdity. For Black people, it goes to the heart of the terror in how we move around society. We can never assure anyone that we do not have a criminal record. We are always capable of being seen as a threat, as a danger, and as a potential problem.

Speaking of criminalization, let’s return to my favourite police quotes from this report.

On page 85 of the report, Wortley discusses how the police contend that the reason why they have to stop so many Black people is because Black people commit all the crimes. Not just ordinary officers, but “police leaders” were willing to go on record saying this in public. Remember, they actually thought saying this would prove that they aren’t racist.

Maybe the best part of the report is this account of “police leaders” showing up to a meeting with Wortley to present a “one page document” outlining certain statistics about selected violent crimes. Wortley comments:

After I had examined these statistics, one police leader commented that: “These crime data are all you really need to know to understand why Black people are over-represented in street check stats. Officers are out there fighting crime in the Black community. In many ways we are trying to protect the Black community from the violence that takes place there.”

Wow, seems like if there’s so much crime in the Black community, maybe you’re failing at policing! Perhaps you should try doing something other than street checking people to prevent crime and address violence! I want to note here, of course, that the police selected crimes in which Black people are overrepresented, leaving out statistics on other violent crimes such as sexual assault. But those statistics might suggest that the police should be walking around campuses in the South End stopping white male students and entering their information in a database.

Again, remember that “police leaders,” facing a report into deep-seated generational racism in the police force, decided the best way to address this was to show up to a meeting with a one-page memo that could be filed under the “Black crime” tag on Breitbart. Thanks for participating though, guys.

Here on page 87, the police attempt to defend themselves by arguing that actually they do even more street checks on Black people that we don’t even know about!

Most of the time people do not know a street check has been done on them. The street checks are submitted after the interaction and I suggest most (but not all) of the interactions are related to police observations or encounters during police carrying out their lawful duties.

Apparently, the problem with street checks according to the police is us knowing about them, not the police doing the check. It’s interesting how this officer doesn’t seem to think that submitting the data matters in any way, as if we’re dealing with a toddler playing hide and seek who thinks that they’re invisible because they have their hands over their eyes.

One of the more telling quotes in this part of the report comes on page 89:

As one officer noted, “At the very least we have a serious public relations problem.”

Truer words to tell on yourself were never spoken. The police don’t see this as an issue of rights. Street checks are only a problem because they make the police look bad. Keep this in mind when the police tell the media how seriously they take this issue.

Then we hit the section where we hear about how racially profiling people is really hard on the police, and how victimized they are by their own racial profiling:

Truthfully, I am sometimes scared of interacting with Black people. Anything you do they might accuse you of being racist – even if they have broken the law. I don’t know how many times I have stopped someone, at night, for speeding. Then, when I approach the car, the civilian will accuse me of racial profiling. I didn’t even know their race when I decided to stop them. How do you deal with that? How do you convince the person that you are fair? It’s so stressful. Sometimes I just wished I could work in an all-White community, so I could avoid this racism crap.

Black people don’t have races at night! I especially like how Black people talking about racism scares the people who have been accused of pulling Black people from cars, slamming them on hoods, pushing them onto the ground, handcuffing them, and threatening them with criminal charges. But when Black people use words it’s very frightening.

By all means, though, go police the all-white communities. Do any “all-white” communities even exist except in this officer’s fantasy of the lost utopia before Black people ruined everything?

I like this quote:

I really don’t understand why they don’t like us.

Then there’s this hot mess on page 90. I’m not a police detective myself, but since the section starts with talking about the “Ferguson effect,” something Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais has gone on and on about in the past, I’m going to register a suspicion that we might be looking at a quote from him.

After accusing us of watching too much U.S. television, this “anonymous” officer goes on to explain how statistics are bad when CBC gets statistics on the police, but apparently good when it’s police keeping statistics on Black crime:

I don’t think all the negative news coverage helps. I think the way the CBC and local media covered the release of the street check data was too sensationalistic. They were looking to get that ‘gotcha moment’ and prove the police are racist. I think they needed to cover the story more honestly and in context. The media need to be more responsible, because what they say impacts how the community sees us.

I think the media are very proud of themselves for finding this inequity (in street check statistics). What would be an acceptable ratio? The media gave those with perceived legitimate concerns the evidence and they can say ‘we got them.’ But eighty-eight percent of street checks are White people.

It’s unfair when you give people actual evidence that confirms their experiences, and then those people talk about it.

You didn’t think we would get through this report without blaming rap music, did you?

Not only the media, but music and videos. Have you listened to any rap music lately? Hate the police is a major theme. This has an impact on how youth see the police.

It wouldn’t be a report on Black people confronting oppression if there weren’t accusations of “outside agitators” getting the negroes all riled up. An officer I’ll call J. Edgar Hoover contributed the following thoughts:

I think the radical element in the community stirs the pot and makes things worse. The media listens to them and they do their stories and then the general population thinks it must be true. There is also a popular Minister here. He is from the States and he talks about the police in Nova Scotia like it is the States. The problem here is not close to as bad as it is down south. But his words have influence.

I like to think of the police sending in some “diverse” officers to spy on church sermons and report back.

A solution being offered to racist police checks is more police training. Too bad that we learn the training doesn’t work:

I believe, despite HRP’s non-biased policing training, that there is still some racism within the force. I have heard co-workers say, “I know this sounds racist but…”. I want to just stop them there. If a sentence has a disclaimer before it, I probably don’t want to hear it. I am not sure how to change this.

Oh. Oh dear. I kind of like this idea that the police are so tough that they take down criminals every day, but they don’t have the guts to tell people around them not to say racist shit in their hearing. Maybe some of those “Black radicals” should come teach you about having the courage to stand up for what you believe in even when it’s unpopular.

I don’t know if there’s a German word for that feeling when you’re so horrified that it becomes entertaining, but if there isn’t, someone should probably coin it for Black people reading the police comments in this report.

So now that we have a report that confirms everything Black people were already saying, there’ll be a lot of money thrown at the problem, and meetings and forums and roundtables and working groups and whatnot, and if we’re not vigilant, one day we’ll be holding a panel called “Twenty Years Past the Wortley Report and What Has Changed?”

At least, that’s what will happen if we rely on the police board and government and police executives to decide they care enough about Black people for us to matter. But if we want to see real action, Black people better be prepared to relentlessly make life uncomfortable for the people in power, because, as Frederick Douglass told us, power concedes nothing without a demand.


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El Jones

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. “We cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws.” Hunter S. Thompson

  2. Reading the repor, there is not a single thing in it that was not already known. I guess it takes an outside expert to tell us the obvious. And those Northern Guard types are the ones who pose real danger and should be harassed by police. The only thing missing is the white hoods.

  3. As a privileged white guy, just thinking……

    After centuries of racism do we really need a white guy from Toronto to validate the local black population?

    Do we need a high profile member of the black community be arrested entering his/her own home ala Henry Louis Gate, before action is taken?

    How long will it be before someone loses their life in a street check similar to Philando Castilo’s?

    How many black children need to fear just growing up?

    Why are all (white) people not up in arms about this shit and DEMANDING better from our pathetic political class and their shitty deference to local law enforcement?

    1. Dr Wortman is the pre-eminent expert in Canada and has conducted many studies on the issue. His videos are on youtube, The Human Rights Commission picked him because of his expertise. Would you prefer he was a mixed race Buddhist from Yellowknife ?
      Have you read his report ?

        1. I get it in the same way the Human Rights Commission gets it. He is the expert on the subject. And ceasefireHalifax had relevant information.

  4. I agree that more money ” be given to Black communities to develop programs, jobs, mental health care, housing, and to resource ourselves to address the problems caused by generations of social and economic deprivation.” and would add increased funding to schools where black kids, poor kids, kids with no father present and where the assesssment results are so dismal as to make one wonder why our council members have no apparent interest in improving the education of marginalised communities.

    And here is a presentation to the HRM Board of Police Commissioners by Cesefire Halifax seeking funding, note page 2 :
    https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/boards-committees-commissions/171218bopc4.pdf