The Plague-Ground – As white as the driven snow.

Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds Derek Chauvin spent crushing the neck of George Floyd reveals another police problem that’s hiding in plain sight in Toronto as much as in Minneapolis and New York.

How many policewomen have killed Black people in suspicious circumstances?

I doubt many, if any at all.

How many non-white police officers have killed Black people in suspicious circumstances?

Likely the same number.

Yet nearly half of Toronto’s 5,400 police officers are non-white and over a third are women. In this regard, Toronto’s police ‘looks like’ its population much more than smaller cities like Boston where only 14% of officers are women, and Dallas where 52% of the population is Hispanic, yet only 14% of the police force is.

What is distressing is the gender and racial composition of the union executives who negotiate their contracts and defend their members against all comers at the faintest breath of criticism. Indeed, this could offer a clue to the murderous rhetoric that comes from police union heads when their power is threatened.

This link between white male police union leadership and white male police violence first struck me when Lieutenant Bob Kroll, the Minneapolis police union chief, called out George Floyd as a “violent criminal” and Black Lives Matter as a “terrorist organization.” But by this week, Kroll had gone silent, refusing to speak with the media, despite the fact that he’s married to a local television news reporter.

Now Toronto is not Minneapolis. But an hour on Google last night showed me that our police unions have a long way to go when it comes to diversity.

The Toronto Police union board has nine members.

Eight are men, and all nine are white.

It also turns out that the Ontario Provincial Police, whose billion dollar budget matches Toronto’s, has seven members on its union executive.

Six of them are men and all seven are white.

But should we really care that in the most diverse city in the world, the leadership of our police unions is so blatantly un-diverse?

Are police unions racist and sexist because their leadership is so blatantly white and male? Not necessarily. Do white, male-led police unions cause unjustified use of force by their members? Hard to prove.

But I do know that women are less violent and more empathic than men, both in word and action. I know women make more rational decisions, from investing decisions to life and death ones. I know women and men together create better outcomes than either on their own.

I also know women are less prone to the herd instinct than men. This may be why we rarely see a policewoman lining up outside a courtroom to ‘show force’ when one of their male colleagues is accused of a crime. Or why policewomen tend not to shove media cameras away or turn their backs in defiance of their mayor.

Maybe our police union executives will see for themselves how badly this looks on them.

Maybe we can help them along a little.

So the next time you’re in a Starbucks and you see a police officer in line, ask them politely if having an all-white union leadership really represents their own personal interests.

Go ahead. Try it. Never sparked a spontaneous conversation with a cop?

If not now, when?

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9 replies
  1. Avatar
    Jamie Laidlaw says:

    This is a good one Bob. I recall the struggle in Toronto to have oversight has been long and fraught. For some reason (Portapique and the rampage) I remembered the RCMP tasering to death a distraught traveller and the disgraceful aftermath. Four large men trained in lethal force against one exhausted gut who could not speak English. All the officers were male and the sentencing was around their implausible alibi that they had plainly constructed. Note that the member of the force in the article is black. I shudder to remember.
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/robert-dziekanski-taser-death-kwesi-millington-sentenced-to-30-months-for-perjury-1.3122941

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Jamie — Yes, I’d forgotten about Dziekanski…truly appalling…and we all knew they were lying. I really don’t think that would be allowed to happen any more.
      Bob

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    LOUISE says:

    Somewhat disheartening? You betcha.
    And although we are talking here about OPP and Toronto Police Force, isn’t the head of the RCMP a woman?

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Robin Lecky says:

    I’m working on a production project with the Los Angeles Police Department. By comparison, the LAPD 5-person Commission is composed of three women (2 white/1 Hispanic) and two men (1 white/1 black).

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Ian Tuck says:

    Let’s not ignore the responsibility of the Toronto Police Services Board in all of this. When we last had a chance to have a real progressive police chief (Peter Sloly), Tory kneecapped him and made sure his preferred “safe” selection was the one who got the job. They don’t exactly look like a cross-section of our city, and tthere’s nobody currently there who plays the role that critics like Alok Mukherjee used to.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      I agree, sort of. Yes, because Sloly was a far better choice (and may be again). Maybe, because the board needs another Mukherjee.
      No, because the Police Board actuallty does look pretty diverse.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Jane says:

    As always Bob you uncover important facts that often get overlooked in the haste to find quick solutions. Throwing more money at training and blaming individuals is not the answer. Fundamental change from the foundation up is required – including as you have pointed out having a police board that reflects the gender and racial diversity of our society!

    Reply

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