Debate over police powers missing key voices: women and minorities.
The biggest story in America this year is that racism isn’t dead. Just ask any young black man who’s been ‘carded’ by the police. Or the families of those who were killed by police under
murky circumstances. Or the families of police gunned down in revenge.
Almost as tragic as the deaths is the murderous rhetoric. Patrick Lynch, head of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of New York, claimed “There’s blood on many hands. [It]… starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the Mayor,” because Mayor Bill deBlasio didn’t support the NYPD wholeheartedly after Eric Garner was choked to death by an NYPD officer, after screaming 15 times: “I can’t breathe”.
Here in Canada, Toronto Police Association president Michael McCormack waded in against “irresponsible anti-police rhetoric,” then linked “the resulting hatred” to the deaths of the two NYPD officers.
We’ve come to expect union heads to call any criticism of their members’ actions ‘irresponsible’, and in this case ‘anti-police.’ It goes with the territory.
But across Canada it also goes with the gender, and maybe even the race.
Because what’s missing in our own national debates over the abuse of police powers are two voices: women, and especially policewomen, and non-whites, and especially non-white police officers.
This first clicked for me when I saw Pat Lynch ranting against New York’s mayor on TV last week. He was surrounded by five very large white men, his fellow executives at the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. True, there is the Policewomen’s Endowment Association, which represents the 34 per cent of the NYPD’s 34,500 officers who are women. But they’re a networking and fellowship group, not a union like the men’s association.
Here in Canada, to say that police unions are boys’ clubs – and white boys’ clubs at that – understates just how glaring the absence of women and visible minorities is.
Let’s start with Toronto, “the world’s most diverse city.” Of the eight board members of the Toronto Police Association headed by Mr. McCormack, all eight are male and seven are white. This in a force of 7,650 members, in which 30 per cent are women and 23 per cent are visible minorities, who police a city where 51 per cent of the residents are women and almost the same percentage are members of a visible minority.
Canada’s second-largest city fares no better. The Montreal police union has six executive members. All are men and all are white.
Calgary? Of seven board members, all are men, one is non-white.
Ottawa: of eight members, all men, one non-white.
Halifax: five members, all men, all white.
Vancouver only lists its president (male, white) on its website, and Winnipegdoesn’t list any of its 13 board members.
RCMP officers are forbidden from forming a union. But Canada’s two largest provincial police unions mirror their city cousins: the Ontario Provincial Police Association has seven board members. Six are men and all are white. The Sûreté du Québec has six executive members and 12 board members. All are men, all are white.
But why does this matter? What’s the connection between lower levels of testosterone and less incendiary rhetoric? And not just rhetoric. When police line up outside the courtroom to defend one of their own accused of a crime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a policewoman pushing the media away. And when the New York cops turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio outside the church last week where he was to speak at the funeral of Raphael Ramos, not a policewoman’s back was to be seen.
The connection, of course, is that women are less violent than men, certainly in deed and often in word as well. (in ‘thought’ we’ll never know). Women are more empathic than men. Women make more rational decisions than men, in everything from investing to … shooting. While women make up 20 per cent to 35 per cent of many police forces, the number of female police officers caught using excessive force ranges from tiny to non-existent.
So why can’t more policewomen and non-white officers get on the boards of their unions?
That’s a question Canada’s 70,000 police officers who want more respect from the public should ask their unions.