The write time

Writer, broad­caster, jour­nal­ist and ac­tivist — Toronto’s Des­mond Cole has moved the de­bate for­ward with his in­tel­li­gent writ­ing and pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment

Midtown Post - - News - by Ron John­son

Five years ago, Des­mond Cole filed his first story on po­lice card­ing. Af­ter a con­tentious bat­tle, Toronto Po­lice Service ended the prac­tice of ob­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion on in­di­vid­u­als (dis­pro­por­tion­ately young black men) ob­tained dur­ing ran­dom stops, but it has nonethe­less kept the data. Cole took things into his own hands last month when he dis­rupted a Po­lice Ser­vices Board meet­ing de­mand­ing the in­for­ma­tion be de­stroyed. It was an­other step in Cole’s re­mark­able jour­ney from jour­nal­ist to one of the city’s lead­ing ac­tivists. So when he re­signed from the Toronto Star, it rep­re­sented the loss of one of the city’s most ex­cit­ing young voices. So we tracked him down to see what hap­pens next.

When might we be see­ing your by­line again soon?

I think this is a good time for me to re­assess what I want to do in Cana­dian me­dia and who I want to work with in Cana­dian me­dia.

Was your act of protest at the Po­lice Ser­vices Board meet­ing planned?

Yes, I planned to do it. I should say, I think that there are a lot of peo­ple who re­al­ize I took my life into my owns hands by walk­ing into that po­lice build­ing and do­ing what I did. You don’t do some­thing like that without plan­ning, un­less you’re fool­ish and you’re not con­cerned that the po­lice can hurt you.

What do you mean?

I had to plan ev­ery­thing from whether I was go­ing to sit or stand be­cause I know that my mere pres­ence as a dis­rup­tive force in that build­ing is deemed to be a vi­o­lent act, which is why they sent po­lice in to es­cort me out, by the way. I know that, if I raise my hand, some­body in that room might try to sug­gest that I have some­thing in my hand, so I have to open my hand while I raise it in the air be­fore I make it into a fist, so it is very clear there is noth­ing in my hand. These are the little things I have to think about so I don’t get killed mak­ing a pub­lic protest at a po­lice sta­tion. I say this to you be­cause these are the same things we have to think about as black peo­ple ev­ery­day [in] this city.

You use the term “white supremacy.” What does it mean to you?

Peo­ple just make up the def­i­ni­tion of white supremacy they would like. It’s not at­tached to an in­di­vid­ual or group. It’s a force. It’s an ide­ol­ogy. It’s just a set of ideas. It doesn’t be­long to any­one. When I talk about white supremacy, it’s a force like pa­tri­archy, het­eronor­ma­tiv­ity, cap­i­tal­ism, big pic­ture forces that gov­ern the way we live ev­ery day. There is noth­ing con- tro­ver­sial about white supremacy be­ing a force that, I think, is an over­ar­ch­ing phi­los­o­phy of what it means to be Cana­dian.

But isn’t the idea of us­ing that term to make peo­ple feel un­com­fort­able, to chal­lenge them?

I’m be­ing ac­cu­rate. It’s just the truth. It’s what we would call it if we were be­ing hon­est.

Peo­ple are los­ing jobs and be­ing held to ac­count over racism. Maybe the time of ex­cuses is com­ing to an end?

I don’t be­lieve that it’s end­ing. First of all, we need to ac­knowl­edge the rea­son the [ Write mag­a­zine] ed­i­tor lost his job and the rea­son school board trustee Nancy El­gie re­signed is that the peo­ple be­ing at­tacked, black and indige­nous peo­ple, put a tremen­dous amount of labour into dis­rupt­ing, re­belling and fight­ing back. It is clear this would not have hap­pened without them.

But at least the ex­cuses weren’t enough.

We should never be hav­ing to fight these bat­tles in the first place be­cause the sys­tem should have our backs.

Do peo­ple treat you dif­fer­ently now?

Yeah, you know, I men­tioned in my [Toronto Star] res­ig­na­tion let­ter, John Hon­derich told me that I’m writ­ing about race too of­ten. And I think that there are a lot of peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly in my pro­fes­sional world, who agree with that state­ment. I have a lot of peo­ple now much more wary of talk­ing to me about cer­tain is­sues. They are afraid of, you know, how we like to jump down peo­ple’s throats. That’s what peo­ple are al­ways afraid of. Peo­ple in my work­places, the var­i­ous places that I work, many of them have an open dis­like for me be­cause of the things I’ve cho­sen to ad­vo­cate for.

What gives you hope?

Other black peo­ple do. Ev­ery day, when I leave my house and I ride the sub­way, walk around in pub­lic, I run into peo­ple who want to talk to me about my work and the vast ma­jor­ity of them are black.… I have faith in my com­mu­nity. I’m fight­ing with and for my black com­mu­nity and be­yond.

What do you con­sider your great­est achieve­ment so far?

The fact that I can still get out of bed in the morn­ing.

What is your idea of per­fect hap­pi­ness?

A world with no po­lice.

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