NOW Magazine - - COVER STORY - Neil Price is a doc­toral stu­dent at OISE and au­thor of the Com­mu­nity As­sess­ment of Po­lice Prac­tices re­port on card­ing. | @nowtoronto By NEIL PRICE

Dear John, it’s been a while. The last time we con­nected was at that semi-clan­des­tine meet­ing you hastily ar­ranged at City Hall with mem­bers of the Black com­mu­nity back in April 2016. Re­mem­ber? That was a rough time for you. You were un­der a lot of pres­sure to meet pub­licly with Black Lives Mat­ter–Toronto. In a panic, you reached out to a num­ber of us – ac­tivists, former politi­cians, aca­demics, com­mu­nity lead­ers – in the hope of re­ceiv­ing some ad­vice on how to move for­ward.

It may have been a cool spring morn­ing out­side but you were get­ting roasted in­side – you and po­lice chief Mark Saun­ders, that is. Both of you mostly sat there with blank stares on your faces, like two school­boys be­ing scolded for cheat­ing or, more aptly, fail­ing.

When the meet­ing mer­ci­fully came to an end, you looked at us with grav­ity and said, “I’ve re­ceived the mes­sage.” You promised to meet with BLM-TO pub­licly, but you never did.

Which brings me to the crux of the mat­ter as we head to elec­tion day on Oc­to­ber 22. If you didn’t know it be­fore, you ought to know it now: you have a se­ri­ous cred­i­bil­ity prob­lem with Black com­mu­ni­ties in this city and I don’t think it’s repara­ble.

It’s be­come ap­par­ent to many of us that you say things you don’t mean and make prom­ises you know you can’t de­liver. Ei­ther way, we can’t trust you. Let me re­count a few rea­sons why.

First, you put your­self on the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vices Board and ma­noeu­vred your long-time pal Andy Pringle into the chair’s seat be­cause you wanted to put the brakes on polic­ing re­former Peter Sloly’s can­di­dacy for chief and en­sure the com­pro­mise can­di­date Saun­ders got the job in­stead.

That barely con­cealed ploy to keep the po­lice union happy was one of the ear­li­est in­di­ca­tions that you couldn’t be trusted.

Then there was your mis­han­dling of the card­ing file.

We watched in hor­ror as you ap­peased the po­lice brass by ini­tially sup­port­ing their sus­pect claim that card­ing leads to suc­cess­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tions. It was only when you were shamed by your priv­i­leged white peers at a press con­fer­ence at City Hall that you came to your senses and pub­licly re­jected the prac­tice.

One of your key prom­ises when you ran for mayor in 2014 was to repair the bro­ken trust be­tween Black com­mu­ni­ties and the po­lice.

But you sup­ported the hir­ing of 200 po­lice of­fi­cers even though we told you over and over again that in­creas­ing po­lice pres­ence in our com­mu­ni­ties is not the an­swer to gun vi­o­lence. On top of this, you put your sig­na­ture on a plan to in­stall ex­pen­sive, un­proven sur­veil­lance tech­nol­ogy in our neigh­bour- hoods. So much for trust.

De­spite your be­trayal, many of us were still will­ing to give you the ben­e­fit of the doubt. We un­der­stand that lead­ing what you like to call an “emerg­ing global city” filled with com­pet­ing in­ter­ests and agen­das is hard. We were pre­pared to cut you some slack and give you some time to turn things around. But then you went Rambo on us.

In re­sponse to an up­swing in shoot­ings this sum­mer, you used words like “sewer rats” and “thugs,” among other things, to de­scribe the al­leged shoot­ers. Sev­eral peo­ple crit­i­cized you for this. They pointed out that such ir­re­spon­si­ble lan­guage con­jures up and per­pet­u­ates stereo­types that are harm­ful to racial­ized and marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties. But you re­fused to apol­o­gize.

The per­plex­ing thing about you is that your true in­ten­tions are al­most im­pos­si­ble to pin down. You’ve been hailed as a friend of Black com­mu­ni­ties for many years, but your ac­tions sug­gest oth­er­wise.

Some of our el­ders who know you per­son­ally vouch for your like­abil­ity and ap­proach­a­bil­ity. They tell us that you take time to lis­ten.

But you come at us side­ways, leav­ing many of us to ask: is he with us or against us?

Some­times you show you get it, like at the re­cent may­oral can­di­dates’ de­bate in Scar­bor­ough fo­cused on Black com­mu­ni­ties, where you fi­nally ad­mit­ted white priv­i­lege ex­ists. That was the hon­ourable thing to do.

How­ever, ob­serv­ing your body lan­guage that evening made it plain to see that things have changed be­tween you and Toronto’s Black com­mu­ni­ties. The jig is up. You were there in body, but your spirit was miss­ing. In fact, it never made it into the build­ing.

It seemed to bother you that the other can­di­dates – Saron Ge­bre­sel­lassi, Jen­nifer Keesmaat and Knia Singh – found more favour with the au­di­ence than you did that night. Their mes­sages on hous­ing, tran­sit and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment were res­onat­ing while your com­mit­ments seemed re­cy­cled and old hat.

Ge­bre­sel­lassi talked about pro­vid­ing 1,000 youth with jobs by re­pur­pos­ing por­tions of the po­lice bud­get, while Keesmaat spoke about the need for a cul­tural hub for Black com­mu­ni­ties run by Black com­mu­ni­ties. Singh got peo­ple go­ing when he spoke about set­ting up rent-to-own pro­grams for Toronto Com­mu­nity Hous­ing res­i­dents.

You thought you had an ace up your sleeve: the city’s anti-Black racism plan. And you didn’t miss an op­por­tu­nity to men­tion it.

The plan calls for in­creased di­ver­sity train­ing, hir­ing and in­vest­ments in Black youth. You em­pha­sized its fo­cus on pol­icy de­vel­op­ment to re­dress dam­age done by anti-Black racism, all of which is laud­able.

But here’s the thing. Many of us no longer be­lieve you. And a plan with­out cred­i­ble lead­er­ship is no plan at all. Just be­cause you’ve got­ten com­fort­able us­ing the term “anti-Black racism” doesn’t mean we see you as be­ing gen­uine about want­ing to ac­tu­ally tackle it.

De­spite a track record of let­ting our com­mu­nity down, you’re lead­ing in the polls. This doesn’t sur­prise any­body. You seem to have made the po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus to of­fend us be­cause you fig­ure it won’t hurt you at the polls, which means you’ll go on promis­ing but not de­liv­er­ing for another four years if you’re re­elected.

I sup­pose that’s your def­i­ni­tion of “lead­er­ship that works.”



Is he with us or against us?

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