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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Don't buy the police propaganda campaign in Toronto

It is amazing how when it comes to what are likely isolated crime incidents the media and police propaganda responses are truly always déjà vu all over again. Don't buy it. Nothing has changed about the nature of our police forces and the need for dramatic and fundamental reforms, far greater oversight of police and massive defunding of hugely bloated police budgets.

Toronto police clear out a homeless encampment in May, 2021 -- Image via Twitter

It is amazing how when it comes to what are likely isolated crime incidents the media and police propaganda responses are truly always déjà vu all over again.

A terrible crime.
A short-term surge in gun violence.
A seeming escalation to out of control according to right-wing media types and hysterical mainstream media fellow travellers.
Suddenly, some politicians and the police are on the offensive demanding new measures, new laws, new funding and new or continued powers.
Sound familiar?
Well it should. Because it happened in Toronto before in the wake of the tragic innocent bystander shooting of Jane Creba that was the culmination of the notorious so-called “year of the gun” of 2005.
After Creba died in the crossfire on Yonge St on Boxing Day, the Harper led Conservatives and the forces of so-called law-and-order were quick to seize the initiative in portraying the situation as a “crisis” in Toronto and beyond and in calling for draconian changes to criminal law in the country.
The desperate for power and pandering progressives in both the Liberals and Jack Layton-led NDP were quick to follow suit.
With the appropriate parliamentary gravitas and sloganeering, the new mandatory minimum sentencing laws were launched, initially with the full acquiescence of the “left”.
And one-by-one they were later struck down by the Supreme Court.

And now here we go "all over again" as we have seen a new supposed upsurge in random transit and other violence in Toronto -- that has not lasted long enough to yet be viewed as anything other than a statistical blip -- enrage and frighten a city in part thanks to relentless media fearmongering and spin.

It is worth pointing out, to begin with, that over the past five years -- and when it comes to crime it is only long term stats and trends, not headline grabbing isolated incidents that happen to be grouped together, that matter -- homicides in Toronto have not seen an increase:

The same is broadly true of assaults between 2014-2021 (numbers for 2022 are not available yet):

But statistics are irrelevant to police propagandists, they sing the same song no matter what the numbers say and they have for many, many years. The mainstream media is very fond of the tune and amplifies it whenever possible.

It is hard to believe that for one brief shining moment during the George Floyd uprising in the United States in 2020 it really looked as if the grotesquely bloated budgets of overly militarized police forces across North America might finally be cut and diverted to social programs, housing, mental health supports, community workers and the many things that would do far more to reduce crime than any number of police ever can or could.

In fact, in January 2021 in Toronto a report from Black Lives Matter Toronto, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, YWCA, Family Services Toronto, Neighbourhood Legal Services and 17 other groups found that up "to $340M could be diverted from Toronto police with civilian services to handle calls instead":

Ending over-policing of Black and Indigenous residents, sending civilians to respond to homelessness, drug use and mental health crises and triaging 911 calls so that only serious ones merit a police response could lead to lower overall social costs and reduce Toronto police spending by 25 per cent, according to a new report....
In homelessness, the report found police interact with the homeless in Toronto up to 360,000 times per year, issuing 16,000 tickets, most of which are never paid.
Street Health Kapri Rabin says the cost of law enforcement interacting with the homeless in Toronto costs taxpayers $100 million per year.
But they say reducing police involvement with the homeless and replacing it with civilian outreach, as has been done in major U.S. cities and Australia, could lead to more homeless people securing housing, fewer arrests, less jail time and fewer emergency room visits.
Toronto police respond to 30,000 mental health calls per year, and 40 per cent of the service’s Taser use involves subjects who have mental health issues.
The report says that replacing police with civilians trained to deal with mental health crises could save city taxpayers by expanding existing services that connect with and temporarily house and support those suffering from mental health crises.
The groups behind the report also want a triage system employed to determine whether each 911 call actually warrants a police response.
In 2018, nearly 60 per cent of calls to 911 did not require a police response.

Since the uprising and reports like this the police have been on a relentless counter-offensive ideologically and our utterly morally bankrupt political class has been collapsing like a house of cards in front of it.

Toronto's deeply reactionary police flunky mayor John Tory is overtly using the brief uptick in crime incidents to justify yet another increase to the city's police budget that was proposed in early January. On Monday, January 23 Tory said “I am meeting with the police chief today. I don't think this is entirely a policing matter, but I will say I think it puts into some stark relief why I am advocating for and have included in the budget an increase in the police resources."

The increase he is referring to would see police funding rise by almost $50 million for 2023, sending the service's total budget to more than $1.1 billion, a totally outrageous sum.

Of course, years and years and years of previous increases did not prevent what is happening now. Police critic Desmond Cole noted "Nine years of him supporting police in this way hasn't increased safety in the city of Toronto, hasn't stopped violence in the city of Toronto".

Beyond this fact, however, is also the fact that the police -- or the wanna-be police like the TTC's special constables -- have a long history of harassing, brutalizing and even violently attacking people from working-class, marginalized and racialized communities and their presence will do anything but make things safer for them.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of the transit users advocacy group TTCRiders is completely correct when she says “Police don’t address the root causes of violence … Police cause harm to Black, Indigenous and racialized people. Some people will feel less safe when police are around.”

And so they should.

It would be too charitable to Chauvin to call him a scapegoat, but it also wouldn’t be far from the truth. As I wrote at the time, within the context of the trial and as Chauvin’s peers and bosses lined up to testify against him, during that trial “the fact of police violence – elemental and central to the institution, the first language of police and the structuring logic of policing” was never up for interrogation.
A similar denial, a determined refusal to believe that what police did to Tyre Nichols is squarely on the continuum of violence that defines policing, is already at work in Memphis. On Thursday, as attention to the case mounted in advance of the Friday-evening-release of video footage of the officers beating Nichols, the director of the Tennessee bureau of investigation, David Rausch, claimed that what was contained therein was “criminal” and “not at all proper policing”.
Such is the wizardry, the sleight of hand, by which incidents of police violence that are caught on camera and understood to reflect poorly upon the institution of policing are cast beyond the pale, to be read as aberrations to whatever “proper policing” can possibly entail. Violence, coercive force, the carry and use of deadly weapons – all of these are central to “proper policing” as the institution of policing in this country currently exists.
When a law enforcement official like David Rausch claims that what those officers in Memphis did to Tyre Nichols was not proper policing, one wonders what intellectual alchemy he’s engaged in. Police are trained to be violent, are trained to use coercive force, are trained to use deadly weapons.
There must be, then, a place on the police continuum of violence at which people like Rausch would say the violence was “proper”. Where is that place? One punch? Five nightstick blows? One minute of a merciless five-on-one beating rather than the three minutes it took officers to deliver the killing blows to Nichols? These are the questions in need of asking when the proprietors of violence – those granted by law with a unique monopoly on violence – condemn their own not for being violent, but for not doing violence correctly.
And then there is the matter of race. There will be people who point to the fact that all five officers who killed Tyre Nichols are Black, and use the fact to argue that it disproves a racist angle to his death. This is false. Just as catastrophic violence is not aberrational to policing but rather part of it because it is the institution not the individual that is the problem, so is it true that Black police officers can be just as implicated in the violent white supremacy of policing as can officers who are not Black.
Indeed, for more than 100 years at this point, reformers (some of them Black, some of them not) have argued that one key to resolving this country’s generations-deep crisis of racist policing is to hire more Black and brown officers. And for nearly as long, Black intellectuals from Langston Hughes to members of the Black Panther party have noted that that way lies madness, understanding well that the problem is not the individual who dons the uniform. The problem is the institution that the uniform embodies.

"The problem is the institution that the uniform embodies." That cannot be emphasized enough.

This is just as true in Canada as it is in the United States.

the disparities in police treatment of racial minorities grows clearer, especially after two decades of government and press reporting on subjects such as carding, use of force and incarceration.
In Toronto, Black residents are involved in 29 per cent of Toronto police use of force incidents but make up less than 9 per cent of the city’s population, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) found earlier this year.
Black people in Toronto are nearly four times more likely than white people to be charged with a crime, the OHRC found, and if they are charged, they are nearly five times more likely to be charged with obstruction of justice than white people.
Recent statistics show that twice as many Black people in Canada are imprisoned compared with their share of the population, and five times as many Indigenous people are imprisoned versus their share of the population.

Prior to the latest excuse for the endless copaganda, the seemingly senseless and obviously wrong killing of an Ontario police officer Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala on December 27, 2022 was another recent moment to engage in some.

After that killing Rosie DiManno in the Toronto Star wrote in an op-ed that called for reactionary legal system changes:

It has become too easy to identify policing with the Derek Chauvins and the James Forcillos of the cop world. Understandable too, the abyss of mistrust that has cracked open between police and the public, particularly among over-policed communities, racial minorities and a system that often fails to hold law enforcement to account for their misdeeds.
But surely the overwhelming majority are not a toxic breed. They’re cops, I would think and hope, much like Greg Pierzchala, intent on doing good and protecting all of us.

Nonsense. Total nonsense.

One can feel bad for the individual officer without joining the bandwagon of reactionary whitewashing rubbish about the police such as this and the calls for more policing and harsher laws as if these would make any difference (historically they have not).

While I cannot speak to what kind of an officer he would have been, as long as police officers and their "unions" do what they do which is rally to each other no matter what has been done or the brutality exposed the overwhelming majority are, in fact, a "toxic breed". They are part of a toxic culture and ideology of policing and the evidence that this is true is overwhelming from LA to Memphis to New York to Ferguson to Toronto.

There are countless examples of this, but recently after a police officer was somehow given a conditional discharge for pushing over a homeless man in a wheelchair and kicking him in the face on camera in Calgary there were fellow cops, some in uniform, in the court to pat him on the back and hug him, all smiles etc.

So while it is totally reasonable to be shocked and disgusted by senseless killings and random acts of violence -- and police in North America have a very long record of being involved in exactly that -- don't buy into the propaganda wave.

Nothing has changed about the nature of our police forces and the need for dramatic and fundamental reforms, far greater oversight of police and massive defunding of hugely bloated police budgets because of a few coincidental incidents.


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