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Racism is one of the biggest problems facing Canadian society today. The issue is manifested in various settings in the structure of society. The police system in Canada is significantly affected by racism. Racial profiling is a problem that has existed for a long time within the Canadian law enforcement system. Cases of police killings of black Canadians, such as those of Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku, have elicited strong and critical reactions from the community. The reactions have led to the formation of black revolutionary movements that have organized social protests and vigils whenever there is an alleged case of police brutality or any act of human rights violation against black people. This essay examines various issues that affect policing in Canada by reflecting on the lives of black people living in the country.
Black Lives Matter
The most prominent group that currently fights against police brutality in Canada is the Black Lives Matter movement. This association is a human rights activist group that originated from the United States. The group started as a social media hashtag in the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, who was an African American teenager. The group has been involved in street protests following incidents of killings of black Americans, such as the street protests in Ferguson and New York in 2014 following the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Since then, the association has become an international black rights activist movement that is involved in the fight against the killings of black people by law enforcement officers. The Canadian chapter of the Black Lives Matter originated in 2014 following the shooting of Jermaine Corby by a police officer during a traffic stop. The Canadian chapter was co-founded by Janaya Khan and Yusra Ali. Since then, the Canadian chapter of the movement has been involved in various protests against racial segregation against black and other marginalized people of color. The underlying reasons behind this issue can be explained through historical, sociological, and psychological points of view. Understanding these viewpoints represent the key to finding a solution to the issue of police violence against black Canadians.
In order to find a long-lasting solution to this problem and many other social issues, it is imperative that they are viewed from different viewpoints. The inherent racial profiling in the Canadian police system and the emergence of groups such as Black Lives Matter can be explained from various social perspectives. One of the ways to analyze the issue of racism in the police system and subsequent movements is from a historical point of view. There has been a long history of racial discrimination against black Canadians. Racism against people of color range from differential treatment in prisons, courts to regular policing activities such as highway stops, and during arrests.
However, the government has continually dismissed the claim that there is a differential treatment in the justice system as a mere tool that activist groups use to gain popularity. However, over the years, high profile cases of racial prejudice have brought these allegations to the limelight. When leaders of black and other minority communities expressed their continued concerns of racial prejudice against the members of their communities, the Ontario provincial government reacted by forming the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System in 1992 (Ross 2017). The commission’s investigations revealed that there were cases of police bias against black Canadians over the last 20 years.
The formation of the commission was also fuelled by the complaints of black communities experiencing differential treatment at the hands of law enforcement officers in the years leading to the 1990s. There had been shootings of black citizens under unexplained circumstances by the police. These incidents led to private citizens, communities, and leaders staging protests against the abuse of power by the police (Ross 2017). The black community made their frustration known in 1992 by causing a disturbance in Toronto. This followed the acquittal of two white police officers involved in the shooting and killing of Michael Wade Lawson (Ross 2017). The jury that was involved in the acquittal was entirely made of up of white members. Other cases that led to the escalation of the protests were the shooting to death of Raymond Lawrence and the case of Rodney King in which four white police officers were found to have committed no offense by a jury in the United States.
The historical account of police racism and the reaction from the activist groups helps to highlight the fact that the issue of racial prejudice has been embedded in the Canadian police system for a long time. The issues have persisted, and the increased calls for equality in the treatment at the hands of law enforcement officers have led to the formation of activist groups such as Black Lives Matter. When the groups take to the streets to protest the incidents of killings of black people at the hands of the police, they are also angered by the historical injustices experienced by the black people. It is therefore important for policymakers to take these historical events into consideration when they are making policies aimed at eliminating racism from the Canadian police system.
The issue of racism in the police system and black activism can also be viewed from a sociological point of view. There are various sociological theories that can help in understanding and resolution of the issue of racial prejudice in the Canadian justice system.
One of the sociological theories that can be used to understand the issue of race and activism is the conflict theory. The conflict theory is one of the most popular sociological theories. The theory states that the emergence of conflict in the society results when wealth, authority and status are unevenly distributed according to race, sexuality, gender and other indicators of social status. The theory was established in a bid to explain the occurrence of conflict in the society. The theory, advanced by Karl Marx, suggests that there are two groups in the society (Carney 2016). The two groups are the powerful minority who strive to exert their control over the majority that is less powerful. The conflict of theory also seeks to generate new norms and institutions within the society. These norms and institutions are aimed at fighting the social injustices that are perpetrated by the existing institutions.
Although this theory was established mainly to explain the economic inequalities, it can be applied to explain the cases of activism against racism in the police system. The theory suggests that those in power usually apply force and coerce the oppressed in a bid to have them under control. The use of force and coercion is usually met with resistance. Additionally, the use of racial discrimination stems from the socioeconomic inequalities in the society. The inequalities in the society lead to cases of racial profiling among the members of the police force. Such inequalities explain police actions such as stopping of black drivers on the roads by police officers on a higher likelihood than white drivers. It also explains why some people, including police officers, generally view blacks as being more likely to commit a crime. It is such perceptions that result in cases of police violence against black people and give birth to associations such as Black Lives Matter that seeks to reverse that order so as to restore equality in the society.
The critical theory is another theory that explains the emergence of groups that fight for rights of weak or marginalized groups in the society. The theory follows in the footsteps of Karl Marx’s conflict theory and aims at helping people understand the underlying societal issues and to change the whole society and how people view it. The theory also strives to improve the understanding of the society as a whole by presenting members of the society with ideologies that are usually hidden from them by those in power (Carney 2016). This theory goes against the traditional sociological theories that only aim at explaining the way the society functions without offering any solutions to change it or solve inherent social issues. The critical theory is founded on the basis that social issues should be identified, analyzed and practical solutions offered.
The emergence of Black Lives Matter best illustrates the application of this theory in the society. Police brutality in Canada and many other diverse cultures, as has been explained above, is a historical issue that has existed for many years. The authorities in the countries where these incidents happen usually attempt to overlook the issues and try to make it seem as if that is how the society works. However, when incidents of police brutality and other injustices against minorities occur, activist groups like Black Lives Matter emerge to try and change the way the society views black people. These groups emerge to educate the masses on the issues that affect the society and to encourage them to stand up and take actions that are aimed at resolving the issues. The groups also aim at forcing the authorities in place to ensure equality in the way the society is treated. It also explains why groups such as the Black Lives Matter are involved in different social issues including immigration.
The strain theory can also be applied to explain the formation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The strain theory, developed by Robert Merton, implies that deviant behavior as being an unavoidable result of the strain that members of the social experience because a rational and available means of achieving objectives that are of cultural importance are not provided by the society (Carney 2016). The society, according to the strain theory, consists of the cultural and the social structure. It is through the cultural values that people develop identities. The identities are developed with respect to the societal structure in place. Deviant behavior is likely to occur when the society fails to provide the necessary means for the members of the society to achieve their goals. Activist groups such as the Black Lives Matter are as a result of the rebellion that comes about because of the strain experienced by black people and other communities of color.
Activists and communities that engage in these associations feel that they have been denied basic rights as a result of the violence perpetrated by the police against black people (Carney 2016). The systematic racial profiling in the police system has denied black people the customary respect they need to achieve their goals and aspirations. As a result, they have turned to civil disturbances, and protests as means of fighting for social equality. These activist groups are aimed at putting pressure those in power to offer equal opportunities and means for minority groups to achieve goals that they hold as important to them. The sociological explanations offer a social understanding of the issue of racial prejudice within the Canadian police system. The understanding of how the society has contributed to the issue of racism and the subsequent protests will help policymakers in the formulation of policies that will help in addressing the issue.
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Apart from the historical and sociological viewpoints, psychology offers another perspective from which racial prejudice within the police structure can be viewed. The Black Lives Matter movement has had its events attended by a large number of people who sacrifice the comfort of their lives for a common course. Various psychological theories have been offered to explain the involvement of people in these movements. One such theory is the theory of grievances, which are driven by the concept of deprivation. People usually feel deprived when they compare their social situations to those of other people or to the situations that are considered standard (Rickford 2016). Such comparisons are made on issues like justice or equal treatment.
When that comparison compels some members of the society to conclude that they are not receiving the same treatment as other members of the society, grievances are likely to be raised that might lead to social protests and civil disturbance. The theories of grievance can be used to explain the popularity of movements such as the Black Lives Matter. Various police actions have led to grievances among members of the black community. The actions include the frequent stopping of black people by police officers on the road, the deaths of black people during arrests or in police custody and the differential of treatment of black people in courts. Black communities evaluate these actions and see that they are different from how white people are treated by the same institutions. This leads to the formation of activist movements that are fuelled by these grievances.
Efficacy theory is another psychological theory that explains the participation of people in the associations such as Black Lives Matter. Efficacy involves the belief by individuals that policies can be altered when authorities are pressurized through protests. The efficacy theory is related to the sociological theory of agency that dictates that actions by individual people can shape the society. When people have grievances against the treatment they receive from government agencies, they align themselves with civil rights groups which they believe can effect change within the society (Rickford 2016). Consequently, many black people have had grievances about racial prejudice and killings perpetrated by police officers and decided to support the Black Lives Matter because they believe it can effect change within the society. The growth of this group has been enabled by the belief that the problems faced by the black community can be solved through collective action.
Psychological explanations have also been offered to explain the thought process police officers go through that might lead to actions that the general public might perceive as racism. Psychologists explain that sometimes police officers display racial prejudice unconsciously (Rickford 2016). The reaction of police officers against black people can be explained through three thought processes. The first process dictates that people do the evaluation of people they meet for the first time within a very short time span. This short window for the evaluation is supposed to help gauge the level of threat carried by the individual. The evaluation depends on experience and previous occurrence. Within the short period of time, police officers have to decide whether to open fire or not. Due to the fact that black people have been traditionally viewed as posing a danger, the police officers most of the time evaluate black suspects as posing a danger and that may result in incidents of shooting. Such evaluations can explain incidents of police shootings like the Andrew Loku incident.
Another thought process that seeks to explain the racial prejudice within the police system is that of implicit stereotype. The sight of a black person elicits images of black people that the police officers have learned throughout their life. According to Rickford (2016), this kind of reaction takes place without the involved the person being aware or having the time to evaluate if the image is right or wrong. The cultures in diverse countries have traditionally portrayed black people in a manner that activates the notion of threat. Because of this notion, police officers usually view non-violent actions such as holding of wallets and moving towards their cars as potential dangers and trigger violent reactions. These actions are not necessarily racist as they are often perceived.
The perceived masculine threat offered by black men is another psychological process that has been offered by psychologists as a reason for differential treatment of black people in the hands of police officers. This process suggests that police officers’ reactions are not triggered by being racist but by the insecurity of the police officer about the masculinity of the black people. These psychological explanations attempt to offer an explanation of the racial prejudice that is inherent in the system. When these processes lead to the shooting or killing of black people, they elicit reactions such as those by Black Lives Matter movements. The solution to the issue of racial discrimination within the police system depends on the understanding of these psychological thought processes so that officers are given adequate training to help avert such incidents. Pertinent to the search for a solution to various issues faced in the society is the understanding of the minds involves in the issue under consideration. The psychological perspectives offer the understanding of both the protesters and the officers that might lead to these issues. These psychological explanations will come in handy for policymakers who strive to formulate policies to counter the issue of racial prejudice in within the Canadian police system.
The issue of police violence has continued to be a problem for the Canadian police system, just like any other country that has a diverse population. In order to find solutions that will resolve this issue, various viewpoints must be analyzed. Historical perspective represents one of the viewpoints from which the issue can be analyzed. The last decade had seen many incidents of police killing black people without concrete action from the authorities. These killings accompanied by the acquittal of the officers involved led to early protests organized by activist groups. These historical injustices plus the recent cases of police brutality have led to the formation of groups such the Black Lives Matter that aims at changing the status quo. Sociological theories also offer an explanation to these issues and the rise of activist groups that fight against the marginalization of the members of the black community.
The sociological theories that explain the issue include the conflict theory, the critical theory, and the strain theory. Psychologists have also weighed into the matter by using theories such as the grievance and the efficacy theories. The historical, sociological and the psychological perspectives represent some of the ways in which to understand the issue of police violence against members of the black community in Canada. To find long lasting remedies to this issues, policymakers must take into account the history of the issue, understand the sociological explanations that shed light into the functionality of the society, and the psychological reasoning behind the police officer’s action and the reaction of members of the public. Activist groups such as the Black Lives Matter fight for equality in the way people are treated in the hands of police officers and until their grievances are analyzed through the discussed viewpoints, the issue of police brutality will persist and such groups will continue to cause civil disturbances in Canada.
Carney, N 2016, ‘All lives matter, but so does race: black lives matter and the evolving role of social media’, Humanity & Society, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 180-199.
Rickford, R 2016, ‘Black lives matter: toward a modern practice of mass struggle’, New Labor Forum, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 34-42.
Ross, J 2017, Violence in Canada: sociopolitical perspectives, Routledge, London.