Police relations are a frequent topic raised by youth in OJEN/ROEJ sessions throughout the GTA. Here are some excepts from conversations we’ve had with young people over the last few months. All of them identified police as a negative influence in their communities and talked about a need to repair and refocus youth-police relationships in Toronto.
A 26-year old reflects on his experience of being stopped by the police when he was 14 years old:
Following my contact with the law and my negotiations of the system, I’d say, in the years to follow down in high school, I suddenly cleaned up my act a little bit. But what I retained was, and still retain to a certain extent, is a fear of the police… I, you know, have certainly in the years following my contact, I’ll avoid police at all costs, you know. If I happened to be at a party and they showed up I would run. I, you know, I just wanted to avoid that confrontation… and still carry some of that with me today, I suppose. I guess the friendly police officer is no longer a sort of myth that I’m holding and I suppose that it’s made me more wary and a little more cautious.
A teenager tells the story of her 13-year old brother’s experience being stopped and searched:
A thirteen year old black boy coming home from school got stopped by the police because he looked like someone they were looking for. He was tall for his age, black and quiet. He was asked for his ID, but being the innocent, shy boy that he is, he was too scared and traumatized to speak. He let them search him and came home almost crying. They shouldn’t have stopped the innocent kid, not knowing who exactly it was that they were looking for. The police should have more than enough information about who they’re looking for before taking action and wrongly accusing someone else.
Youth in East Scarborough, talking about stereotypes:
Facilitator: So I know some of you have mentioned in previous sessions that the police have stereotypes about young people, right? So what are some of the stereotypes that you think the police have about you?
Youth 1: That we’re always up to make no good, always causing trouble.
Youth 2: Colour.
Facilitator: Okay, what about colour?
Youth 3: Racism.
Youth 4: Assuming that all black people sell drugs.
Facilitator: When you’re walking down the street and you see a police cruiser, what do you think they’re thinking about you? I’m talking about you in particular.
Youth 5: What are you up to? Why is he so handsome? Hahaha…
Youth 6: [wearing a suit] He’s probably thinking he cannot win a trial with me because I know my rights.
Facilitator: How do you show that you know your rights?
Youth 6: I’m wearing my suit, and my book of code.
Youth 7: No, it depends on the way you approach.
Facilitator: Do people normally approach police officers, or do the police officers approach them?
Youth 8: Well it depends. Well, if [Youth 6] gets pulled over and he’s dressed in a suit, but it’s the way he conducts himself towards the officer. That’s how they’re going to continue with their questioning. But if he approaches them with full confidence, then they wouldn’t go ahead with what they’re looking for. But if they pull over [Youth 7] and he’s being negative towards them, of course they’re going to question him, and they’re going to be like, “Okay you’re up to no good. You’re being rude,” and they’re going to find some kind of excuse just to get him there. Even if they do that to [Youth 6] they’re still going to find an excuse, be it approach or negative. It’s the way you approach yourself towards the officer. Doesn’t matter if you’re dressed in a suit, or dressed in ball gear. Like it’s the way you talk back to the police officer. Because if I go to the police officer and be like, ya I’m being rude to him, he’s going to be like, okay. If I go and I’m there with full confidence and I talk to him properly then he’s going to have self respect in me and I’m going to have self respect in myself.
Facilitator: So my question for you is, what about you guys in particular, you as individuals, one thing that you wish that the police, or the justice system, or older people, adults anybody knew about you that would make a change in the way you’re treated in the community or by the justice system.
Youth 3: Just because we’re black, they have this view on black people – they’re not getting an education and they don’t care. But then there are some out there that actually do. I think society expects us, when a teacher causes trouble they expect us to cuss and cause trouble. But when we are not causing trouble we don’t kind of get acknowledged.
Facilitator: So on a whole, you’re saying that you’re not being acknowledged for positive things but more so for negative things.
Youth 3: Yes!