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Open Letter to Ms. Marci Ien
In response to her article "The double standard of driving while black - in Canada" Published 2018-02-26 by The Globe and Mail.
Dear Marci Ien,
As a police officer who is mixed with Caribbean and European ancestry I'm curious to know what your opinion is on a "person of colour" (as you put it), who is also a police officer. Reading your account of what I considered to be a routine and frankly quite boring traffic stop (though having a door open on a car I was approaching may cause my heart to skip a beat); I was baffled as to how you were able to build this up into an issue of racism.
I was born in Toronto, and though life has pulled me away, my family still lives in Toronto and it will always be home. You've mentioned the "Black Community", and I'm curious to know who exactly that community consists of. Does it include people with mixed ancestries? Blacks who are police officers? Is your Black community restricted to the confines of the Greater Toronto Area, or does it stretch coast to coast? If it includes all of these, I would like to know what your thoughts are on the many police officers "of colour" working in our diverse police agencies across the country. I can assure you, you do not speak for us, nor do you have the right to imply that you represent us. Police officers aside, I have spoken with many other people of colour who share the belief that you do not speak for them. So please stop.
I'm concerned about the possible damage your story has had on the youth and new immigrants to our country (who may be fleeing violence from police in their own countries), if your opinionated story is read as fact. Your position as a well-known journalist seems to have allowed your opinion to be taken as fact by many people. Your recent article presents a story through only one lens, and that is one of racism. As you are a journalist in this country I would argue you have a greater responsibility to present facts from multiple lenses. But perhaps journalism has changed in this country and it's no longer required to thoroughly investigate a situation. Don't get me wrong you are able to express your opinion, but as a journalist your delivery can play a crucial role on how it is received (as fact or opinion).
Some people think that because someone is the loudest, they must be correct. This is simply not true and can also lead to social injustices when people are judged too early without facts being uncovered. There are several "loud" people who are simply uneducated. Yet people seem to hear them more often because of how loud they shout their opinion. If you hear an uncontested opinion long enough it begins to sound like fact.
If your only tool is a hammer, it's likely that you will view all your problems as nails. This is similar to looking at a situation through a "racism lens". If you're looking at a situation from the belief that it is stemmed by racism, then the result will be that you connect all your experiences in that situation to racism.
If you choose to educate yourself on policing in this country you'd find that the racism problem, which is so loudly spoken of, is not what you think. I'm hoping that this letter gives you, or anyone else who feels like reading it, a better understanding of your interaction.
Based on your article, it is clear to me that you are not educated on the roles and actions of police officers. This does not mean you yourself are not educated, but that your experience in situations like these is minimal or has been misunderstood because of the lens you are viewing it through. I don't blame you for your lack of education in situations like these. I think many people have similar fears and misunderstandings around police operations. I know I did before I was a police officer. It came from a lack of education. Perhaps nobody is to blame for this or perhaps everyone is to blame. One could argue that our society takes minimal efforts to educate people on interacting with police. Others could argue that there is nothing stopping individuals from educating themselves on specific topics. I think it's a mixture of both.
When I was briefly a School Liaison Officer, I developed a short program to deliver to high school students. I explained the various roles police had in a Canadian society and ways to interact with police so that the interaction was smooth for both parties. It was no surprise to me that a lot of the misconceptions students had around police came from movies, television shows and American news agencies. I can not stress enough that most movies and television shows depict an inaccurate account of policing.
We also do not have the same culture as the United States, but students would often quote American terminology or American stories for recent examples of police conflict. Again, it's hard to fault the students for these beliefs. When lacking experience, many people seem to resort to what they've seen on television, when forming their beliefs. If we're flooding our brains with Hollywood movies or the problems of another culture, it's easy to get confused.
I would like to give some insight as to what may be going through a police officer's head. Remember I cannot speak for all police officers. Each police officer is different with their own experiences, styles, strengths and weaknesses, but this may help with a broader view.
The most dangerous situation for a police officer to be in is while conducting a traffic stop. Most police calls involve someone giving the officers information on what they're being called to, and who's involved. This is often not the case for a traffic stop. Most of the time the license plates will match the vehicle and the driver will have a valid driver's license and are able to provide their correct information (Routine Stop). However there are times when none of these add up and the officer is in danger. The officer does not know the stop is routine for certain until the interaction is finished.
Let's look at your interaction...
I understand that having an authoritative figure approach you is intimidating. This would be similar to having your boss walk in asking to speak with you in their office, or having a sales associate asking to look into your bag when something sets off the store detectors. The feelings you describe are present for many people in all sorts of interactions where someone has authority or perceived authority over them. But some people seem to think this is something police are intentionally trying to cause. Please do not make it seem like these feelings are unique to people of colour dealing with police.
You state in your article "...I had broken no law." but the officer believes he saw you run a STOP sign. Whether you did or didn't is irrelevant at that point. The officer believes you did and has every right to pull you over because running a STOP sign is against the law.
You seemed very frustrated at the fact that you were not pulled over immediately where your infraction took place. That's just how things happen. Police officers will often run a license plate and wait for the results to come back. They are not always instantaneous. Officers will also likely do a quick risk assessment and determine if they need backup, if it is the safest place to pull a vehicle over, or they may be waiting for an opening on the radio to update their dispatcher on what they'll be doing. There are countless reasons why you may not get pulled over immediately and I don't pretend to know why your officer chose to wait. But it's important to know that that is a very normal situation.
From your account it seems that the officer activated his emergency lights to inform you he wanted you to pull over (which is common practice). When pulled over, you should wait for the officer to come to you. Coming out of the car can be perceived as a sign of aggression. Are you aggressive? It doesn't seem so. But the officer does not know who is in that vehicle for certain and doesn't know how that person is going to react. I won't take up space explaining all the reasoning behind this as it's an easy topic to research, but traffic stops are dangerous for police.
You state in your article "I don't deserve this" but the officer believes you have rolled through a STOP sign so I would be more concerned if he wasn't pulling you over. The officer let's you know you're being recorded. This is likely an agency policy, but now you know your interaction is being recorded should you have a complaint later.
The officer is willing to give you a warning. I can confidently say that most of the people I have pulled over in my career did not receive a ticket: not because they didn't do anything wrong, but I felt other means of handling the situation were better suited to my policing style. I've had two people demand I give them tickets in my career, and both received them. But that doesn't mean your officer was obligated to give you a ticket.
Ms. Ien I do not doubt people face racism and I do believe racism still exists, though not in the form it used to. What concerns me is that many people will start taking ordinary situations and declare them to be acts of racism; much like in your article. As you are arguably a leader in many communities, it seems like you are leading your followers down an unproductive path that will cause more harm than good. I ask that you reconsider your experience and attempt to investigate it with an open mind and through a lens other than one of racism. Perhaps a great place to start would be the video and transcription of the incident that the Toronto Police Service has made readily available to you. I would ask that you present your findings as you have the platform and capability to influence many people along a higher path of learning and understanding.
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