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The Skin We’re In: Racial Profiling And Discrimination

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Crime has always been a contentious topic in the study of development and functioning of human society, also known as sociology, branched unto its own sector; criminology. The relationship between race and crime, in Canada has been a topic of public controversy and literary debate for decades. Since the 1980s, the debate has pivoted around the causes of and contributing factors to the disproportional representation of racial minorities. In our society today, racial discrimination and inequality continues to be a prolonged issue. Regardless of the advancements we make in our society in terms of race, discrimination is something that can not simply be erased, and we as society continue to take steps back. Racial profiling and discrimination is both ineffective as a law enforcement strategy, and offensive to the fundamental principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result of racial profiling in police forces across Ontario, a significant amount of mistrust has developed among adults, and especially youth, in law enforcement.

Racial profiling is a form of racial stereotyping and sadly, it still exists in society. It finds its way into the education system, and criminal justice system. Although this may make sense to police officers in the line of duty, through the eyes of the public and those affected by actions of police, it is a form a racism that is not being confronted and is allowing unjust convictions and even death (P. Bou-Habib, 34, 2010). With extensive and diverse research from places all over the world, the assumption if racial profiling is efficient, is contested by Bernard Harcourt, a critical theorist with the specialization in the area punishment surveillance and legal and political theory stated that it only encourages more crime to arise within the nonprofit 10 group and that does not necessarily diminish the overall amount of crime and society (P. Bou-Habib, 34). Police officers often use the practices of racial profiling to discretely single out minority races such as First Nations, Muslims and Black people. Police use of force against racial minorities has emerged as one of the most controversial issues. Bou-Habib explains that “background injustice can be relevant for the status of racial profiling because it can imply that the group that proposes to use racial profiling, may have been responsible for the social circumstances that have led to the higher rate of offending within the profile group and thus indirectly responsible for creating grounds they give racial profiling its rationale (P. Bou-Habib, 42)”. Hence, those who experience profiling and discrimination not only by police, end up potentially paying the price emotionally, psychologically and financially because of this. To add a very much relevant quote to this topic,

as stated by criminologist Scott Wortley, “To argue that racial profiling is harmless, that it only hurts those who break the law, is to totally ignore the psychological and social damage that can result from always being considered one of the “usual suspects”. In some cases, to foster a profile about the kinds of people who commit certain types of crimes lead officers to generalize about a particular race or minority and act according to the stereotype rather than specific behavior at hand.

To note, a significant segment of Canada’s racial minority populations sense bias in the criminal justice system. Aboriginal and black Canadians are unjustly overrepresented in Canada’s correctional institutions. Some evidence suggests that both Aboriginal and black populations are overrepresented with respect to violent offending and victimization (Roberts and Doob, 469, 1997).

Racial profiling would be in direct violation of at least a few sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For example, section 9 of the Charter protects individuals from arbitrary detention. Section 9 serves to protect individual liberty against unlawful state interference, and any detention of an individual based on stereotypical or unjustified reasons deemed in violation of this section. Section 7, which is the right to life, liberty and security, as well as section 8; securing individuals from unreasonable search and seizures will also be infringed upon.

The media is an influential mantle in creating and producing the distorted visual imaging of our civilians that we, the general public consume and perceive. Majority of this mass media such as television, social media and the World Wide Web emphasize problems in minorities in correlation to crime, deviant behaviour and drug use. There are some people in society who argue that crime is a serious and a steadily increasing issue within Canadian society and sanctions that provide disciplinary and correctional order represent the most effective way of dealing with the crisis. On the other hand, there are some who take the spot that serious, unlawful activity is limited to a small percentage of minorities. This is the group that promotes the prevention and rehabilitation of effective continual responses to the challenges of crime.The misleading coverage in this generations media results in the general belief that crime is on the rise. Since crime and deviance have always remained a universal problem, the association of minorities and crime has a dominant effect in mass communications, culture and the study of criminology.

Much of the literature on race and crime to date has treated the category of ‘race’ unproblematically; debate on this topic has focused primarily on the assumption that members of certain racial groups are most likely to commit crimes. These inequities may be manifested in the distribution of wealth, power, and life opportunities, based on their race or ethnicity. In Crimes of Colour, this book explains the history of the treatment of racialized people in Canada, looking at the processes through which First Nations people, immigrants, and people of colour have been defined in racialized terms and the way in which state policy has racialized individuals and groups (Chan and Mirchandani, 25, 2003), and the “construction’ of Indians and immigrants in a white, capitalist society. The formation of modern Canada was based on a racial hierarchy that disadvantaged Indians and visible minority immigrants.

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The War on Drugs and mass incarceration have been two very well-known topics of race and crime. While these have taken place decades ago, there is still an inevitable continuance in them today. The impact that has been left on society from the war on drugs, have stuck around, and will stay stuck, while mass incarceration is still a problem today. The War on Drugs has become a complicated, yet important segment of the U.S. as well as other countries. It was to be believed that the War on Drugs is what fueled and increased incarceration. This effect was the ability to imprison those who are using drugs, and the amount of crime will begin to decrease (Lloyd, 2015). People selling small quantities of drugs to support that person alone, may go to jail for ten, twenty, thirty or more years. These unequal enforcements fail to recognize drug dependency versus the drugs themselves. Margaret Lloyd also discussed how a community that has little or less crime, is potentially a better living area and life for adolescents, in hopes they will not take after inevitable deviance in society

During 2012 to 2013 approximately 25,000 people were detained in Canada’s provincial jails (Deshman and Myers, 1, 2014). Over half of those arrested were in pre-trial custody, which is when you are legally innocent and waiting for your trial or bail. 2005 marked the first time in Canadian history that our provincial institutions were primarily being used to detain people prior to any finding of guilt, rather than after they had been convicted and sentenced.

Bail and pre-trial detention is not as black or white. Police, prosecutors, defence counsel, justices of the peace, judges, bail supervisors and the correctional system all play key roles (Deshman and Myers, 4). In 1972, Canada passed comprehensive bail reform legislation in response to studies demonstrating vast numbers of people were being unnecessarily detained prior to trial. (Deshman and Myers, 4), where again, we have again reached a point where concrete action is necessary to ensure that the bail system upholds rather than undermines fundamental rights and justice.

Police brutality against minorities is a serious societal problem. It infers the use of unauthorized, illegal, unfair, unnecessary violence or brutality by police officers against civilians, regardless if they are breaking the law or not. This issue has gained critical importance in recent years due to the dozens of handfuls of killings of young black people that have been inflicted by police officers. The issue is nothing to new, but it has birthed various movements, such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Ongoing movements for social equality such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ are an echo of similar previous movements in American history. The sad reality is that many minorities still face the same threats of discrimination and abuse at the hands of police officers as their previous generations did decades ago. The failure of the nation wide government to eradicate this deep-seated problem shows us that there may be large mental barriers in the minds of many individuals that hinder the progress of their respective communities. “When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe.” (Berry) In the close years, police brutality has become an alarming issue in society. At the end of 2015 alone, thousands of death in police custody.

One of the main problems with police brutality is that it often goes unaccounted for. There are many reasons for this. For instance, it is not rare for a situation to boil down to the word of a police officer against the word of a potential criminal. It is easy to assume how a judge or jury might bi biased into believing a police officer’s claim of self defense in a hypothetical killing situation, especially when there is no other evidence beyond the statements of those involved. If the possibility of racial prejudice is taken into account, it is also easy to surmise that many black people may face potential wrongful convictions and imprisonments, ultimately thanks to the brutality and discrimination exhibited by the police in the first place.

In early 1995, York University’s Institute for Social Research conducted a survey of over 1,200 adults in Toronto, who identified themselves as either Black, Chinese or White. The survey found that black people, males to be specific, were much more likely to report involuntary police contact than the other servees. This was followed by another survey in 2000, the Toronto Youth Crime and Victimization Survey. Interviews were conducted of approximately 3,400 high school students. The results of this research suggests that black people are much more likely than people from other racial backgrounds to be subjected to random street interrogations. For example, it was found that over 50 per cent of the black students report that they have been stopped by the police on two or more occasions in the past two years, compared to only 23 per cent of whites, 11 per cent of Asians and eight per cent of South Asians. These findings have two major implications. Firstly, because the black community is subject to greater police surveillance, they are also much more likely to be caught when they break the law than white people who engage in the same forms of criminal activity.

Police misconduct refers to inappropriate conduct and or illegal actions taken by police officers in connection with their official duties. Police misconduct can lead to a miscarriage of justice and sometimes involves discrimination and or illegal motives of segregation combined as obstruction of justice. Types of misconduct include coerced false confession, intimidation, false arrest, false imprisonment, falsification of evidence, spoliation of evidence, police perjury, witness tampering, police brutality, police corruption, racial profiling, unwarranted surveillance, unwarranted searches, and unwarranted seizure of property. There is a tendency to believe an officer over a civilian, in terms of credibility.

Preventing and addressing racial profiling is a shared responsibility. Government, policing organizations and other responsible organizations must take concrete action and decisive steps to prevent, identify and respond accordingly to racial profiling in policing. The main conclusion of this, is that the basis that racial profiling is a highly problematic practice that has more drawbacks than it does benefits. It breaks down trust within a community, which in turn makes the existing problems of crime worse. At the level of principle, it is also a clear violation of civil-rights and equal treatment of all under the law. Especially in a profession that requires split- second decision making in literal matters of life and death. Our entire understanding of justice is built inside of a system that constantly knocks people down, dehumanizing and continuation of oppression. If I had to add a research question to be studies in the future, it would be why police involved shootings on an innocent minority always results in inappropriate consequences? I understand in order to combat this brutality or murder cameras are installed on the dashboard of the car or on the police’s person but even with that, unarmed black and other minorities are still getting killed and not getting justice, regardless of how much proof there is that they are innocent, or unarmed or not a threat. These police officers are getting the benefit of the doubt which is why I call this white police privilege. Therefore, any definition of “justice” within that unchanged system cannot truly be such. If we define justice for police brutality victims as a trial, conviction, and the imprisonment of killer cops, we are relying on the very structures we are fighting against to both define justice for us and to provide us with recourse.

Works Cited

  1. Racial Profiling and Background Injustice
  2. Paul Bou-Habib – The Journal of Ethics – 2010

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