Black Lives Matter and Police in Pride: Reaction over Reason

If Mayor John Tory were truly serious about inclusion, he would demand that his handpicked chief of police – the city's first Black chief – get serious about dealing with the rotten history of police-minority relations

Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM Toronto) has named the elephant in the room. It has opened the proverbial can of worms with its demand that there be no police participation in future Pride marches.

Now it’s up to the Mayor and some of his council colleagues to take their collective feet out of their mouths and do what is necessary.

Tory’s view that police should continue to participate in the parade, communicated in a letter penned to Toronto police association president Mike McCormack, was made public promptly. Toronto city councillors are being asked to endorse a motion by Justin Di Ciano and Jon Burnside echoing the mayor’s view at council this week.

Their argument that BLM’s demand runs counter to the goal of inclusion is naïve, bordering on bizarre. To suggest, as has been, that police, Pride organizers and BLM sit down and work out a solution, reveals a complete disregard for the context and history underlying BLM’s demand.

What is it that BLM Toronto has objected to and why?

It has objected to the very large presence of uniformed and armed police officers with their police cars and other paraphernalia in the march. With the strained state of relations between police and minoritized communities, this presence raises a number of questions.

For example, how does police participation affect the feeling of inclusion of people who are Black, Indigenous or of other racialized backgrounds and those in mental health crisis who’ve experienced violent interactions with police?

The annual Pride march has become a go-to event for police brass from not only the Toronto Police Service, but police forces across the GTA. They come with their troops in tow to demonstrate how committed they are to the goal of inclusion and positive community relations.

There is more than a little contradiction in this.

Among the brass are police chiefs who have defended carding, the police practice of street checks that criminalizes many young Black men, and chiefs who have failed to take seriously training and other measures to ensure that people experiencing mental health crises, many of whom are also Black, are not killed.

If Mayor Tory were truly serious about inclusion, he would pay attention to the history of failed efforts by so many to achieve long overdue changes. That history is easily available to him, as a member of the Police Services Board: it is at least three decades old and is fully recorded in the nicely bound, chronologically arranged volumes of minutes of board meetings that sit in the board’s library.

If Mayor Tory were truly serious about inclusion, he would demand that his handpicked chief of police, Mark Saunders – the city’s first Black chief – get serious about dealing with this rotten history. The Mayor would hold him to a specific plan and timetable that are known to the public.

If city councillors were truly serious about inclusion, they’d hold Mayor Tory, his fellow police board members and the police chief accountable for the transformations that are long overdue. 

In his poem A Dream Deferred, the African-American poet Langston Hughes, asks: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up, Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore, And then run?… Or does it explode?”

BLM Toronto’s demand did not arise in a vacuum. The idea of a truly inclusive community in which minorities are treated with respect has been deferred for far too long by the city’s most powerful institution. 

Alok Mukherjee is former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. | @nowtoronto

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