Stop waxing that moustache and untie that damsel from the train tracks. According to a recent press release from the Toronto police, it’s going to be a “tough summer for bad guys.”
That’s thanks, they say, to Project Revival, code name of an arrest-fest targeting so-called “quality of life issues” that most recently swept through east downtown.
Spearheaded by the 51 Division Community Police Liaison Committee, the six-week crackdown in the Dundas-Sherbourne area that ended April 1 seems to reflect the impatience some residents feel with the concentrated results of poverty in their neighbourhood.
Police gave locals credit for focusing on a triumvirate of targets: drug dealing, soliciting for the purposes of prostitution and panhandling.
Note that one of these is not actually illegal.
And the other two? They’re just easy targets, it seems. While press releases trumpeted 287 arrests, they make more diminutive mention, near the bottom, that these netted only 96 charges.
But don’t worry, you 191 other people – you’ll get another chance next month during Operation You Can Beat The Rap But Not The Ride.
In an apparent fit of Victorian pique, the names of the arrestees, and their charges, were even posted on the police website – running roughshod over the presumption of innocence and qualifying Project Revival as a full-fledged moral panic, with extra froth.
Nearly half of those arrested were brought in for outstanding warrants, and many don’t live in the area – a sign, police say, that criminals are feeding on poor people in the ’hood.
But Mac Scott, paralegal and member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, says the crackdown could also be interpreted as an attack on poor people.
After speaking to street-involved residents, he’s concerned that some of the arrests may have been based on “discretionary warrants,” which tend to be slapped on panhandlers for failing to show up in court for tickets received and are not usually enforced.
That seems to be the case for a few of the arrestees, but most were either found with coke or caught soliciting sex. A few had breached bail. Significantly, only two carried (or had a previous warrant for carrying) a weapon.
While no one wants a drug dealer in their yard, it’s not clear if anything will change because of arrests alone. Police say crime won’t simply disappear. And even residents quoted in the press seem cynical, suggesting that Project Revival was more an expression of irritation than of any sort of vision.
But police hint that their work in the area isn’t done.
That worries Scott, who also feels that the condemnation of arrestees from “outside the neighbourhood” masks a focus on the homeless. Given the frequency with which “No fixed address” shows up on those arrest charts, he could be right. Did “not living in the area” sometimes really mean not having a home?
Asks Scott, “Why does a guy who’s lived 30 years in that neighbourhood and just doesn’t have a house have less right to be there than some yuppie who’s moved in and bought a house in the last five years?”
Scott talks about the police sweep in the east end: