i fear police. i fear being ap-proached by them even if I'm passing and they just say "Hello," something few of them have done. Some would say I have a negative attitude. Maybe so, but those same people ignore the fact that a lot of policing is based on intimidation -- making sure that people who look like me are afraid, and keeping us that way. The tragedy is that if people like me felt differently about policing, everyone would benefit. Many argue that if I and others who feel the same had opportunities to interact with law enforcers, our attitudes would change. The problem is that I have interacted with them.
I could speak about all my experiences, but I'll choose only one that was particularly hurtful and totally uncalled for.
One morning, I was walking my children to school with their mother, and I spat on the street. A police car that just happened to be driving by screeched to a halt. Remember, this was about 8:30 am, when a lot of parents were bringing their children to school.
So the police car backed up, and out came a police sergeant who approached me in a very intimidating manner, saying I'd spat on his car. I told him no, I hadn't spat on his car, I'd spat on the street.
He then proceeded to search his car for spit. When he couldn't find any, he told me I'd spat on the sidewalk. He began searching the sidewalk. All this time I was saying, "Look, man, I spat in the street. Like, what's the problem? What's the motive?"
He spoke to me very crudely. He said he wanted to write me a ticket, saying there was a law against spitting on the sidewalk. I think there might be a law against spitting on the sidewalk, but I hadn't spat on the sidewalk. I hadn't spat on his car. I hadn't spat on him. I hadn't spat on anyone. I'd spat on the street!
All this time I was with my family. I'm a black man. The mother of my children is white. My children are mulatto. I don't know if any of that had any bearing on the incident. Ideally, I would like to say that it didn't, but I can't. I don't know where the officer was coming from.
People started gathering around to see what was going on. I suddenly felt embarrassed, but more than that, I felt ashamed. Exactly what for I don't know. I guess at that moment I felt shame for being black. I was thinking maybe that was why it was happening.
Only one bystander spoke up, and it just so happens that he was a black man as well. Maybe he felt a kind of kinship. He said, "Hey, I saw what happened." The officer began leafing through his book looking for a law, but he couldn't find it. He asked me for my address and said that when he found the law he'd get back to me. He wanted me to walk away with the fear that he might still get back to me.
I've had worse things happen to me with the police. But this was one of the most negative, because I was with my children and it was in front of their school. Within Regent Park I know that there are much worse things happening.
You can't clean up a neighbourhood through fear. Because it won't last. It's a very temporary thing. But if police work with the community, it's almost like living together. Police have to let themselves be seen not as an intimidation factor but as a force that supports the community.
IS SPITTING A NO-NO?
It turns out that there is a municipal bylaw against spitting on any "sidewalk, or pavement, in any passage to any public building, in any building, streetcar or other public conveyance" in the old city of Toronto. So if you live in Etobicoke or Scarborough, hork away. The question is, why are police spending public money and wasting time harassing a Regent Park spitter? We asked Ron Tavener, superintendent at 51 Division.I don't have the exact wording of the offence, but it is against the law. Furthermore, it's degrading and repugnant. I don't know the circumstances (of this case). There could have been something more going on.