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Dealing with the police as a visible minority

by Sania Malik October 11, 2016
Dealing with the police as a visible minority

How my experiences and perceptions of the police have changed over time

As a person of colour, I’ve grown up to learn that professionals might not always help me. In airports, my family and I are always scrutinized—it’s become comical when my mother’s hijab and my father’s brown skin are glared at.

I’ve sat quietly as police officers show lack of interest when my mother’s car gets hit—instead of looking into her eyes, they stare at her scarf. I’ve sat quietly when my father’s explanations are ignored and instead, police officers smirk at his accent and refuse to listen.  

I read the news and I feel angry at the way people of colour are mistreated in the United States, and even in Canada. The things I see and have dealt with reinforce my negative idea of them. Usually, I steer clear of police officers because I have the perception that they’re more likely to be rude to me, than helpful.

However, a recent video spread on social media has made me question my misconceptions about police officers. On September 21, Leon Shand, a man in a wheelchair, was being harassed by a Montreal police officer who identified himself as Officer L’Heureux. Shand was in the middle of crossing the street when the light turned red. L’Heureux confronted him for being in the intersection and then aggressively pushed his wheelchair and searched through his bag without a warrant. After seeing the video, I was disgusted by the way Shand was treated. I was outraged when the police officer said, “I’m going to give you a fucking ticket. You asked for it.”  

My reaction was to immediately revert to my bias about police officers. Shand, who is black, was at the wrong place at the wrong time. My first thought was, “It’s because he’s black and in a wheelchair.” After a few moments, I realized I made a hasty generalization.

How was I to know whether or not Officer L’Heureux acted like that because Shand was black? I found myself questioning the opinions I’ve held for so long. Why was I so quick to jump and label the officer as racist?

Many believe that Canada doesn’t have a race problem when it comes to policing—but that’s not necessarily true. Statistics Canada tracks fatal police shootings when an officer is criminally charged, however statistics regarding race are not recorded. According to The Guardian, between 2005 and 2015, the number of black convicts in Canadian prisons has jumped by 69 per cent. In another report released by CBC News, the province of Ontario will be reviewing the way police officers interact with indigenous peoples, after a series of deaths whilst in police custody.

Although these statistics and facts do exist, I can’t rely solely on them and my experiences when I label police officers as rude or racist. I’ve realized that perhaps there is more to Officer L’Heureux—maybe he was having a bad day, or maybe he’s drunk on the authority that’s been handed to him. The main thing is—I don’t know everything.

I can’t possibly justify my own misconceptions and biases without confronting the possibility that maybe I’m wrong. While experiences do factor into our perceptions of people, we shouldn’t typecast police officers, especially when so many people are trying to hold them accountable for doing the same to civilians.

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