On Saturday, Drake buried his long-time friend Anthony “Fif” Soares, who was gunned down earlier this month just east of Toronto, in Scarborough, Ont. While the tragedy required the famed rapper to become a pallbearer, Toronto Police Services (TPS) want him to also take on the role of an anti-violence activist and aid to the ongoing murder investigation—a request that reveals that even at the height of his fame, Drake is still susceptible to the unfair expectation of a moral duty to a city that is continuously violent to those who look like him.
A TPS news conference about Soares’s case revealed a surveillance video (captured on Sept. 14) that shows the 33-year-old man being repeatedly shot by two unidentified men as he stood in the lobby of his high-rise apartment building. Toronto police turned to the public asking for anyone with information to come forward. While speaking to the room of reporters, Detective Sergeant Gary Giroux specifically requested that Drake send out a tweet to locate witnesses: “Drake was a friend of his,” said Giroux during the press conference. “I certainly would encourage him through his tweets to encourage anybody within the community to come forward with regards to any information that they have that may assist in solving his friend’s murder.”
This type of request is often unanswered by communities of colour that are distrustful of authorities due to their history of anti-Black over-policing, over-carding and over-surveilling of Black communities. As some have pointed out, it is also important to note that Toronto police have been criticized for not adequately protecting their witnesses.
In case you think it’s only US athletes being labeled uppity for not conceding to systemic racism, I give you this: https://t.co/MXpk7QychK
— Andray Domise (@AndrayDomise) September 25, 2017
This isn’t the first time Toronto police publicly requested that Drake, born Aubrey Drake Graham, involve himself in solving homicide cases. Two people were killed, and three injured, during a 2015 OVO afterparty at Muzik nightclub. Due the events OVO affiliation, many looked to Drake to provide support in solving the case. After the incident, Drake tweeted his condemnation of violence in Toronto before releasing a personal statement on his website that stated he was in a “moral bind.”
“I am used to the fact that my life and the things I say to my fans are closely watched. It’s tough in situations like this where there’s a tragedy and I consider the advice of my trusted advisors and counsel who worry that anything I might say could be misinterpreted,” Drake stated, before offering his condolences to the family of the victim and others who had been affected by violence in Toronto.
However, the city still requested more assistance—or, rather, unpaid labour—on Drake’s end.
— 1800222TIPS (@1800222TIPS) August 5, 2015
This week, Toronto Star writer Betsy Powell questioned why key to the city-recipient Drake remained silent following the violent death of his friend. Throughout her article, she continuously criminalizes the rapper: analyzing specific lyrics in his large body of work, citing two incidents involving his bodyguards attempting to protect the rapper and identifying the “criminal history” of some of his associates—without considering how Black communities are systemically forced into the criminal justice system at disproportional rates.
Reducing Drake’s friends, and Drake himself by association, to Black criminal archetypes is dangerous, and an ethically questionable form of journalism. We should ask: would Justin Bieber, a similarly famed Canadian musician who is also globally recognized, be pressured the same way as Drake? Likely not. It’s important for us to consider the historical function and use of the Black criminal archetype: depicting Black men as violent, or, in this case, comfortable with violence, in a patriarchal-dominant culture, allows us to begin to deflect focus on the real systemic violence of the state (which is often controlled by and in service of white men).
As Powell questions Drake’s lack of assistance to police, she fails to consider the role of TPS as an institution that is continuously violent towards Black communities in the city. Most recently, Toronto police allegedly attempted to cover up the assault of a 19-year-old Black teenager, Dafonte Miller. Considering the long and systemic clash between Black communities and law enforcement, why would one feel safe complying with, let alone assisting authorities?
Drake, as a Black man, is not obligated to solve Toronto’s violence problem. Instead his critics should consider the institutional structures that allow for ongoing systemic violence to continue towards particular communities over others. What Giroux, Powell and others fail to recognize is how Drake’s involvement can jeopardize not only his safety, but those around him. Celebrity status does not alter Drake’s lived understanding of the relationship between Blackness and law enforcement. More importantly, it does not shield him from it.
The expectation of the rapper to sacrifice his time to conduct TPS’s job and risk his own safety is dehumanizing, and evidence of a system that is inherently anti-Black and prone to depicting Black men as defiant, irreverent, and rid of emotions.
To particularly ask that he commit to this labour during a time of mourning is a reminder that Black people are never granted the humanity to endure pain or, at the minimum, peacefully mourn our loved ones. Instead, we are continuously positioned as not fully human.
Huda Hassan is a writer and doctoral student from Toronto, who is now based in Montreal. She writes, studies, and talks about Blackness. You can follow her @_hudahassan.