There isn’t much worth repeating in earnest from Kanye West these days, but if there’s one West-ism I would borrow in current times, I’d riff off of one of his most infamous lines and say, Doug Ford doesn’t care about Black people.
We already knew that Ford doesn’t exactly prioritize the needs of marginalized and vulnerable people. Just look at his past comments (remember when he wanted to close a group home for people with developmental disabilities?) and campaign promises (have you heard about his proposed repeal of the current sex-ed curriculum? While Ford hasn’t shared his exact issues with the current curriculum, LGBTQ+ advocates are concerned that queer youth will be neglected.)
Black and racialized communities haven’t been immune to Ford’s apathy, as we saw on the campaign trail. Back in April, Ford made the bold statement that, “There’s no other politician in this country, no other politician outside of Rob Ford, that has supported the Black community more than I have.” When asked how he shows his support, Ford shared that he’s brought 80 kids to his cottage over the past three summers, saying, “These kids have never been to Muskoka in their lives.”
Imagining himself as a benevolent leader who needs to step in and guide the people he deems beneath him—and expecting total gratitude for his handouts—was classic white saviour thinking. That alone left a bad taste in my mouth, but Ford’s failure to realize the flimsiness of his response was worse. Bringing kids to a cottage then sending them back to communities lacking necessary resources is not how you showcase your support of marginalized people. Then, he declined to participate in a debate held by the Jamaican Canadian Association, where candidates met to discuss issues important to Black Ontarians like housing, policing, and education. This decision punctuated the falsehood of his “love” for Black people, since he couldn’t be bothered to show up to speak with us directly.
And now, Ford has more to say. In these early days of Ontario’s new PC government, Ford is showing his disregard and disdain for Ontario’s Black communities in dangerous ways.
More police won’t solve gun violence
Over the past few weeks, Toronto has endured a trail of tragic gun violence, with victims ranging from five- and nine-year old sisters on a playground to beloved figures in Toronto’s rap scene, Smoke Dawg and Koba Prime. While communities mourned, Ford tweeted his plans for the future, citing a need for sufficient police resources and sharing his anticipation at meeting with police representatives. Toronto’s Mayor John Tory took a similarly strong stance, calling for police to “do everything possible to root out the thugs responsible.” To help them, he announced that the city will be hiring 200 new police officers and stated that he was “delighted” that Premier Ford is invested in tackling the issue.
Despite the number of reports that say increased policing is not the answer, both Tory and Ford have leaned to that exact option as a solution. Research shows that merely adding more police leads to the targeting of entire communities, not the specific individuals involved in criminal activity. This leads to ineffective policing, residents’ distrust of the police, and heightened tensions overall. Instead, a more holistic approach has been offered for years, with the Board of Health most recently issuing a motion that gun violence be treated as a public health concern. According to a study from 2007, “efforts to reduce poverty, increase educational attainment, and promote meaningful employment for at-risk youth will help to reduce gun violence, gang membership and drug use,” but our leadership continue to ignore the importance of those factors. Lacking in their responses are calls for resources like affordable housing and employment, and support for (and recognition of) the efforts of grassroots organizations within the communities most often affected by gun violence.
This isn’t surprising. The powers that be—largely politicians who are not affected by racism, income inequality, and lack of affordable housing and social supports—make funding cuts that harm vulnerable communities, then place a bandage over the gaping wound and applaud themselves for a job well done while it continues to bleed. Addressing violence in Black and other racialized communities solely with increased police presence—without any regard for other compounding issues—creates a narrative that the people in those communities are inherently lawless and in need of state surveillance and intervention.
Are Ford’s policies based on racist stereotypes?
Of course, considering Ford’s recent ministry movements, this is likely very intentional. Since his swearing-in as Ontario’s premier on June 29, Ford announced he’ll be lumping the Anti-Racism Directorate, a standalone initiative that was put in place to eliminate systemic racism in government policies, decisions and systems, under the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Yes, you read that right. Not only does this minimize the impact the ARD can make, but Ford also placed it under the ministry he felt the most applicable—one that oversees the province’s correctional services, community safety and policing services.
With this move, Ford put his personal leanings into policy and upheld stereotypes that tie Black and racialized people to the prison industrial complex. In another clear example of where his intentions lie, Ford has also said that he plans to revive TAVIS—the problematic Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy that was formed in 2006, following Toronto’s “Summer of the Gun,” and cancelled in 2016 as Toronto Police Service was attempting to modernization its efforts. Critics of the program argued that it harmed communities more than it helped them, saying it increased tensions between police and targeted communities via the use of carding. According to city councillor Shelley Carroll, who spoke to CBC about Ford’s support for TAVIS in April 2018, residents wanted to see a reduction in guns, “but TAVIS didn’t actually result in that. TAVIS was about rounding people up, holding them for 48 hours and putting them back out on the street angrier than before.”
Especially within Black communities in Ontario, we need to be prepared to push back against Ford’s politics however we can—not just to “prove” that we aren’t criminals (remember, as Toni Morrison said, “the very serious function of racism is distraction”), but also to keep fighting for what we need to build healthier communities.
Doug Ford will never have the answers to help Black and other racialized communities in Ontario because he thinks we’re the sole problem. As our new Premier, Ford has been telling us who he thinks we are. It’s time for us to show him—through our voices, our actions and our determination—who we really are.
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