All posts filed under: Crime

Exploiting a Woman’s Deadly Fall to Smear Toronto’s Police

A few years ago, when I did ride-alongs with Toronto-area police officers, I saw how much of their job involves dealing with mental-health and addiction issues. Most of the incidents these officers responded to were rooted in troubled households, and the protagonists typically were well-known to the arriving officers: an autistic adult son whose outbursts overwhelmed aging parents, a wife fearful of an alcoholic husband, an agitated elderly man who’d become convinced his neighbours were spying on him through his devices. Most of these incidents required therapists as much as (or more than) police officers. But since the threat of violence hovered over all of them, at least in theory, it was the police who got the call. As I wrote at the time, the officers mostly played the role of social workers with a badge. The stereotype of police as violent, poorly trained hotheads is sometimes borne out on YouTube, which now functions as a highlight reel for every bad apple wearing a uniform. But the reality—at least in Canada, where I live—is that …

Neglecting At-Risk Children in the Name of Cultural Sensitivity

It started three years ago: a troubling case for a veteran mental-health professional that involved a young girl with serious health issues and a history of severe trauma. There were a multitude of protection concerns, including the girl’s low functionality, well below her chronological age. She was the equivalent of a five-year-old, but with the appearance of a young teen—a dangerous combination. A succession of partners to her single parent came in and out of her life. She was often the displaced target of their hostility, meant for a partner who was often absent. A string of child protection workers were involved, each less invested in her case than the one before. Phone calls and letters were directed to Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society (CAS), urging that the girl no longer be left at home for hours on end, or allowed to leave the house mid-winter without a hat, coat, or gloves. It was reported that many nights, the girl was making her own supper, and putting herself to bed; or left in the care of …

Getting Rid of Bar Exams Won’t Help Anyone

For years, affirmative-action proponents have urged colleges and universities to reduce (or eliminate) their reliance on standardized tests as a basis for admission. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up a window of opportunity for these activists, as many high-school students have been unable to sit for tests. And so a growing list of schools are waiving SAT and ACT requirements for their applicants. What is less known is that the same trend is gaining traction in the professional sphere. Last month, Darleen Ortega, a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, cast doubt on the value of state bar exams, arguing that the bar-passage requirement “does not function to protect the public by assuring a minimum level of competence to practice law… I have never heard anyone make a cogent connection between the types of lawyer conduct that harms the public and the screening that occurs via the bar examination.” Similar arguments have appeared in the Washington Post and trade publications. Under the headline COVID Should Prompt Us To Get Rid Of New York’s Bar …

Policing in the Anomie Era

We bounced along a pitted dirt road on an Indigenous reserve in Northern Ontario. As I leaned on my horn to convince a bored looking, semi-feral stray dog to move out of our path, I chatted with my passenger. She was a young Indigenous woman who worked at our police detachment as an administration assistant. It was midnight, and I was driving her home at the end of her shift because dangers—both canine and human—rendered it unsafe for our civilian staff members to walk home alone after dark. This woman, who I’ll call Grace, was 23 years old. She had recently returned to the reserve after spending a year in southern Ontario attending university. Raised in a home with two alcoholic parents, by the age of 14 she was pregnant. Another child with another father would follow before her 18th birthday. Neither of these men remained in her life. Despite these challenges, Grace was a voracious reader who loved school. With the help of a supportive teacher and various government programs, she was able to …

Racist Police Violence Reconsidered

Tony Timpa was 32 years old when he died at the hands of the Dallas police in August 2016. He suffered from mental health difficulties and was unarmed. He wasn’t resisting arrest. He had called the cops from a parking lot while intoxicated because he thought he might be a danger to himself. By the time law enforcement arrived, he had already been handcuffed by the security guards of a store nearby. Even so, the police officers made him lie face down on the grass, and one of them pressed a knee into his back. He remained in this position for 13 minutes until he suffocated. During the harrowing recording of his final moments, he can be heard pleading for his life. A grand jury indictment of the officers involved was overturned. Not many people have seen this video, however, and that may have something to do with the fact that Timpa was white. During the protests and agonizing discussions about police brutality that have followed the death of George Floyd under remarkably similar circumstances, …

Condemn this Violence without Equivocation

I thank God that the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd—an unarmed black man—by the white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was captured on video for all the world to see. That shocking episode provides irrefutable evidence—yet again—of the callous, corrupt, and inhumane practices that are being used by some of those to whom we have granted the fearsome authority and weighty responsibility of policing the streets of our cities. Chauvin’s behavior (and that of his fellow officers, who are depicted in the video standing idly by for what seems like an eternity, while Chauvin casually kneels on Floyd’s neck choking the life out of him) is contemptible, enraging, and entirely unacceptable. This would be true, of course, regardless of the victim’s or the policeman’s race. Yet, given our country’s history, when the murderous cop is white and the dead civilian is black, it is truer still. So, it is essential that those who committed this apparent crime be held accountable in a duly constituted court and, should they be found guilty, punished to …

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Like earlier pandemics, the virus has devastated poorer communities, where people live in the most crowded housing, are forced to travel on public transport, and work in the most exposed “essential” jobs, most of which are badly paid. Unlike the affluent of Gotham, some 30 percent of whom were able to leave town and work remotely, the working class remained, forced to endure crowded conditions as the disease raged through the city. No surprise then that inhabitants of the impoverished Bronx have suffered nearly twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as those …

America’s Black Communities Are Suffering. Violent Protests Will Make the Suffering Worse

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—an act that prosecutors describe as murder—have devolved into violence. Numerous small businesses have been destroyed, and at least one elderly shopper at a Target store was assaulted. A man has been shot dead. This pattern of events is familiar because it has repeated itself numerous times over American history following acts of police brutality, especially in cases where, as with Floyd, the victim was black. First, large numbers of people protest peacefully, drawing attention to their cause and attracting national sympathy. Then, a smaller group turns violent, causing destruction in the community and sometimes harming innocent people. That smaller group sometimes includes people who exploit the chaos for their own ends. During the Baltimore riots of 2015, for instance, the looting of pharmacies led to opioids and other drugs flooding the market, likely feeding drug dependency, enriching gangs, and fueling more crime. In the 1960s, thousands of Americans took part in non-violent protests in opposition to segregation. Their …

Return to ‘The Unheavenly City’

The late senator, statesman, sociologist, and New Yorker Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously observed that, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Moynihan balanced one truth with another, in part to show that neither side enjoyed a monopoly on wisdom. Had he offered these competing visions of politics and culture without describing one as “conservative” and the other as “liberal,” however, it would have admitted the possibility that one was more accurate than the other. And whether or not that is in fact the case matters—not merely for philosophical reasons but for political and social reasons, too. In 1970, American political scientist Edward Banfield had explored this apparently innocuous question in a monograph entitled The Unheavenly City: The Nature and the Future of Our Urban Crisis. The book proved to be so divisive that a slightly revised version appeared just four years later entitled The Unheavenly City Revisited (the …