Blue Line

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BACK OF THE BOOK – Scape Goating


March 13, 2015
By Ian Parsons

by Ian Parsons

For generations, a disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics have been incarcerated in the US. A 2006 study indicated 4.8 per cent of African Americans and 1.9 per cent of Hispanics were arrested and jailed compared to 0.7 per cent of Caucasian Americans. Since 2006, the figures for black inmates have actually risen.

There are a plethora of socio-economic reasons for these anomalies, fomenting and festering for years. The Ferguson, Missouri incident has become a flashpoint for minorities nation-wide and has spread to Canada. With the recent shooting of two Ferguson officers, God forbid that American society is on the brink of a racial war.

This is especially ironic because the current president is African American. Even with ongoing affirmative action programs purportedly instigated to redress the color imbalance, real societal change to put black citizens on an even footing has not come quickly enough. Depressed black neighborhoods in all the large cities are still a fact of life.

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They produce hordes of aimless young people who have no opportunity or motivation to lift themselves out of the ghettoes. With few positive role models to emulate, they are effectively “locked out” of mainstream America and generations are now seeking ways to lash out.

Law enforcement gets the brunt of this vitriol. Many in the profession have known for years they are dealing with individuals who consider police the enemy. They are the thin blue line mandated to ensure the bottom strata of society are controlled and restrained. Even with all of their community relations initiatives, police cannot change the underlying dynamics that create poverty – lack of education, depression and anomie.

Young police officers, many who chose the profession due to its history of serving and protecting, are facing hostility at every turn. They did not join law to don riot gear and carry a truncheon, yet too often such duties are starting to appear routine. In America law enforcement seems to be standing between anarchy and civilization, not an enviable place to be.

Many Canadians cast a smug eye to the south, thinking our superior governmental structure precludes the possibility of racial inequality. Look closely at our societal dynamics, however, challenge smug comparisons.

Examining the incarceration rate of aboriginal Canadians compared to the rest of Canada yields some depressing data. First Nations peoples make up four per cent of the population but 23 per cent of inmates are native. The reasons are the same as those south of the border; poverty, lack of education, low self-esteem and anomie.

Canadians are more sparsely distributed, which no doubt lowers the possibility of wide spread discontent and civil unrest. However, one only has to visit our large western cities like Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton to conclude that aboriginals migrating to large urban areas have been ghettoized with very serious social problems.

The social wrongs are being righted but at a glacial rate, again much like in the US. There have been recent instances of confrontation between police and natives and it is bound to get more intense. Police are given the responsibility to confront a very unhappy, dissatisfied minority, placing them in danger.

We seem to have accepted the status quo. The minority population sits at the bottom of the social scale, with few tools to escape from their sad, pathetic station. Police are perceived by the minorities as tools of society to ensure this does not change. If a Martian, or even a European with no knowledge of Canada, examined this structure, it would be self-evident that there is pathology in the system.

Why can’t we Canadians, who are viewed as peace-loving people with a great sense of fairness and compassion, come up with some way of redressing this unconscionable state of affairs?

The craft of law enforcement started out as a noble profession, most often reflecting the mores of the people it serves. How can it be that in the 21st century police are often viewed as oppressors, even goons, who put down the less fortunate and disaffected souls of the community.

As our society evolved into what it is today, it has forced our protectors, those mandated to preserve the peace and tranquillity, into something that few officers ever expected to be.