Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Marci Ien's article does her cause no favours

Marci Ien's op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail a couple of days ago ("The double standard of driving while black - in Canada") seems to have struck a raw nerve or two, judging by the letters it has elicited from both men and women, black and white.
Ms. Ien is a 48 year old reporter and daytime talk show presenter with CTV. She is a pretty well-to-do and articulate middle-class Canadian, and probably lives in a reasonably toney part of Toronto. She is also black (of Trinidadian descent). She was pulled over recently by a police car for not stopping at a red light near a school, for what was apparently the third time in eight months. As Ms. Ien tells it, this was a typical case of racial profiling and police harrassment.
She seems to have taken umbrage in particular at the policeman's tone when she got out of the car and walked towards him, and was told in no uncertain terms to get back in the car and just wind her window down. I know from my own limited experience that this is standard police procedure (presumably for their own security), and I once received the same peremptory command, in the same tone, when I - not knowing any better - made the same mistake.
She also takes umbrage at the policeman's line of questioning about where she lived, whether this was her car, etc, but I seem to remember that I (a middle-aged white guy in a hybrid) also got those questions when I was stopped, in my case, for doing a U-turn on a residential street outside a subway station, where everyone picks up people and does a U-turn (and yes, I too felt aggrieved).
Perhaps it was strange that the traffic cop followed her home, rather than stopping her at the scene of the infraction, although we don't know how far that was, or what other contributory factors were involved. We don't even know whether he followed her with red lights blazing, waiting for her to stop. And three times in eight months? Yes, that sounds excessive - unless Ms. Ien is in fact a particularly bad or aggressive driver. We don't know about that either. Same cop? Different cops? Who knows? Is the fact that she was wearing a black hoodie relevant? Did the cop even know that she was black when he stopped her? There are many possible narratives stemming from the little that we are told.
The other thing Ms. Ien is incensed about is the fact that she wasn't charged or fined on any of the three occasions she was stopped, which seems to be proof in her eyes of harrassment. Most other people would merely be thankful for this (I was fined the only time I was stopped - it never occurred to me to wonder if this was because I was white). From the way she apparently spoke to the cop, she should probably consider herself very fortunate not to have been charged. In my experience, you don't talk back, or even attempt lame jokes, to police or border customs officers; it's just not worth the risk.
And finally, Ms. Ien seems surprised that she was stopped EVEN THOUGH she is, as she insists on telling us, "an award-winning journalist" who "co-host[s] a national television show", and who "lived in the neighbourhood for 13 years". Is any of this relevant? Would she really expect preferential treatment for these reasons? She herself admits that her "reporter instincts kicked in", and most people know better than to appear combative in such circumstances. Yes, of course there is an imbalance of power, but that is just an element of the social contract we are all part of, and what allows the police to effectively do their job on our behalf.
Now, I'm not stupid. I know that some racial profiling still goes on, even though the Toronto police force, like many others, has been trying to clean it up, and to benefit from sensitivity training, etc. But Ms. Ien's article has probably not done her cause much good, especially as she comes over as privileged, aggressive and confrontational. Oh, and probably a poor driver.

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