Friday, June 17, 2022

What the Toronto Police race-based data really means

There has been no end of chest-thumping and recriminations over the recent issue of race-based data by the Toronto Police Service (TPS), and over the associated apology by Toronto Police Chief James Ramer (duly refused by many black justic activists, of course - I know an apology is not ALL that needs to happen, but what is the point of flat-out refusing the apology?)

The data show that unarmed black people are 2.3 times more likely than white people to have a gun pointed at them in an altercation with police, while white people are 2.7 times more likely than black people to experience the lowest level of physical force. Black residents experienced 39.4% of police use of force even though they only represent 10.2 % of the population, nearly 4 times the rate expected. Indigenous Torontonians, who only make up 0.9% of the population, were the victims of 2.1% of  police use of force, over twice the expected value. For reference, white people with 45.8% of the population, saw 36.1% of police use of force, so just slightly less than might be expected.

This is part and parcel of other data that suggests that black people are up to 20 times more likely to be shot and killed by Toronto Police than white residents. So, yes, this needs some attention, which is what Chief Ramer was trying to address with his apology (and the associated concrete measures he says the TPS is, and has been, instituting).

What jumped out at me, though, is the huge discrepancy between the experience of black people (and even white people) compared to those of South Asian and East Asian backgrounds. Both of those populations attracted much less police attention, and much, much less police violence, than either black or white residents. 

For example, the East/Southeast Asian population only saw 8.5% of police use of force even though they represent 20.7% of the population. Similarly, the South Asian population only attracted 4% of police violence despite representing 14.7% of the population. So, these populations are arguably being grossly UNDER-policed, or the police force do not feel as threatened by them, presumably based on past experience, anecdotal even if not statistical. Or, of course, it may just be that the Asian population is just more law-abiding, and do not put themselves in the way of the police force.

So, what are we to conclude from this? That maybe the TPS is not actually inherently rabidly racist? That maybe black and indigeneous people are disproportionately putting themselves in suspicious places at suspicious times (e.g. grouped on street corners at 2am)? That police officers have seen weapons brandished by certain ethnicities more than others in the past?

Now, I'm not saying that some or all of these interpretations are in fact true. I don't have the data to prove that. But I think "the data" we do now have, which seems to be being interpreted in one very specific way - systemic racism! defund the police! egregious police violence against black people! - may be open to other other, alternative readings.

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