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Hoodies and hijabs

shaima alawadi, trayvon martin, racial profiling, bill blair, hijab, police,
John Bell

April 1, 2012

Trayvon Martin was shot and killed because he was black. His killer, a gun-toting vigilante, still has not been arrested or charged. Contrary to recorded evidence, the man claims he acted in self-defence and hides behind reactionary Florida laws that allow the use of deadly force against anyone deemed suspicious. Right-wing commentators like Geraldo Rivera maintain that the boy was at fault because he was wearing a hoodie.

Shaima Alawadi was beaten to death in her own home because she was a Muslim-American who wore a hijab. The 32-year-old mother of five and her family had recently moved to a new home in suburban San Diego. Her assailant(s) left a note next to her broken body: “Go back to your country. You Terrorist.” Police say they have yet to determine a motive and have not ruled out a hate crime.

Racism is alive and well in the USA. “Castle” and “Stand Your Ground” laws are being passed and contemplated in many US states; coupled with laws that permit carrying concealed weapons, seem tailor made for legalized violence against “suspicious” people.

Government policies like the “war on drugs” and post-911 security hysteria have defined who is “suspicious”. Black youth are gangsters. Muslims are potential terrorists. Sensational round-the-clock media amplify the racist stereotypes. As America, the epitome of capitalism and empire, continues its economic decline the search is on for scapegoats on which to pin the blame. The “other” is singled out as hate, rancour, division and partisanship seem to reach unprecedented levels.

That means hoodie-wearing black teenagers walking where they “don’t belong”, in still highly segregated urban America. It means suburban moms who dare to wear the hijab.

From outside it is easy to see the extent to which racism pervades and warps American society, and to smugly tsk tsk and pretend it is unique to there. A recent poll found that 55 per cent of Canadians believed that racism is a problem that had been overcome.

Canadian exceptionalism?

Non-white Canadians might say otherwise.

We in Canada are no strangers to secret trials designed to demonize Muslims. Mohamed Harkat is one of five men held in jail for years on the basis of Security Certificates, summarily depriving them of their right to a fair trial in the name of national security. From December 2002 to May 2006 he was held, mostly in solitary confinement; when he was released to house arrest he faced the most strict bail conditions ever imposed. Today he still faces the threat of deportation.

Moe Harkat has never been charged with a crime. He has never been allowed to see the evidence against him. He has never been able to confront his accusers. This contradicts every assumption of Canadian democracy and human rights.

Meanwhile, we don’t need armed vigilantes (although Tory backbenchers have begun speaking in favour of the right to use firearms to defend one’s “castle”) because we can rely on our police to use racial profiling and to harass young black men.

In 2005, Ronald Phipps was stopped for questioning by police in the ritzy Bridle Path neighbourhood. They were looking for a vandal. Phipps is black. He is also a Canada Post letter carrier, and was on his regular route, in his uniform, carrying a satchel of mail.

Phipps filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. In 2009 the Tribunal decided that police actions were racially motivated and discriminatory. The police appealed the ruling. Early in March the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the Tribunal’s ruling.

“I hope the judgment will give room for pause when it comes to racial profiling, Phipps told the Toronto Star. “Not every person from the Middle East is a terrorist. Not every African-Canadian male is a thief.”

Phipps’ treatment is far from unique. A recent Star investigation into Toronto Police racial profiling concluded that while blacks make up 8.3 per cent of Toronto’s population, they accounted for 25 per cent of the police stop reports filled out between 2008 and mid-2011. In each of the city’s 72 patrol zones, blacks are more likely than whites to be stopped and carded.

It isn’t just a matter of extra scrutiny in communities that suffer low average income and high crime rates. The likelihood of young people of colour being stopped and harassed increases in areas that are predominantly white.

This supports anecdotal evidence from young people in highly racialized neighbourhoods, that they are regularly subjected to harassment and abuse.

Arnold Jayabalan is a youth counselor in the Weston-Mt. Dennis neighbourhood. Asked if he thought every young black man in the area had been subjected to stop and questioning, he relied: “I’m sure of it. At least once.”

Jayabalan’s federally supported program is designed to help kids avoid gang activity and violence. It has lost its funding and will shut down this spring. The Harper Tories would rather spend billions on new prisons and push of mandatory long sentences for “crimes” like possession of marijuana.

No matter where they live, or what their level of education, non-white Canadians face “economic apartheid”.

Racialized Canadians earn an average of $30,385 per year compared to $37,332 for other Canadians, or 81 cents to the dollar. For immigrants, especially racialized women immigrants, the situation is far worse.

Racialized Canadians are three times more likely to live in poverty than other Canadians (19.8 per cent compared to 6.4 per cent).

These are telling statistics, but the Harper government has a solution: abolish the census that provides such information.

Stop and search reports go into a growing police database. The demand for documentation means that young blacks are being told to get out of neighbourhoods where they don’t “belong”.

Just as in the US, wearing a hijab or a hoodie puts you at risk.

Meanwhile, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has just been awarded the 2012 Canadian Diversity Leadership Award by something called the Diversity Business Network.

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