Growing up in Ottawa, there was no one story that had a more profound impact on me, as a citizen and activist, than the unfortunate story of Ralph Kirkland. The Jamaican-Canadian was a respected elder in the community, a reasonable, lively and confident community builder. Yet, something happened on a random snowy day in 1995 and he was never the same.
He had just parked his newer model car, when he came to the attention of Ottawa Police officers. They run his plate, suspecting his was a stolen car. When nothing came up, the officers, alleging a glitch to their computers and convinced he was a thief, followed him and asked to see his identification. As he refused and walked away, they knocked him down, handcuffed and arrested him in public view.
Essentially, he was being racially profiled.
Back at the station, they discovered he was not just the owner of the car but was an exemplary citizen. From this experience, I saw a proud man deteriorate and lose his confidence and embrace a second class citizenship for himself. That was in 1995 and I remember it like it was yesterday. Sadly, even in 2015, it is the reality of many people I know.
Far too many people of colour, are abused and treated much worse than the average Torontonians and nothing seems to change from generation to generation. As the Black Lives Matter movement expands all over North America, Toronto is not as progressive as assumed. Just last week, we saw as a simple noise complaint from a neighbour escalated to the death of a South Sudanese man, Andrew Loku, as a result of a police shooting. Why is it that so many of the victims of police brutality are almost always with darker complexions?
Today, racial profiling is still the reality for most of us. There are too many of us who are randomly stopped by the police, questioned and ridiculed for no reason. Many of us lack an understanding of our basic human rights, should we become victims of racial profiling much like Ralph Kirkland.
A new smartphone application, developed by a newly minted lawyer and activist, comes as a relief to many of us. Developed by Christien Levien, Legalswipe, which is easily accessible via iPhone and Android, offers reliable and fast legal right information when we are illegally stopped, questioned, detained by the police -- the unfortunate experience of many black men. It also allows us to videotape the encounter in real time. What a gift!
With a keen interest for technology, Levien was inspired to study law at a young age as he also encountered police brutality in Brampton. He hopes the application will be useful for many to use to protect ourselves the way he was not able to do a decade ago. "I think officers take advantage of people's ignorance," he told the Toronto Star recently. "It would have assisted me many times in being confident and stating what my rights were."
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