To Police and be Policed: Multiple Perspectives on Racialized Law Enforcement in a Diverse and Changing City
Despite official claims of tolerance and inclusion, Toronto’s Black population has a historically tenuous relationship with the city’s law enforcement agencies. This study addresses how distrust of the police and notions of Black criminality are mutually sustained and reproduced through police encounters with Black citizens. Prior research has documented the myriad ways in which the police serve to subjugate and control Black populations. Previous research has also highlighted the importance of fair treatment in shaping citizens’ perceptions of police (and state) legitimacy. Very little, however, has simultaneously incorporated the perspectives of those on both sides of “the thin blue line.” Utilizing a mixed-methods approach, this study draws on interview and survey data with police officers and civilians to untangle the intricate relationship between race, policing, citizenship and state authority. The findings illustrate that both police officers and Black citizens act in ways that run counter to their own interests during their often hostile and confrontational encounters. Such encounters contribute to the erosion of police legitimacy and to the criminalization of race/racialization of crime. The findings provide support for a methodological approach to the study of racial inequality that is attentive to the multiple perspectives of the actors involved.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah BA (Carleton) MA, PhD (Toronto) is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Dr. Owusu-Bempah’s work focuses on the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice, with a particular interest in the area of policing. His current projects include: a study of Black males’ perceptions of and experiences with the police in Greater Toronto Area (including the experiences of both civilians and police officers); and an examination of representations of Blackness in Canadian print media. He is also studying various aspects of cannabis legalization in Canada. His research has recently been published in Policing and Society, Crime and Justice, and Theoretical Criminology. Dr. Owusu-Bempah began his academic career in the United States at Indiana University, Bloomington. Prior to becoming a professor, he held positions with Canada’s National Judicial Institute, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. He has consulted for various levels of government and served as a member of the Toronto Police Service’s Black Community-Police Consultative Committee and the Service’s Recruiting Coalition. Dr. Owusu-Bempah is frequently sought out to provide commentary and advice to police agencies, government bodies, community organizations, and media outlets on matters relating to policing, justice and social inequality. Dr. Owusu-Bempah was a scholar in the RDCJN's Summer Research Institute at The Ohio State University in the summer of 2015.