Time to change tactics?

27 Nov 2005

I was recently devastated to hear that the teenage daughter of a friend of mine was beaten up at her high school. My first reaction was, “is she OK? Was she badly hurt? Did (name of mother) find out what happened?” The person who told me this said that the girl was repeatedly punched in the face and stomach, and her mother is considering legal action against the school. Now I am a bit biased. I have known the girl since she was in junior high school and have always adored her for her intelligence, her dry wit and she always seemed to be well-liked by her peers.

When I first met her she was twelve years old. She still had a precious demeanor that kept her grounded as a ‘Tween. To even think that someone would not like her seems unfathomable. She is white and not once did I think about who instigated the fight or why it had happened. But I was disturbed to find out that right after the assault, she decided to finish up her classes that day, and even though her mother wants her to immediately transfer to another high school, she is determined to stay.

Sixteen teenagers were recently arrested and later charged at a Catholic high school for allegedly sexual assaulting and harassing a female student over a period of eighteen months. The accuser waited over eighteen months to report the alleged incidents. Eighteen months of alleged sexual abuse, sexual harassment and bullying!

When I first read the reports of the incident, my first reaction was, “is she white?” and then I shamed myself for making this a racial incident. But thanks to the media, by the next day it was reported that all of the teenagers charged were black, and yes, the accuser was white. The parents of the accused teenagers are rightfully outraged, claiming that not only are their children innocent, but that this is a case of racism.

We will probably never know what actually happened until either the case goes to court, or someone who knows more about the story comes forward. But this weekend, it was reported that the Police found videotapes from the school that could show that the accusations are valid. But many students at the school where the young men were escorted out in handcuffs said that they didn’t believe that the teenagers had anything to do with the alleged harassment. They also said that they were worried about the reputation of their school in regards to applying to University and future opportunities.

Unlike the recent media reports, most notably from former City Councilor Gordon Chong, that black parents are not present for their kids, angry parents of the black teenagers flooded the local police station, trying to find out why their children were arrested. Last Wednesday, there was a meeting at the school for parents to talk about why the school did not know about the alleged violations until now. One parent found out when a police officer mistakenly called her, thinking it was the parent of another student charged with the alleged assault.

But as usual, the police denied any wrongdoing in the way the charged students were handled, and seemed offended when angry black mothers cried ‘racism.’ But with their track record in the black community, can we safely say that perhaps, their opinion is not exactly trustworthy?

In Sunday’s Toronto Star, one of the mothers of the accused wondered whether the police would have conducted the arrests in the same manner had the alleged female victim been black, and the accused white?

Would the alleged victim be seen as credible? By looking at the amount of time given to missing white women in the U.S. while the mysterious disappearances of Latinas and black women are left lingering, I cautiously assert that the black victim would not be treated in the same manner.

This is an incredibly horrific time for Toronto’s black residents. With the ongoing gun violence, most recently the drive-by shooting during a funeral, it is almost embarrassing to walk the streets. When one of us gets into trouble, it resonates among everyone in the community. Most of us choose to ignore the stares and purse-shiftings. Why should everyone with the same “skin problem” be blamed for the acts of a few anyway?

We all remember the Kobe Bryant debacle, when T-shirts with hateful messages were paraded on streets and racist epithets were spewed on radio talk shows, and the legacy of Emmett Till came back to haunt us all. But we should also remember the aftermath. When the woman dropped the case, what happened? Certainly no apologies. Bryant’s reputation has been destroyed, and the woman forgotten, allowed to go on with her life. What is going to happen to these children if they are found guilty?

We don’t need handouts, and since the funding cuts to social programs during Mike Harris’ reign as the Premier of Ontario have not been reactivated, it is unlikely that we will. We need to ask ourselves why these kids are acting out in these disruptive and violent manners before anyone will take us seriously. We need to look at issues of self-esteem and why some resort to guns and violence in order to assert their masculinity. The fascination with gangs, which some say is to compensate for the lack of a functional family unit, must be addressed. But we are living in the “blame game’ era, where it is easier to pass the responsibility of our inactions onto others.

And most importantly, where is the Coalition of African Canadian Organizations (CACO)? According to an article in last week’s NOW magazine, they are waiting for a response to their request to meet with representatives from both the Provincial and Federal Government in relation to the increase of gun activity. In an interview with The Star, CACO-member Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, remarked,” we’ve made the point over and over about the rate at which young men are dying but the response from the government shows that they are not taking it seriously.”

And while the sixteen black youth wait for the trial, we should question their morals. The students who were interviewed by the Star said that they had known about certain situations but refused to classify them as assaults. We can also blame the society we live in, as people rely on media images to boost their false sense of security and form unrealistic expectations as to what they ‘deserve,’ rather than making an effort to survive like most of the population.

As for the increased police presence and the teachers that watch over our kids, let’s remember that just because they have a certain level of power, does not mean that they have the appropriate diversity training. Years, ago, I went to a friend’s party in which the majority of people who attended had just graduated from teacher’s college. I shuddered after one of the future teachers asked if she could touch my hair (I said no) and confessed that she had little interaction with non-whites. Are these the people who will be teaching our kids? If we are going to demand anything, it should be that teachers should go through mandatory training, and harsher penalties should be placed if their personal biases lead them to inadequately handle harassment on school grounds. But until we, as members of the black community, make a conscious effort to look at these situations in a collective manner, we can expect more devastating news reports, embarrassing us all.

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