Spartacist Canada No. 148
Labour: Fight Attacks on Immigrants, Minorities!
Racist "Crime" Hysteria in Toronto
TORONTO—For months, the cops and the capitalist media have been whipping up an anti-crime campaign over gang violence among black youth. This went into overdrive when a young white woman, 15-year-old Jane Creba, was shot and killed on Boxing Day, apparently caught in the crossfire while shopping in the citys downtown. The Tories, Liberals and NDP cynically manipulated Crebas tragic death, outbidding each other in calls for a law and order crackdown during the federal election campaign.
Federal NDP leader Jack Layton railed that anyone found with restricted firearms should get at least four years in jail, and demanded that bolstered police task forces be sent to go after gangs. NDP mayor David Miller repeated his pledge to put 300 more cops on the streets, adding: We have to ensure that anyone who has a gun is arrested and brought to justice and put in prison and stays there (Globe and Mail, 31 December 2005).
A columnist for a local community paper, Stuart Green, captured the racist subtext to the whole crusade:
Until the shootout on Yonge Street that took Crebas life, the 50-plus gun murders were largely confined to pockets of the city known as impoverished or troubled and the victims were predominantly young black men, possibly with gang ties
Most Torontonians didnt know those kind of people and would never choose to visit one of those neighbourhoods
All of a sudden those same Torontonians saw one of us killed in one of our parts of town. And all of a sudden everyone was outraged, shocked and demanding action.
—Villager/Annex Guardian, 6 January
The media and politicians talk of a violent subculture among Jamaican Canadian youth, and use this racist stereotype to foment anti-immigrant bigotry. But the fact is there is no crime wave, either in Toronto or nationally. The latest Canada-wide figures available, for 2004, show that while the homicide rate rose slightly that year, this was after hitting a 30-year low in 2003. The 78 murders committed in Toronto in 2005 were 12 percent fewer than the peak year, 1991, when the city was much smaller. And Torontos homicide rate was lower in 2004 than cities like Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary, where immigrants and minorities are a much smaller proportion of the population.
The phony Toronto crime wave played excellently in small-town Canada, where the Tory vote was strongest. Yet Statistics Canada revealed that the 2004 murder rate was higher in rural areas than metropolitan ones, commenting that this was typical. Last year, rural Alberta had more homicides than Edmonton, despite that citys record high. Most were listed as the result of domestic disputes. In other words, statistically youre more likely to be bludgeoned to death by a relative at the cottage than shot by a gangbanger in the city.
Yet the focus on gun crime is no accident. The ruling class, a tiny propertied minority that maintains its rule through coercion, seeks to monopolize the possession of weapons. That means concentrating armed force in the hands of the police, the capitalists direct agents for enforcing law and order against workers and the oppressed. As Marxists, we champion the right of the population to bear arms and to utilize the right of self-defense. We oppose Canadas already highly restrictive gun laws as well as moves to further limit access to firearms. As for crime, one real one is the fact that Canadian prisons are filled with huge numbers of Natives and black people, locked up for the flimsiest of reasons or no reason at all.
Mass Unemployment and Racist Scapegoating
Reality for black youth in Toronto is constant harassment and violence at the hands of the cops. Driving a nice car, or even an ordinary one, is virtually a guarantee of being stopped, searched and ticketed—or beaten. Much of the police brutality against black youth is carried out in the name of the war on drugs. The issue here isnt drug use: whites partake of recreational drugs as much as blacks. The war on drugs battle cry is intended to give the cops license to stage raids, make sweeping arrests and otherwise terrorize the population of the citys heavily-minority inner suburbs.
We oppose the criminalization of crimes without victims—drugs, prostitution and consensual sex including between adults and youth. The state has no business dictating what anyone does with his or her own body. The rulers war on drugs also serves to make the illicit drug trade all the more profitable. This brings increased violence stemming from competition among gangs, be they the various mafias, biker gangs or groups of street traffickers—or the cops, who are themselves often knee-deep in the drug and sex trades.
It is the capitalist ruling class that makes life cheap and dangerous by keeping whole communities in desperate economic straits, to be used as cheap labour in times of need, then thrown on the scrapheap when the economy turns sour. Substantial numbers of immigrants from Jamaica and other poor Third World countries were finally able to come to Canada after the rulers ended their racist colour bar in the 1960s. They used to find employment in the factories of King Street, the Lakeshore and the Junction. Those are gone, transformed into lofts and condos for the upwardly-mobile yuppie crowd created by the parasitic financial, insurance and marketing concerns.
In January alone, more than 40,000 industrial jobs—often unionized and relatively well-paid—disappeared in Canada, mainly in Southern Ontario. In their place are, at best, part-time, poorly paid, demeaning McJobs in the service industry. The collapse of industry hits minority youth particularly hard. Statistics from 1996 from Toronto City Council show that black youth of 15 to 24 years had a jobless rate of about 38 percent, double that of whites in the same age group. This is likely even worse today, as overall youth unemployment reached a ten-year high last year. These deteriorating conditions underlie the desperation and violence found in areas like Malvern, Jamestown and Jane-Finch, where many of the recent shooting deaths of black youth have occurred.
Labour Must Oppose Racist Police Terror!
Hysteria over black crime was central to the Toronto Police Associations campaign for a new contract with the city last fall. This included the usual array of intimidation and threats, and culminated in a 4,000-strong demonstration by the police union on November 2. Contingents of cops, many armed and in uniform, paraded through the streets waving Get tough on crime, not tough on cops placards. The provincial and city governments responded by promising to hire yet more cops.
The same police who rampage against black youth are used against strikers on picket lines, against any social struggle that threatens capitalist order and private property. It is in the direct interest of Torontos multiracial labour movement to oppose the cops anti-crime crusade, and to defend their victims among the specially oppressed. This includes defending minority youth against racist cop terror and fighting for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
Yet far from giving a lead against state repression, sections of the labour bureaucracy have openly backed the cops campaign. In a grotesque example, leaders of the 8,000-strong Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 brought a union contingent to join the November 2 cop demonstration. The Toronto Star (3 November 2005) quoted ATU local president Bob Kinnear saying, We want to support them [the cops] in their contract negotiations so that we can have safe streets and a safe city. The more the cops are unleashed on the streets of Toronto, the greater will be the danger for workers and the poor!
Cops are not workers, and neither are their auxiliaries, such as prison and security guards. Yet unions including OPSEU, the Steelworkers and the CAW include just such forces in their ranks. We Marxists say: Cops, prison and security guards out of the unions!
For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Racial Oppression!
Sections of the media have pushed the reactionary idea that social problems in the inner suburbs stem from a breakdown of the black family. They hyped the mid-January visit of right-wing black Boston preacher Eugene Rivers, who held church rallies and met with local politicians to push for parental responsibility and yet-tougher drug laws. Such blame the victim rhetoric will do nothing to improve the material conditions of black people, and can only strengthen the hand of the capitalist oppressors.
Against Rivers rants, many community activists have pointed to the dire consequences of cuts to social programs and the reactionary Safe Schools Act passed by the Ontario Tory government in the 1990s. Under this law, children of any age can be permanently expelled from school for the most inoffensive of misdemeanors. This has affected black youth with a particular vengeance.
Opposition to such attacks was a theme of a January 26 Racialization of Crime meeting, called to counter the racist victimization of black people in the gun violence hysteria. An overflow crowd heard speeches and cited their own examples of racist scapegoating. One speaker called to make an electoral difference at City Hall, while a common message was to look to the NDP as a vehicle for change, despite Laytons law and order campaign. But racist capitalism cannot be fundamentally reformed through parliamentary tinkering. The NDP social democrats, who have effectively been in power at City Hall for the last two years, offer only the oppressive status quo, or worse. No wonder at least some in the audience left rather disgruntled.
In the 1980s and early 90s, the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) led by Dudley Laws organized a series of angry protests against police shootings of black people. The Trotskyist League joined in many of these demonstrations. As we pointed out at the time, however, BADCs alternative was always limited to making the police more accountable through bodies like civilian review boards. Such boards have existed in Toronto for many years, yet they have done nothing to stop police brutality—because they too are part of the capitalist injustice system, simply trying to give it a cleaned-up façade.
Recently, Laws and BADC have more openly looked for common ground with the capitalist powers-that-be. In 2000, they signed on to an agreement with Toronto police to promote non-lethal force in dealing with crime—e.g., very lethal stun guns. Last year, BADC helped form the Coalition of African Canadian Organizations, which has lobbied for a High Level Summit with government leaders to discuss an action plan to address the causes of gun violence through a partnership with government, public institutions and the private sector.
No solution to the degradation of black people and other oppressed minorities can come through pleading for partnership with the exploiters. The struggle against racial oppression requires unleashing the social power of the multiracial working class against the capitalist rulers. Despite the wave of factory closures and layoffs, black and Asian workers remain a key component in many powerful industrial unions in the region, including transit and auto. City workers, school support staff, hotel workers, teachers are all integral to the struggle to end racial inequality.
Success in this struggle hinges on a political fight against the pro-capitalist NDP and labour misleaders—the forging of a class-struggle leadership that understands that there are no common interests uniting the workers with their oppressors. Such a leadership will by necessity look both to mobilize and champion the poor and dispossessed as allies in the fight for better living conditions—demanding jobs for all at union rates, union-run recruitment and training programs for minorities and women, free and full access to higher education, affordable housing. Capitalism stands in the way of fulfilling these most basic demands. In fighting for such elemental rights, workers and the oppressed will begin to see this, and realize that putting an end to exploitation and racist oppression requires the construction of a fighting workers party that can lead the struggle for a socialist revolution that alone can create the preconditions for the liberation of humanity.