This essay continues in the vein of scholars in this series whose contributions have highlighted the transnational reach and localized complexities of the Black Lives Matter movement and its conditions of possibility, including Faye Harrison, Jaime Alves, Noah Tamarkin and others. It questions concepts of humanity, intersectionality, and inclusion by mobilizing scholarship and public engagement around racialized and postcolonial police violence from a multi-sited (and perhaps not intuitively linked) location: Canada-cum-India.
I teach my department’s core course on policing at the University of Toronto, Canada’s largest public university in its most populous city. In line with my ongoing research on police and politics in postcolonial India, I frame course lectures and discussions around considerations of policing as what anthropologists have called a “global form” (Garriott 2013)” rooted in a history of colonial capitalism shaping everyday practices of order, security and governance. Since I began teaching this class in fall 2014—just as Ferguson, Missouri went up in flames and a grand jury ultimately decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown—I’ve increasingly made it a point to foreground themes of “inequality and discrimination” alongside “order and violence” as the beating heart of “global policing” as conceptualized by a growing number of scholars including myself (Bradford et al. 2016). This pedagogical decision has produced sustained and deep discussion of these key concepts among my students each semester.
This past fall I aimed to further enrich the discussion by inviting as guest lecturer Anthony Morgan, a lawyer and activist working to educate and advocate against anti-Black racism and police impunity in the Canadian context. Speaking to my students, Morgan debunks some key national myths related to what many Canadians consider their country’s racial exceptionalism and all-embracing multiculturalism vis-à-vis the US. He reminds us that while it may have represented freedom at the end of the Underground Railroad for many people, Canada also had institutionalized slavery for more than 200 years, stringent segregation laws, and a generalized ban on Black and LGBTQ immigrants until the late 1960s—to say nothing of centuries of discriminatory treatment and violence toward indigenous communities. He also notes how today, similar to its southern neighbor, data on killings by police and racial profiling—especially in the recently banned local form of “carding”—still are not collected or reported by Canadian provincial or municipal governments in ways that are consistent or comparable for critical analysis (see also Millar and Owusu-Bempah 2011). He reports that his own research in combination with others’ has demonstrated that Black people constitute approximately 50% of those killed by police in Canada, even as they make up barely 3% of the national population. Despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that the annual number of fatal police shootings (and general gun incidents) in Canada pales in comparison to those of the US, this is a startling disproportionality of discriminatory police violence, especially when compared with recent figures showing that African Americans constituted almost 25% of people killed by police in the US, despite being just 13% of the general population.
Before relating these macro-histories and aggregate quantitative data, though, Morgan begins his presentation by having students share their responses to a short film produced by Toronto-based artists.
Students comment on the video’s representation of the diversity of Blackness, and the way the film works both aurally and visually in a kind of crescendo toward a positive message. Morgan says he starts here in order to show how Black Lives Matter emphasizes the complexity of Black humanity. He also interrogates the concept of “humanity” at the intersection of Canadian settler colonialism and anti-Blackness along with co-authors Stephanie Latty, Megan Scribe, and Alena Peters in a compelling article titled “Not Enough Human: At the Scenes of Indigenous and Black Dispossession”. The publication arose from a gathering launching Sherene Razack’s most recent book, Dying from Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody. The theme of the event, which took place on Human Rights Day 2015, was “who is the human?”
As we know all too well, there has long been, and will likely long remain, little consensus in answer to this question. But as Latty et al. underscore, in many colonial and still decolonizing contexts the unmarked human figure has historically referred, in Morgan’s quoted words, to a “white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, wealthy, capitalist, able-bodied, middle-aged, English speaking, heterosexual, cis-gender male with full citizenship” (134). This social fact urges us to reconsider not merely the age old anthropological question of what it means to be human, but inter alia what we might call the “dangers of inclusion”, that is, whether those of us who do not fit the description above—indeed, the vast majority of the global population—want to be considered “human” in the terms that this category has conventionally been understood and practiced. What does it mean to demand “equality” with persons or groups whose “humanity” has involved routinized surveillance, exclusion, criminalization, penalization, oppression and destruction of the lives of so many others? How might a concept of “human rights” as defined by the Universal Declaration of 1948 hinder more than help movements for “social justice” by various oppressed and marginalized Others? Should we abandon the concept of “the human” altogether, and if so then with what are we left? These are some of the driving questions for another interdisciplinary undergraduate course I teach interrogating the fraught conceptual and historical relationship between Human Rights and Security.
Morgan highlighted some of these points in a Q&A following a Public Forum on Race, Policing and Black Lives Matter, organized by Honor Brabazon and moderated by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah in October 2016 at the UofT Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies. Panelist presentations are available for viewing on YouTube.
In the context of this Public Forum, Morgan is joined in interrogating the concept of humanity by co-panelist Ravyn Wngz, an active member of the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter who identifies as “African Canadian Mohawk Two Spirit Transgender” (15:10). Wngz marks her own humanity as the intersectionality of identities tethered to multiple racialized, indigenous and gender minority groups in a settler colony. In so doing, she aims to highlight the humanity of Black, Aboriginal and LGBTQ people; at the same time, she points to the lack of universality not only of “the human” but also of the various “not enough human” peoples who continue to fight for their rights. Wngz’s remarks resonate strongly with what Latty et al. discuss in their article as a need to acknowledge that the path to social justice for distinct groups who may wish to work together and learn from one another’s experiences of subjection and marginalization must proceed through a “contingently collaborative” relationship that accounts for particular positionalities that may not always converge, and may even conflict, rather than assumes a “union or symbiosis of thought or experience” (131).
This truth manifested starkly at last year’s Toronto Pride Parade, the celebratory annual event which, like its analogues in the U.S., arose as a form of protest against state-sanctioned violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Black Lives Matter Toronto activists were named as guests of honor by 2016 Pride, and took the opportunity to delay the beginning of the parade for about 30 minutes by staging a sit-in protest blocking its movement. Their demands included increasing funding and support for Black Queer Youth events and Blockorama, the Pride showcase for black performers; reinstating the South Asian stage; hiring more black deaf and ASL interpreters, and hiring more black trans women, indigenous people, and others from vulnerable communities. The demand that received the most media attention, however, was that of removing police floats and recruiting booths from all future Pride parades.
As part of an effort to include LGBTQ police in the festivities, approximately 400 officers in uniform from 13 departments reportedly marched in the 2016 parade. Wgnz notes that this number was larger than any other member group in Pride, which she feels “doesn’t actually make sense” considering the history of the event as arising in direct response to discriminatory police violence (25:30). The Black Lives Matter demand that police floats and recruiting booths be removed set off a wave of controversy, with various commentators weighing in on how or whether inclusion of conflicting marginalized groups might be balanced. In September 2016, Pride Toronto apologized for “deepening the divisions in our community, for a history of anti-blackness and repeated marginalization of the marginalized within our community that our organization has continued.” But Black Lives Matter said this was not enough, and they wanted action in response to their demands. In January 2017, Pride Toronto voted not to include police floats in this year’s parade, and in February 2017, amidst expressions by LGBTQ identifying officers of feeling disheartened and exiled, Toronto Police Service chief Mark Saunders announced that police will not march at all. The controversies over complexities of division, inclusion and exclusion continue and it remains to be seen what will happen this coming summer; though some critical observers would remind us that the official decision by the Toronto Police Service not to march this year is voluntary and perhaps the right move in respect of the historical antecedents of police relations with the communities that comprise both the core and the periphery of Pride and Black Lives Matter.
This controversy raises many critical and difficult questions, among them: how can, and how should, police be included in evolving debates and actions related to social justice for marginalized groups in various contexts? Are police always already “the enemy” of social justice, forever confined to a “savage slot” of a different kind by the institution’s historical development in the context of globalized violent colonial oppression? How do we conceptualize and account for the complexities of the “humanity” and “intersectionality” of police officials themselves, especially in postcolonial (or still decolonizing) settings? These have become pressing concerns in my own research on police in contemporary India, which has shifted from theorizing the “provisionality” of their authority toward trying to understand and explain claims by masses of subordinate ranking officers across the country that they need to form police unions (which are legally banned in most Indian states) because they are routinely exploited and oppressed in line with what many cite as “colonial hangovers” imbricating the official institutional hierarchy with unofficial forms of social inequality, especially along lines of class and caste.
Such ironic claims by police might seem unpalatable or even unbelievable, especially to the inordinate number of people in India—particularly members of the country’s many social minority groups—who have had violent encounters with police or face routine discrimination in the form of both “overpolicing” and “underpolicing” (cf., Ben-Porat 2008). But in more than a decade of ethnographic work with police in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, I have observed the deplorable living and working conditions of the rank and file; witnessed countless instances of their being physically and verbally abused by senior officials and local elites, and continue to follow scores of legal and political battles being waged by both in-service and (arguably unjustly) dismissed police officers who argue that their dignity and human rights (manvaadhikar in Hindi) have been violated. My observations resonate with some of the findings of a damning Human Rights Watch report that critically details various rights violations perpetrated not just by police as “the usual suspects” of state-sanctioned violence, but also against police as its perhaps unexpected victims (HRW 2009). These abuses occur not merely in extraordinary moments like popular attacks on individual officers and police stations by (more or less justified) enraged crowds and armed militant groups, but more often through the slow violence of state government and general public apathy regarding police welfare. In this context, I would echo Latty et al.’s reframing of the question “who is the human?” to ask “to whom is humanity afforded in contexts where it is a requisite for accessing rights and justice?” (152-153) For better or worse, the answers rarely if ever include police themselves.
Ben-Porat, Guy. 2008. Policing Multicultural States: Lessons from the Canadian model. Policing and Society 18(4): 411-425.
Bradford, Ben, Beatrice Jauregui, Ian Loader, Jonny Steinberg (eds). 2016. Handbook of Global Policing. Sage.
Garriott, William (ed). 2013. Policing and Contemporary Governance: The Anthropology of Police in Practice. Palgrave.
Hornberger, Julia. 2011. Policing and Human Rights: The Meaning of Violence and Justice in the Everyday Policing of Johannesburg. Routledge.
Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2009. Broken System: Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police. Human Rights Watch. 1-56432-518-0. August.
Jauregui, Beatrice. 2016. Provisional Authority: Police, Order, and Security in India. University of Chicago Press.
Latty, Stephanie, Megan Scribe, Alena Peters and Anthony Morgan. 2016. Not Enough Human: At the Scenes of Indigenous and Black Dispossession. Critical Ethnic Studies. 2(2): 129-158.
Millar, Paul and Akwasi Owusu-Bempah. 2011. Whitewashing Criminal Justice in Canada: Preventing Research through Data Suppression. Canadian Journal of Law and Society. 26(3): 653-661.
Razack, Sherene. 2015. Dying from Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody. University of Toronto Press.
Wahl, Rachel. 2017. Just Violence: Torture and Human Rights in the Eyes of the Police. Stanford University Press.Beatrice Jauregui is an anthropologist and assistant professor at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto. Her research examines how dynamics of state authority, security and order manifest in the everyday experiences and practices of persons working in police and military organizations. Jauregui is co-editor of Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency (University of Chicago 2010) and The Sage Handbook of Global Policing (Sage 2016), as well as author of numerous chapter contributions and research articles published in American Ethnologist, Asian Policing, Conflict and Society, Law and Social Inquiry, Journal of South Asian Studies and Public Culture.
 Thanks to Daniel Konikoff for editing the video. We have not posted the Q&A for public viewing in order to respect the privacy of audience members—many of whom identify with already over-surveilled populations—who did not have the opportunity to provide informed consent to be filmed at the event.