Retired RCMP officer Calvin Lawrence

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Honest Mistake or Any Black man Will Do?

by Calvin Lawrence

In the recent weeks there have been violent arrests of two Black men. These were in Toronto and Ottawa respectively. 

After the arrests, it was determined that the men were not who the police were looking for. The arrests were cases of mistaken identity.

Certainly the police must be cautious in making arrests of potentially violent and wanted people. However, there seems to be an element of carelessness or neglect in determining if the person being arrested is in fact the right person. Add to the fact that the force used  appears to be excessive. 

The relationship between police and Black communities has always been strained. False arrests and use of questionable force adds to the fragile negative relationship. One must remember that police officers have taken an oath; citizens of Black communities have not. Therefore it is the responsibility of the police to minimize the conflict.

Questions must be answered by the police. What was the information that the police had that identified these Black men as the ones being sought?  Or is this another case of any Black man would do?  To ensure that the police acted in good faith, these questions must be answered. 

One must remember that most of these properly identified Black men require dynamic arrests and sometimes sustain injuries depending on the behaviour of the person being arrested. The police have the element of surprise, therefore it appears that they were not planning properly and also not identifying the right person.   

An individual can be dangerous and possibly armed. Therefore an arrest has to be done with caution. 

Mistaken arrests of Black men and the possibility of excessive use of force have happened in the past and are still happening. 

Politicians, especially Black politicians at the municipal, provincial, and possibly federal levels, should be taking note of these incidents. Police boards, Black community leaders, and independent organizations such as the Association of Black Law Enforcers, should become involved.  Police Unions could meet with Black communities also. 

Victims and potential victims of these incidents should know what steps to take when involved with police. For example, one person who was arrested refused medical treatment. That was a major mistake. The documentation of any physical injuries by a doctor would add critical evidence if legal action were to be taken by the citizen. 

The individual should have a set of described circumstances of an incident to give to a lawyer for civil or even criminal investigations. 

The mental trauma of this type of incident could last for years, if not a lifetime. A psychologist or psychiatrist should be consulted by the victim as well, to determine stress level and lasting trauma. This could affect future employment and studies.  A letter of apology should be demanded at the very least.  A victim’s name will be placed in the police system, even if innocent, because of the interaction. The file held by the police should be accessed as well.  Black youth and Black parents should know this before there is an incident. Forewarned is forearmed.

The information could be supplied by a presentation, that l can do, or even discussion groups on how to deal with the police, especially police officers who violate their oaths in favour of their personal beliefs systems.  

I also explain why the police take certain precautions when making arrests, what would be perceived as a  genuine threat and why the police should take these precautions.  

Parents can also benefit from this information for themselves personally and their children. 

Incidentally, I have had major success in these presentations.

There is more that can be done besides picketing and demonstrating.  We as Black people have to start thinking outside the box but inside the law

Social justice advocate Calvin Lawrence served as an officer with the Halifax City Police Department for 8 years and with the RCMP for 28 years, before his retirement in 2006. He is the author of the acclaimed “Black Cop”. Calvin Lawrence [email protected].