Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga with expertise in the area of race and policing. U of T Magazine featured an interview with him in the Winter 2017 edition. The entire interview is available here and includes a link to the TEDxUofT talk that Owusu-Bempah and Scot Wortley, Professor of Criminology, presented in 2015.
Black and Blue
Posted By Scott Anderson On December 19, 2016 @ 7:55 am In Leading Edge,Winter 2017
Like many Canadians, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at U of T Mississauga who studies policing, has been following the spate of police shootings of unarmed citizens, mostly south of the border. U of T Magazine editor Scott Anderson recently spoke with Owusu-Bempah about these incidents and how relations between police and racialized communities in the U.S. and Canada could be improved.
What strikes you when you hear the reports of unarmed African-Americans being shot by police and the social unrest that follows?
The unrest in places such as Ferguson and Baltimore is partly in response to police violence, but it also reflects the frustrations that many African-Americans feel over the failed promise of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality is still just a dream for many black Americans. Police violence often acts as a spark for social unrest. But there are a lot of underlying issues that motivate people to get out into the streets and protest.
How does policing in Canada differ from the U.S. with respect to people of colour?
I prefer to look at the differences between racial groups within each country. What we see in Canada is that, compared to whites, black and Aboriginal people are more likely to be victims of police violence. Blacks in Canada may fare better than blacks in the United States but they don’t fare better than whites here.
You’ve said that Canadians have some “blind spots” when it comes to race and policing. What are you referring to?
For one, we don’t have readily available policing data disaggregated by race. While the police gather race-based data in their investigations, it’s not made public, as it is in the U.K. and the U.S. As a result, we either think we don’t have a problem or we look to other places, such as the U.S., to see how we’re doing. Let’s also not forget that Canada has done a good job of erasing its racist history. The apartheid government of South Africa borrowed from Canada’s reservation system. We had slavery. We had segregated schools until almost the end of the last century.