- Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard
In August 2018, former Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti referred to members of a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Toronto as "cockroaches" and talked about "spraying them so that they scatter." He later claimed that he was "only" referring to "criminals." Mammoliti, who ultimately lost his seat on council, had campaigned on a promise to demolish social housing in a predominantly Black neighbourhood. Toronto mayor John Tory, seemingly taking his talking points from Mammoliti, later talked about evicting "criminals" from social housing. Over the past year in Ottawa, residents of Heron Gate—an affordable housing community with a large population of Somali residents—have been facing and resisting one of Canada's largest mass evictions. In Quebec, there has been a large number of Black asylum seekers (from countries of origin such as Haiti, Nigeria, and Eritrea) crossing the border from the United States. Quebec politicians such as Maxime Bernier, and the newly elected Coalition Avenir Québec provincial government have gone on the attack against these migrants. Black people (people of African descent) amount to around 8% of Toronto's population. Nationally, black people amount to around 2% of the population. Yet, whether one is examining political or mainstream media discourse, Black people in Canada are consistently negatively overrepresented. How do we make sense of this?
Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard offers one of the most comprehensive analyses of why Black people, though a very small proportion of Canada's population, are cast in such a "dark" light in the national imagination and how that casting has cost Black people their ability to live freely in Canada. Maynard traces the long history of state-sponsored anti-Black racism in Canada and situates it in mutually constitutive spatial, legal, and discursive practices. For example, how media and political rhetoric (the portrayal of a Black community as "criminals") feeds law-making (the criminalization of using and selling drugs), which directs on the ground policing practices (carding, surveillance in low-income housing), which feed further rhetoric (media coverage of arrests) in a never ending loop that invents Black criminality and then uses this construction to rationalize and justify violence against Black people. Maynard's work offers the understanding that hateful rhetoric about Black people and the judicial and extrajudicial violence it has led to, has a long and continuous history, that she locates in the enslavement of Black people in Canada. She tracks "the after-life of slavery" (a term coined by Saidya Hartman) as manifested in a continuous perception and treatment of Black people simultaneously as property/labour to be exploited and as a potential threat to be closely monitored, subjugated, and contained.
In addition to tracking the historical continuities in the policing of Black people and their lives, she broadens the concept of policing beyond just law enforcement, to show how state control and violence is spread out across institutions (including immigration, schools, child welfare, and other social services), which are coercive in their power and operate under the claim of "serving and protecting." Her work demonstrates (backed by meticulous research) that because these agents of state [End Page 251] control end up working in collaboration to systematically oppress Black people, their "safety" and "security" mandate is not about protecting and serving Black people but about serving and protecting White citizens (and other citizens) against the perceived threat of Black and Indigenous people in Canada. Among the mountain of statistics, she cites research that tracks the overrepresentation of Black children in the child welfare system in Ontario as well as their "pushout" from the school system; the overrepresentation of Black people in prisons, largely for nonviolent, drug-related charges, as well as long and continued racial discrimination in housing, employment, and immigration practices and policies.
One of the most useful contributions of her work is her deconstruction of criminalization. She demonstrates in a variety of ways that "criminal" is in the eye of the beholder, or rather in the...