'Singled Out': Being a Black Youth in the Suburbs

AuthorCarl E James
“Singled Out”
Being a Black Youth in the Suburbs
  *
“The Longest Walk Ever”
by Dwight Campbell
Blog Post, Wednesday, March 2, 2016
After a longSaturdayevening of p laying video games a t my friend Lin-
coln’s house, I decided enough wa s enough and headed home. It was a ver y
cold night and although Lincoln ’s house couldn’t possibly be more than a
7-minute walk to my house, du e to the cold, those seven minutes felt like
an eternity. Nonetheles s I was almost home. I h ad just made the las t and
f‌inal turn onto my street and now w as walking the homestretch. As I beg an
my walk up the driveway a police cruis er driving by came to a stop and the
of‌f‌icer proceeded to ask for my I. D. Young and under the assumption that
this was my legal obli gation, I handed it over wi thout any hesitation. M ore-
over, since I had no criminal record and was unknown to the police, I th ought
there was no need to worr y.
As the of‌f‌icer continued to run my identi f‌ication, another cruiser pulled
up, and a tall of‌f‌icer with an ex tremely muscular build appeared out of the
car. He must have been at least 6 f t. 5 and 200 and 50 plus po unds. As he
turned and glanced at me, the ori ginal of‌f‌icer still running my I.D. then said
to his colleague: “Search him .” The next thing I knew I wa s being slammed
up against the back of the c ar and the police of‌f‌icer forcibly beg an search-
ing me. As I was only f‌i fteen years old, all I did was quiver in silence. While
∗ Carl James is a professor and the Jea n Augustine chair i n education, community &
diaspora, York University.
1 Used with permission t hrough direct communic ation with Dwight Campbel l.
Carl E James
this oversized cop continued to search me, he al so emptied my pockets and
threw my belongings into the snow.W hile this was happening, the other of-
f‌icer began to accuse me of peek ing into other people’s cars, an d that I’m
lucky that they caugh t me in front of my own house, otherwise they would
have surely “F** *ed me up.” After conf‌irming that my I.D. wa s clean the f‌irst
policeman handed my identif‌i cation papers over and told me to “ Have a
goodnight.” I then picked my belonging s out of the snow and went inside.
In the morning I told my parents and g randparents — who were v isit-
ing from Jamaica — of the encounter a nd they (my grandparents especially)
scolded me about being out la te, and all the dangers it comes w ith. I didn’t
really argue with them but I coul dn’t help but feel like they were wrong — as
if there should be nothing wrong wit h a young Black f‌ifteen year old walking
home at approximately 10: 30–11 p.m. on aSaturdaynight in Canada. Per haps
I was being naive. Unf ortunately, this would not be the last encounter w hich I
would have with Peel Police, but it wa s def‌initely one of the most memor able.
Dwight’s encounter with police that Saturday night in his suburban
neighbourhood is not atypical. In fact, “singled out” is how one young
Black man described his experience living in a similar outer-suburban
neighbourhood of the Greater Toronto Area. For these youth, and as
Dwight’s experience with police demonstrates, being stopped, scrutin-
ized, searched, and beaten by police — even at the entrance to their homes
— in part, are consequences of being singled out. Such consequences are
seemingly what parents fear as they warn their children — especially
their young sons — about “the dangers” of being out late at night. This
fear is likely what prompted Dwight’s parents and grandparents to “scold”
him — even as they added to his abuse and false accusation by police
while he “quivered in silence.”2
More recently, the Toronto Star reported3 on “charges of aggravated
assault, assault with a weapon, and public mischief” brought against an
of‌f-duty Metro Toronto police of‌f‌icer, “allegedly” for beating a nineteen-
year-old Black man in Whitby (a suburb east of Toronto) with a metal
pipe, causing him “serious injuries.” The of‌f‌icer, who was outside of his
jurisdiction, is said, in December 2016, to have stopped the three youth
and asked them “where they lived and what they were doing in the neigh-
2 D wight demonstrates an underst anding of his parents’ act ions — he “did not argue
with them.” But his a ssertion that “there should b e nothing wrong with a you ng Black
f‌ifteen-year- old walking home at approxim ately 10:30–11 pm on aSatu rdaynight in Canada”
is quite appropriate for, like all other y outh, he is entitled to freedom of movement.
3 Peter Gof‌f‌in, “Alleged V ictim’s Family Speaks Out af ter Toronto Cop Charged with
Assault” Toronto Star (18 July 2017), online: www.thesta r.com/news/gta/2017/07/11/to-

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