Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds Derek Chauvin spent crushing the neck of George Floyd reveals another police problem that’s hiding in plain sight in Toronto as much as in Minneapolis and New York.
How many policewomen have killed Black people in suspicious circumstances?
I doubt many, if any at all.
How many non-white police officers have killed Black people in suspicious circumstances?
Likely the same number.
Yet nearly half of Toronto’s 5,400 police officers are non-white and over a third are women. In this regard, Toronto’s police ‘looks like’ its population much more than smaller cities like Boston where only 14% of officers are women, and Dallas where 52% of the population is Hispanic, yet only 14% of the police force is.
What is distressing is the gender and racial composition of the union executives who negotiate their contracts and defend their members against all comers at the faintest breath of criticism. Indeed, this could offer a clue to the murderous rhetoric that comes from police union heads when their power is threatened.
This link between white male police union leadership and white male police violence first struck me when Lieutenant Bob Kroll, the Minneapolis police union chief, called out George Floyd as a “violent criminal” and Black Lives Matter as a “terrorist organization.” But by this week, Kroll had gone silent, refusing to speak with the media, despite the fact that he’s married to a local television news reporter.
Now Toronto is not Minneapolis. But an hour on Google last night showed me that our police unions have a long way to go when it comes to diversity.
The Toronto Police union board has nine members.
Eight are men, and all nine are white.
It also turns out that the Ontario Provincial Police, whose billion dollar budget matches Toronto’s, has seven members on its union executive.
Six of them are men and all seven are white.
But should we really care that in the most diverse city in the world, the leadership of our police unions is so blatantly un-diverse?
Are police unions racist and sexist because their leadership is so blatantly white and male? Not necessarily. Do white, male-led police unions cause unjustified use of force by their members? Hard to prove.
But I do know that women are less violent and more empathic than men, both in word and action. I know women make more rational decisions, from investing decisions to life and death ones. I know women and men together create better outcomes than either on their own.
I also know women are less prone to the herd instinct than men. This may be why we rarely see a policewoman lining up outside a courtroom to ‘show force’ when one of their male colleagues is accused of a crime. Or why policewomen tend not to shove media cameras away or turn their backs in defiance of their mayor.
Maybe our police union executives will see for themselves how badly this looks on them.
Maybe we can help them along a little.
So the next time you’re in a Starbucks and you see a police officer in line, ask them politely if having an all-white union leadership really represents their own personal interests.
Go ahead. Try it. Never sparked a spontaneous conversation with a cop?
If not now, when?