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Criminal Justice: A Media Analysis

An Old Undergrad Paper I Have Decided to Share for Nostalgic Purposes

Image Courtesy of CW35

The purpose of this paper will be to analyze a specific criminal justice practice as it is discussed in a newspaper article. First, the key stages of the criminal justice framework that are present in the article will be detailed in relation to the issue being addressed. Then, six key themes will be used to cover the main aspects of the article; these are: Due process and crime control, the myth of the system, discretion, accountability, inequality, and socio-historical context.

The article in question deals with the controversy revolving around racial profiling in Toronto; the main points, in order and in accordance with the themes, will outline how the Black Action Defense Committee responds to Toronto police in terms of racial profiling, the differing perspectives among police regarding the practice, and how the public is affected by this as well as policy.

Before the analysis can begin, a brief summary of the article is needed for comprehension and clarity as to why this particular story is being analyzed and what it is being analyzed for. It is titled, "Toronto Police Sued by Black Action Defense Committee for $65M Over Racial Profiling;" feature reporter Jim Rankin and news reporter Patty Winsa cowrote the story and the Toronto Star published it on Saturday, November 16, 2013.

It discusses how the committee filed for a $65 million lawsuit against Toronto police because of the consequences that arise when they card people. The committee, representing the plaintiff in the Toronto Police Service board meeting, argues that the police fail to address the problem of discrimination—particularly against the black community and other minorities such as brown people—and that they have essentially committed a criminal offense by engaging in racial profiling as it is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the principles of policing practices.

The police replied that although they believe that carding is important to them in locating crime hot spots through people and places, they have also acknowledged the fact that it, in turn, causes them to receive negative reception from citizens. Despite the expensive costs of a class-action lawsuit, Toronto lawyer Murray Klippenstein supports it as it can yield change in the way police card and interact with citizens. (“Toronto Police Sued”)

In order to understand how the issue of racial profiling relates to the criminal justice system, there must be a discussion of the processes through which the relationship between criminal justice—more specifically, the police—and citizens becomes prominent. One important element that should be mentioned above all, however, is that racial profiling itself is in fact an official criminal offense as of recent, though this will be elaborated on further in the discussion of the themes.

What is important to know from this is that criminal justice as a whole has responded to the issue of racial profiling by instigating change, although this is not to say that individuals have not been subjected to systemic racism within criminal justice as well as other institutions and organizations. Systemic racism is the assumption made about race that becomes a part of organizational procedures, traditions, and practices to the point where they are almost unnoticeable. (Pratt, Lecture 8)

We are seeing this tension between the Toronto police and the black community in terms of race relations and discretionary policing as outlined in the article. Individual racism and racial profiling go hand in hand, whereby people and their attitudes are generalized based on their backgrounds. In turn, carding actively creates inequality by denying people of racial minorities security and privacy and targeting those particular members because of their alleged criminal predisposition. (Griffiths, 2011, 114)

Racial profiling is reflected in intelligence-led policing, whereby patterns of crime and criminality are monitored in specific areas where activity levels are deemed to be high and carding functions as a technological means to gather information about suspicious types. (Griffiths, 2011, 130) This also informs decision-making in an operational framework for police enforcement. In the article, the police have stated that they card to learn about the people and areas linked to crime rates, and that it helps them to target offenders. This differs from community policing, which will be discussed in the next section.

Due Process and Crime Control

The difference between these two models is that due process aims not to control crime, but to protect people accused of crimes based on the presumption of innocence, and criminal justice is largely dominated by this principle. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms plays a role in providing constitutional rights to individuals, more notably legal rights as outlined in sections seven through 14 in this case.

As mentioned earlier, racial profiling is a criminal offense, and sections 8 and 9 of the charter state that it violates protections against unreasonable search and seizure and arbitrary detention. (Pratt, Lecture 8) The committee would be following a due process model as it is focused on the victims of racial profiling and getting them financial compensation for the damages done by police. (“Toronto Police Sued”) By contrast, crime control focuses on the community to ensure safe streets as opposed to the offender or general rights of citizens.

What is problematic in the case of racial profiling is that the police can potentially arrest suspects at any time without warrant if they believe that a crime was about to take place, regardless of whether actually it did or not. In the article though, individuals subjected to carding are typically described as not having ever been charged or arrested. (“Toronto Police Sued”)

Myth of the System

We see tensions between the committee, lawyers, police chief Bill Blair, and the civilians police service board fighting against racial profiling, carding itself, and the police officers who wish to keep carding practices but are willing to modify them. They acknowledge that carding is practiced and frankly controversial, but the lawsuit suggests that there has not been a clear course of action taken to address the problem. (“Toronto Police Sued”) This shows that the police are crime control thinkers but are strained by those who want to see due process become more prevalent. Here, the interests of administrators, communities, and victims are being addressed, contrary to popular belief.

Discretion

This notion was summed up in the discussion of systemic and individual means of discriminating against minority groups by selectively interpreting the law at their expense, or simply put, racially profiling. (Pratt, Lecture 2) The police were seen to have interpreted the law during their practices in such a way that violated a part of the constitution, whether or not there was any underlying intention. This shows a disparity in the sense that the victims of racial profiling had their legal rights violated because of this discrimination. Discretion also ties in with accountability, which will be elaborated on further in the next section.

Accountability

The Toronto Service Board meeting serves as a sort of mechanism for evaluating the accountability of policing and discretionary practices, meaning that their actions must be reasonable and/or justifiable in all incidents. This demonstrates an effort to minimize as well as assess discretionary powers of law enforcement agents. (Pratt, Lecture 2)

Inequality

Inequality is evident in that carding blacks is more likely to occur than to whites, especially in areas with statistically greater numbers of white people. (“Toronto Police Sued”) The fact that certain behaviours deemed criminal are being associated with these minority groups is a greater indication of inequality and disproportionate representation of said groups.

Socio-Historical Context

We see systemic forms of inequality presented in the article, and this influences change in values and beliefs as well as processes of criminal reform, in that, at the time, it was requested of the police to declare a violation on their part of the Charter. (“Toronto Police Sued”) The fact that racial profiling is being debated proves that there is a shift in interests from racial profiling being acceptable (though unspoken of) to it becoming illegal. Carding itself is also discussed in favour of the interests and rights of victims and advocates, whereas before it was a given requirement for crime control.

Conclusion

The article covers the issue in a way that addresses the responses of both sides of the argument, but the advocates of victims had more leverage than enforcement, so it was not completely balanced. It is only superficial in that there was less discussion of how the police propose to improve carding practices and mainly focused on the supporters of the committee, however well-intentioned it might have been.

The article is implying that less punitive approaches should be taken relative to the crime problem, such as eradicating racial profiling and carding, as well as moving away from intelligence-led policing. If anything, the public is becoming more fearful of the police working against them than of offenders.

This is different from a conservative and get-tough view, so the political agenda is a minor factor in this discussion. There should be more background information included, such as historical context and personal accounts for readers to understand why this is such an important issue.

A possible policy implication would be to adopt community and problem-oriented policing, whereby both civilians and the police are involved in responding to issues identified as community problems and get to the root cause of specific crimes rather than targeting whole areas and looking at select groups of people. (Pratt, Lecture 8) This holds the people more accountable and lessens police discretion.

Bibliography

Griffiths, Curt T. "Police Powers and Decision Making." Canadian Criminal Justice: A Primer. 4th ed. Toronto: Nelson Education, 2011. 114+. Print.

Pratt, Anne. "Understanding Criminal Justice System Part Two and Current Trends." SOSC/CRIM 2652 6.0 Criminal Justice Systems. York University, Toronto. 19, 21 Sept., Nov. 2013. Lecture.

Rankin, Jim, and Patty Winsa. "Toronto Police Sued by Black Action Defense Committee for $65M Over Racial Profiling." Toronto Star 16 Nov. 2013: n. pag. Print.

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