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Advocacy Letter and Report on Anti-Black Racism

2029 words (8 pages) Essay in Social Policy

08/02/20 Social Policy Reference this

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Attn: Mayor John Tory

Office of the Mayor

City Hall, 2nd Floor

Toronto, Ontario

M5H 2N2

CC: Andrew Pringle, Chair, Toronto Police Services & Mark Saunders OOM, Chief, Toronto Police Services

Re: $3 million dollar increase of Toronto Police Service budget in order to intensify street patrols in “priority neighbourhoods”

Dear Mayor Tory,

It is no secret that Black Torontonians face a disproportionate amount of discrimination by the city’s police force. According to the Toronto Star, while the city’s population is only 8.1% Black, Black persons represent 27% of the total number of citizens contact carded by the police. This number is 3.4 times greater than the Black population of the city itself. Such stats, along with many instances of police officers committing physical violence against Black males, are so concerning that the Ontario Human Rights Commission launched a public inquiry into the actions of the Toronto Police Service Board and Special Investigations Unit earlier this year.

As a long-time community advocate for the Black Creek neighbourhood, one of Toronto’s most populous Black communities and a city-designated “priority neighbourhood,” the prominence of police-led racial discrimination over meaningful social justice is a reality we know too well. Nearly 30% of our 22,000 residents are on social assistance, doubling the city’s benchmark of 15%. We have an average number of 16.8 public meeting spaces within a 10-minute walk of each block, also below the city’s average of 23. We are located far away from the commercial centres of the city and we are politically underrepresented in many of the large institutions that enact decisions on our behalf. Our presence and concerns perpetually remain out of sight and out of mind.

This summer, due to growing concerns of gun violence that primarily affect Black Torontonians, you and Police Chief Saunders held a press conference to announce a $3 million plan to increase the number of officers on street patrol by an additional 200 in “priority neighbourhoods.” While it is helpful that you are looking to curb violence and crime, a more visible police presence does not instill hope in any community with a long history of racial profiling and economic inequality. Instead, these tactics perpetuate public stereotypes of Black criminality. The concurrent announcement stating that the city is already surveilling 1,000 persons of interest further enhances feelings of anxiety and paranoia.

We ask you, then, to consider looking at the needs of our community on a more structural basis. While 79 homicides occurred in the city of Toronto in 2018 to date, the most recent municipal census states that at least 6,600 residents of the Black Creek community live in poverty. This indicates that a far greater percentage of our population require services beyond crime prevention. Rather than prioritizing the policing of our neighbourhoods, we ask that you work with us to instead invest those funds into bettering the grassroots organizations that directly pursue the needs of Toronto’s Black citizens. Examples of these organizations include: The Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP), The Jane and Finch Centre, The Black Creek Community Collaborative, and The Black Health Alliance. The aforementioned community-led organizations empower residents to support one another in their everyday lives, provide meaningful solutions to ending root causes of criminal activity, and further foster the tight-knit networks that we are proud of. With increased funding opportunities, we will create sustainable actions for residents faced with the realities of substandard housing, food insecurity, social isolation, and unemployment. By addressing such fundamental concerns, there will be enhanced opportunities for more Black citizens to escape the perpetual cycle of poverty in Toronto without living in fear of racially discriminatory policing practices.

In order to accomplish this, we are asking to meet with you and create an alternative plan together in order to build a better future for Black Torontonians.

 

Section Two: Advocacy Brief

My advocacy letter addresses the topic of Anti-Black racism. In particular, it speaks to the issue of coercive racial discrimination pursued by the Toronto Police Service towards Black Torontonians. This past summer, when Mayor Tory and Police Chief Saunders announced the city’s intention to spend $3 million on additional street patrolling officers in “priority neighbourhoods” in order to curb violence, a number of prominent activists, politicians, and journalists expressed a great amount of skepticism in this plan. In fact, the strategy overlooks the larger social issues at stake. For instance, many of the “priority neighbourhood” designations date back to 2004 (Doolittle, Toronto Star, 2014). Almost fifteen years later, the neighbourhoods’ predominantly racialized populations continue to lack appropriate levels of social investment. Instead of improved economic prosperity, the neighbourhoods are subject to an increasingly discriminatory and oppressive police presence. My letter highlights that there are deeper concerns in Toronto’s Black community than simply crime prevention. My advocacy effort utilizes a principled negotiation strategy in order to articulate the needs of a community. Through principled negotiation, the letter applies numerous elements of social advocacy, such as: framing the issue, writing from a credible perspective, and the use of a cluster argument in order to boost the letter’s persuasive power – in order to achieve the objective of greater social justice for Toronto’s Black citizens in “priority neighbourhoods.”

Vicki Lens’ article, “Principled Negotiation: A New Tool for Case Advocacy,” introduces the concept of principled negotiation in the context of social work. According to Lens, “principled negotiation is particularly consonant with the value base of social work because it strives for the mutually beneficial resolution of conflicts while acknowledging the value and importance of ongoing relationships” (Lens, 2004, p. 506). By harnessing this approach, I believe that the issue is best solved by working in partnership with the city in a deeper, more meaningful way. While my letter is certainly critical towards the Toronto Police Service and the Mayor’s anti-violence plan, there is still a diplomatic undercurrent to the proposed solution to re-invest policing money into more structurally equitable social services.

Another element of advocacy emphasized in my letter is the “psychological device” of framing (Hoefer, 2006, 98). According to Richard Hoefer’s book, Advocacy Practice for Social Justice, a frame “provides a certain standpoint on how the facts should be seen, emphasizing some facts and minimizing others in order to get the recipient to act a certain way” (Hoefer, 2006, p. 98). Thus, in the case of my letter, I cite racially-targeted carding statistics in order to illustrate the discriminatory behaviour of the Toronto Police Service towards Black Torontonians. By framing police practices as racially biased, my aim is to illustrate that the current strategies employed by the Toronto Police Service are not working. Positioning the reality of police behaviour as oppressive establishes the grounds for suggesting an alternative to how city funding is currently used.

The message of my advocacy letter is delivered through, what Hoefer refers to as, a “credible perspective” (Hoefer, 2006, p. 106). Credibility is important because, without it, “an advocate is not going to persuade anyone” (Hoefer, 2006, p. 106).  I demonstrate a credible perspective by positioning myself as: a) a long-time resident and community advocate of a designated “priority neighbourhood;” b) familiar with several of the neighbourhood’s prominent community groups; and, c) affiliated with an internationally-recognized advocacy group, Black Lives Matter. In my position as a credible source, my aim is to convey “expertise, trustworthiness, and likeability” (Hoefer, 2006, p. 106).  This status as a long-time resident and community advocate illustrates an expertise in understanding the needs and social issues within the community that I represent. In terms of trustworthiness, I cite routinely fact-checked data from reputable sources such as the Toronto Star newspaper and the city census. And finally, while likeability is certainly subjective, I use a respectful and measured writing tone without directly placing personal blame on the Mayor’s character. All of these techniques are to prove, that while I may be upset about the past and present, I still look towards the creation of a better future.

Finally, Vicki Lens’ chapter on advocacy in The Columbia Guide to Social Work Writing allocates significant attention to the importance of persuasion in social work advocacy. As the social work advocate must be called upon to “rouse the audience to action,” Lens believes that “a single claim is usually inefficient to persuade” the audience (Lens, 2012, p. 186). Instead, arguments can be grouped together to illustrate the complexity of an issue. This “cluster argument” technique is useful because it allows for multiple claims to co-exist within an argument. Unlike a “chain argument,” where one weak link in an argument can break the argument’s entire rationale, a cluster argument is structured in a way that even “if one [argument] fails, the others may succeed” (Lens, 2012, p. 187). I use this approach because I recognize that I am communicating with a politician that possesses different beliefs than I do. I anticipate that he may not agree with every single one of my arguments. Thus, by clustering several different arguments within my letter, I stand more of a chance of persuading him to action. If he does not agree with my grounds for curbing police presence in my neighbourhood, at least he may be able to agree with the fact that poverty is a significant issue that the city must meaningfully address.

In conclusion, I believe that by applying a principled negotiation strategy in my advocacy letter, I create enough persuasive power to appeal to my audience’s intellect and emotions. While I use statistics to position myself as an opponent of Mayor Tory’s new policing strategy, there is an emotional weight to the perspective of my argument. By emphasizing the human costs as a result of years of systemic failure and racist policing, I aim to convey the realities of what happens when a community’s needs are perpetually neglected while also providing a picture of what transformative social change looks like.

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