Canada·First Person

Even if I got 'the talk,' the anxiety of being policed while Black is a hard shake

Shaquille Morgan never had "the talk" about being policed while Black with his family. As he got older, he realized that’s because one talk alone would never be enough to cover all the complexities of being a Black man in Canada.

I’ve faced unwarranted, negative reactions because of my race

A portrait of a man in a brown blazer.
Shaquille Morgan never had ‘the talk’ about being policed while Black with his family. As he got older, he realized that’s because one talk alone would never be enough to cover all the complexities of being a Black man in Canada. (Submitted by Shaquille Morgan)

This First Person column is the experience of Shaquille Morgan, a policy consultant and writer. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

There wasn't one distinct "talk" that I had with my mother or grandmother about how I, as a Black boy, should behave around the police when I was growing up in Mississauga, Ont. 

I now recognize why. 

There's simply too much to unpack for it to be a single lesson; and for my mother, there's fear behind these conversations — fear in knowing that there will likely be a moment where her child is targeted by the police because of their race, but she won't be there to protect them. 

I learned about the police in pieces. I learned as I watched my mother get harassed, pinned against the wall, and questioned simply because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I learned as I walked the streets with my mother and brother, seeing the police randomly card, search, and in some cases, intimidate Black boys and men because of how they dressed — with XL T-shirts, cuffed-oversized jeans, and heavy chains that pendulum as they walked down the block. 

To the world and the police, it felt like their dress and their swagger was seen as problematic and consequently demonized. But to me, they were fly, and if nothing else, I admired that. My mom would see this and instinctively chide us out of fear and concern. 

"You see that? I don't ever want to see you on the block at that age. The only place I want to find you in is the library."

I never questioned why she was saying this to us. Even at a young age, I knew the Black community was treated differently, but I did question why it meant I had to act differently. I got my answer to this question when I was 15.

A teen in a suit at a banquet hall.
Morgan as a high school student in 2009. (Submitted by Shaquille Morgan)

My lunch break was nearly over. After playing basketball, I decided to get some food from the plaza next to my school. I jogged over, my Jansport backpack filled with binders and textbooks that bounced as my feet rhythmically pounded the pavement. I heard a voice yell in the distance. 

"Stop! Don't let me come and get you!" 

I didn't bother to turn around, because I assumed that command was meant for someone else. I hadn't done anything wrong. 

"Don't make me repeat myself," I heard the voice shout a second time. Still jogging, I turned around, and to my surprise, there was a police officer trailing behind me. 

"Me? But I didn't do anything," I said, confused and anxious, as my jog slowed to a halt. 

I was puzzled. I remember feeling this pit in my stomach. It was the same pit I felt when I watched my mom get racially profiled by the police as a child. 

He came right up to my face, made me sit on the curb with my arms behind my back and pulled out a small notepad. Right before he asked me for my student card, he said, "I've seen you around here in your blue shirt causing trouble." 

I sat there confused and silent, because I knew I wasn't the person he thought I was. I can only assume that because he saw me, a running Black male youth, that I was the "troublemaker" he was on the lookout for.

He proceeded to ask me about a fight at the plaza. I told him I didn't see a fight. But he didn't seem to care about what I had to say. He interrogated me until he seemed satisfied, flipped his notebook shut and told me I was banned from the plaza for three months. 

"If I see you around here before then, we'll have a problem," he said as he returned my card. 

I took my card and rushed back to school, anxiously glancing over my shoulder to see if he was watching. I wanted to tell my mom, but I didn't. I didn't tell anyone. Maybe if I had, they would've told me that's beyond the scope of his powers. Even so, I can't help but think that it wouldn't have mattered because I haven't seen the police be consistently held accountable for their actions.

A smiling man holds a basketball at a high school gym while two other boys play the game near him.
Morgan, centre, played basketball as a high school student from 2009 to 2012. He is pictured in 2022 when he organized a community event at his alma mater. (Submitted by Shaquille Morgan)

Out of this interaction was borne a deep personal distrust, anxiety and to some degree, a fear of the police. It's the same fear that prevents Black people from calling the police. I've found it hard to shake that feeling ever since. I look back on this incident knowing I wasn't roughed up. I wasn't arrested. But as I see today's climate with the death of Tyre Nichols and the many cases of police brutality against Black people, I'm reminded about what could've been. 

I haven't kept track of how many times I've been targeted by the police since then. I also can't say that it's that often. 

I recognize there's privilege in being able to say this, because for others it has been much worse. What I can tell you, however, is that I've been randomly followed home, carded because I "looked suspicious," and interrogated and asked if my name was actually Jerome or Tyrell. I don't ask myself anymore if these type of interactions will happen; I ask myself when. And while I know I, and my community deserve better, and are trying to change this, it's a reality I've reluctantly accepted.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

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Shaquille Morgan

Freelance contributor

Shaquille Morgan is a writer, speaker, community organizer and policy consultant, and has a passion for community and economic development. He leverages his knowledge and experience to do racial equity and social justice work for vulnerable and racialized communities.