Community leader 'surprised by the surprise' over carding statistics

Police have released local street check numbers and Funke Oba, a university lecturer in social work and secretary of the African Canadian Association of Waterloo Region and Area, says now is the time to bring police and community groups together to talk about the next steps.

'There's no other way to live as a black person without having some hope,' says lecturer

In June 2012, the New York Police Department conducted street check training sessions. This file photo shows Det. Anthony Mannuzza, left, and police officer Robert Martin. (The Associated Press)

There has been a lot of talk about the need to address the issue of carding in Waterloo region – now there is a need for action, one local black community leader says.

"I think it's about time we just understand that it's happening and get over the denial and we can work to address it," said Funke Oba, a university lecturer in social work and secretary of the African Canadian Association of Waterloo Region and Area.

Oba said she is "relieved" have police have released data that shows officers stop black individuals in Waterloo region at a higher rate than the rest of the population.

"I like the fact that the police have put those numbers out there. We can now have that conversation," she said.

Police release street check numbers

Carding, also known as street checks or interventions, is when an officer stops a person and writes down personal information about the person on a card. No crime was needed to have been committed for an officer to do this. Advocacy groups across the country have argued black Canadians are targeted more often than other ethnic groups in society.

The Waterloo Regional Police Service released data last week that showed between Jan. 1, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2015, 63,697 street checks were done by officers.

Of those, 5,800 were black individuals, or 9.1 per cent of all checks.

According to Waterloo Regional Police data, while black individuals were the subject of street checks nine per cent of the time, they only make up two per cent of Waterloo Region's general population. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Police Chief Bryan Larkin has said it is time for his force to act and make changes.

"The numbers are what they are. I can't change them," Larkin told CBC News on Friday.

"But what I can do moving forward is look to improve relations and look to change the way we do business and so I'm going to hit this head on. It's not an easy task. It's a complex task, it raises lots of emotion both internally and externally, but it's time to move forward. We're in 2016 and enough is enough."

'I'm just a child'

Through her research, Oba has talked to local black youth and she has heard stories of carding from young people who were just walking down the street, perhaps with a group of white friends.

"They're kids. I hear them all the time saying, 'I'm just a child. Why would anybody be afraid of me? Why do people think I am bad?'" she said.

"What does that do to a person? And these children are just children."

Equality not reached yet

She recalled Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Had a Dream speech and said part of what he hoped for has come true, but society is still far from achieving true equality.
Funke Oba is a university lecturer in social work and secretary of the African Canadian Association of Waterloo Region and Area. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC)

"Today, the bodies are sitting together, yes. So that part of his dream is achieved. The bodies are sitting together in class and so on. The bodies are walking along our streets in Kitchener-Waterloo. But what is happening to them is still markedly different," she said.

"We need to really understand what the impact of this is, especially on young people and how it damages their psyche, how it makes them feel constantly reminded that they are portrayed as thieves and believed ... to be deviant, to be dangerous, how they're demonized constantly."

She said despite hearing numerous stories, she has to continue to believe it will get better.

"I have to believe. There's no other way to live as a black person without having some hope. I have to give hope to the kids I work with. I have to give hope to the social workers I train. I have to believe that they can, if I equip them properly, if a give this topic to them gently, sensitively, creatively, that they can, even as white social workers, make a difference," she said.

"I have to believe that my children will be OK."

Time for community collaboration

Oba said she is "surprised by the surprise" by local residents that carding is happening here.

She hopes that with police being open about the issue, it will mean people will understand this isn't something that just happens in the United States or larger cities like Toronto.

Oba said she believes Larkin when he says he wants change, and she said there are many in the community who want to help.

"For me, it is almost a relief that at least we have it out there now," she said. "Now we can all co-operate, we can all work together, we can have community collaboration, so we can address it."