In his shoes: White police officer and young black man swap lives for a day

See what happened when a white police officer west of Toronto and a young black man agreed to walk in each other's shoes for a day. Did it change their perspectives about policing and race relations in their community?

Swap gives both men insight into the other's life experience

Lance Constantine, left, a 28-year-old musician and motivational speaker who lives in the Malton neighbourhood of Mississauga, a Toronto suburb, switched lives for a day with Adam Marshall, a 31-year-old Peel Regional Police constable. (CBC)
  • To watch the full documentary from The National, click the video at the bottom of the story. 

There has been a long-standing tension in Peel Region, a diverse middle class suburb just west of Toronto, where members of the black community have spoken out for years about alleged police racism and discrimination.

Until recently, many of the complaints centred on the controversial police practice known as carding. Officers' questioning of certain individuals on the street, seemingly without cause, was widely seen as a type of racial profiling.

Carding was criticized for being ineffective and discriminatory toward minority groups, and the Ontario government restricted its use earlier this year, barring officers from collecting personal information from such stops.

Peel police have said there's a lot of misunderstanding about how they do their jobs, and they deny any kind of racial profiling happens within the region.

CBC's The National decided to take a closer look at the issue by asking a young black man to switch places with a white Peel police officer for one day.

The swap

Lance Constantine is a 28-year-old musician and motivational speaker who lives in the Malton neighbourhood of Mississauga, a suburb west of Toronto. The Humber College student believes he's often racially profiled and says young black men fear the police.

Constantine, right, speaks about race relations with Marshall's uncle, Scott Milne, at the Marshall family home in Mississauga, a Toronto suburb. (CBC)

Adam Marshall is a 31-year-old Peel police constable who lives alone in Hamilton. He acknowledges there's miscommunication between police and the black community.

The two men had never met before, but on Sept. 9, they switched lives for one day to get a sense of what it's like to walk in the other's shoes.

Constantine's experience began by having dinner with Marshall's family in Mississauga's Port Credit neighbourhood. He heard about their fears of having a loved one who works as a police officer and not knowing what might happen to him.

"Well, everybody fears for the life of a police officer. You never know who's crazy that you're going to meet on the other side of the door when you get the call," Marshall's grandmother, Moyna Marshall, said.

"I'd hope that they'd go back to the good old days where the people treated authority as authority. But nowadays, when you arrive, there is no such thing. They are looking to shoot the policeman or knife him or run away."

Constantine got in a heated debate with Marshall's uncle, Scott Milne, when the conversation moved to race and whether police patrol differently in different communities.  

Milne repeatedly referred to Malton — the diverse neighbourhood where Constantine has lived with his family for a decade — as "a place like that."

"That's the issue, though. It's the preconception that this area is bad," Constantine said in response. "I went to school in that area. I became who I am because of that area." 

Constantine defends his neighbourhood from harsh criticism 0:42

Milne admitted to having racist ideas about black people, though he said he's trying to change.

'If I see two black youth coming out of a variety store...' 0:45

Talking with students

Meanwhile, Marshall headed to Castlebrooke Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., where Constantine mentors students.

The students talked with him about their views on police.

"I've had a family member that was killed by police back in 2011 — Junior Alexander Manon ... And it was shocking, you know, because growing up ... you look up to police, and it was rough," said 17-year-old Shawn Cadena.

Cadena said the death of his 18-year-old cousin made him fear the police.

Young man's cousin died during arrest in 2011 0:34

On patrol

Shortly after 6 p.m. ET, Constantine arrived at Peel Regional Police headquarters in Brampton. He suited up in a bulletproof vest and prepared for a night patrolling the streets with police Sgt. Josh Colley.

Friday nights are known to be "hot" in Peel region, with more partying, more dangerous driving and an overall increase in calls.  

The pair responded to emergency calls, pulled over dangerous drivers and patrolled different neighbourhoods across the region.

Peel Regional Police Sgt. Josh Colley, left, on patrol with Constantine. (CBC)

Constantine told Colley about his own violent run-in with police when he was 18. He said officers stopped him and his younger sister while they were leaving a McDonald's restaurant. Constantine said he was cuffed for no reason and chipped his tooth when he was thrown against the police car.

He was eventually released without charges.

"That moment really, really did scar me," Constantine said.

On the court

In another part of Peel, Marshall played basketball with Constantine's friends outside a community recreation centre in Brampton. He talked with them about the challenges of being a police officer and explained why he feels it's necessary to have a strong police presence in certain Peel communities.

Marshall played basketball with some of Constantine's friends. (CBC )

"When a crime happens in a neighbourhood, whether it's a nice neighbourhood or not a nice neighbourhood, we have to respond, we have to come," he said. "We don't have a choice to say, 'Well, I'll just go later.'"

Marshall denied police target certain demographics or neighbourhoods and said they show up where they are called — and the calls keep coming.

But the message to Marshall from Constantine's friends was clear: they feel they are treated differently because of the colour of their skin.

Young man describes how it feels to be black in Peel region 0:27

Police challenges

Back on the patrol, Constantine and Colley talked about carding, police discrimination and the fear that many in the black community have of police.

I feel like people only think there's one side of a police officer, and they completely disregard the human side of that.- Peel Regional Police Sgt. Josh  Colley

They also discussed the fears police themselves have while on the job and the challenges they face: gruelling shift work, assaults and constant exposure to crises and violence.

"You're normally only called when people are in crisis or in trouble or need help," Colley said.

"I feel like people only think there's one side of a police officer, and they completely disregard the human side of that."

'I feel like people only think there's one side of a police officer, and they completely disregard the human side of that,' Colley told Constantine. (CBC)

The meeting

​The next day, Marshall and Constantine met for the first time at Studio 89 café in Brampton.

"Do you feel that young black males are treated differently?" Constantine asked Marshall.

"I could tell you that certainly did used to exist ... It used to exist in a big way," Marshall said.

"Am I saying it doesn't exist in some small way now? It's possible. It's definitely possible. But I think it's getting better, and for me, I want it to get better."

A Canadian police officer and a black man swap lives for a day to gain insights into each other's experiences. 17:41

About the Author

Angela Hennessy is an associate producer for The National. Before landing at CBC in 2015, Angela was a reporter for various Toronto news outlets. She graduated from Ryerson University with a degree in journalism and also has a bachelor of arts and international relations from Western University.

With files from Nicole Brewster-Mercury