Why I’m dreaming of new ways to report on criminal justice

I’ve never seen a movement in my lifetime like the one that rose in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. As societies, as institutions, and as individuals, we were all finally forced to reflect on the many ways anti-Black racism appears in all corners of our world, and particularly in the justice system. 

As an early-career journalist, it’s already become very clear to me that no matter how many hours one might spend sifting through court documents and speaking with experts — writing about criminal justice has always felt inauthentic to me because I can never really see the true full impact. It’s like plucking a pebble from a mountain. All of the information I’ve come across doesn’t feel new, but at the same time it’s verified everything I’ve ever heard about what people in our community experience. 

When one out of 15 young Black men in Ontario has experienced jail time — there’s a problem.

When Black people are six times more likely to be stopped by police in Halifax, five times more likely in Edmonton, five times more likely in Vancouver, or four times more likely in Montreal — there’s a crisis.

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When the number of Black people in prison is more than double the percentage of the overall Black population in Canada —  that’s discrimination.

When Black people are more likely to be struck, shot or killed by Toronto police — there’s no justice. 

When 70 per cent of victims killed in police shootings in Toronto are Black — then we need to advocate for a better solution than policing.

I’m not an expert. I don’t have years of experience working in the justice sector, and I definitely don’t have a law degree. I’m writing to you as someone who has covered this beat before, as someone who’s spoken with organizers, advocates and police to confirm what we already know to be true: for many in our community our system continues to cause more harm than it ever did good. 

I find it hard to believe that after more than a year of protesting, trending headlines, and a worldwide call for action to abolish the police, we’re no closer to releasing the suffocating ties to a retributive justice system that doesn’t reduce harm or resolve instances of violence. 

I have so many questions and not enough answers. Like why has it taken so much time to start a conversation on collecting race-based data? Why has the media continued to dismiss Indigenous, Black and racialized voices who have first-hand experience with the faults in our system? And why doesn’t the media apply consistent scrutiny to institutions that continue to oppress our communities?

Sometimes the hardest part of change is to ask questions without clear answers. Ask any abolitionist and they’ll tell you that you don’t have to have the answers, just the ability to dream of alternative justice structures that address the root causes of crime. 

As a journalist, and a Black woman, I’ve had to change my approach to make sure I’m asking the right questions and to imagine what abolishing the police would look like. Even though policing is a recent phenomenon in human history, I’m scared that our world isn’t ready to imagine with me — with us. 

Reporting on justice in the abolition movement means figuring things out with the community. It means building relationships with organizers who have been pushing for calls to defund the police, and being brave enough to ask questions with no clear answers. I’m constantly drawn back to this Twitter thread by abolitionist Sandy Hudson, who has listed a series of daring and valid questions to officials that often defend the police as an institution. 

So dig deep and ask the questions you know legacy media won’t, even if they don’t come with answers. Deconstruct, challenge and look critically at the narratives of the institutions we’ve always taken at face value. If we can do that together, we’ll be one step closer to imagining a world without policing.

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The Resolve creates community-powered independent journalism centring and celebrating Black, Indigenous and communities of colour in Canada. If you think this work is important, join us and become a founding member of The Resolve.

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