Courtney Bishop and our obsession with conformity
Police and their role
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For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Courtney Bishop let me recap the facts. Mr. Bishop, a citizen of colour, is a Concordia student and a member of its rugby team. Recently he and some twenty of his friends and teammates tried to enter the Sir Winston Churchill Pub on Crescent Street. All were dressed casually. All except Mr. Bishop were white.
All of Mr. Bishop’s friends were allowed entry. The doorman refused Mr. Bishop on the basis that he was wearing baggy jeans. Mr. Bishop argued that some of his friends had the same attire. The doorman would not be moved. Heated words were exchanged and Mr. Bishop’s friends left the pub and proceeded down Crescent street with their friend Courtney.
Mr. Bishop told the media he felt the doorman’s refusal of entry was racially motivated. As abhorrent as that is if true, what happened next is the subject of my thoughts here.
A few moments after they left the door of the pub, Courtney and his friends were encircled by police who approached him with guns drawn and asked him to lay on the ground. Apparently the police were responding to a call from the pub because the doorman claimed that he heard Courtney say that he had a gun. No gun was found of course and no charges laid. Courtney is not upset at the police but he is considering legal action against the pub for discrimination.
What troubles me in this incident in addition to the racial undertones, is the explanation by the police for their actions. When asked to explain why the unusual demonstration of force against Courtney, police spokesman Laurent Gingras told reporters that “We will take no chances with the public’s security.” Herein lies the problem.
Police officers are always concerned as to why their image is not better with the public. Part of the answer lies in this incident. The “public’s security” is not just a matter of protection against physical harm. It is also a matter of upholding of individual rights. The automatic assumption on the part of the police at the scene should not have been that just because a caller says something it must be true. Are our police going to be used and manipulated by random callers to be hammers against someone whom we find irritating? Of course not.
The officers should have approached Mr. Bishop, in force of numbers, and confronted him with the accusation. But when they heard his story, they should also have accompanied Mr. Bishop up the street to the pub and confronted the doorman with both the falsity of his accusation and questioned him on Courtney’s charge of racial bias. Not only would that have restored Courtney’s dignity, but it would have sent a strong message – from the police themselves – that they understood the broader community responsibilities in their mandate to keep the peace.
This incident should also cause us to reflect on our obsession with conformity. We have become a society that not only confuses conformity with security, but has abdicated to government the power to demonize the citizenry in a misguided belief that our ills will then be cured. It is a mindset reminiscent of the worst of our retrograde past and its time it stop.
Character should never be profiled into caricature. And, so soon after an historic American election, let us remember the timeless injunction of Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should never be judged by the colour of one’s skin but by the content of our character.