Posted on January 3, 2018

Human Rights Advocates Want an Apology from London Police Officer Who Dressed Up in Blackface

Randy RIchmond, National Post, January 3, 2018

The London police service needs to move quickly and decisively on an incident involving an officer in blackface, human rights advocates say.

That action should include an immediate apology by the officer involved, and recognition by the police department the act was racist, some say.

But the police force also should use the incident for education rather than punishment, advocates say.

“I do want to stress this should be seen not as an opportunity to condemn, but an opportunity to educate and enhance our collective understanding,” Anthony Morgan, a Toronto lawyer and specialist in human rights and race relations, said Tuesday.

The officer involved “needs to make a statement and take a stand to acknowledge she now understands this is problematic,” said Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and a specialist in hate crimes.

“I hope London police service sees this as a teaching moment.”

London police already have made one misstep by saying they’re conducting an internal investigation into the context and intent behind the incident, said Mojdeh Cox, an anti-racism and human rights advocate formerly of London, now working in Ottawa.

There’s no context or intent that can justify painting oneself in blackface, a method of ridiculing black people since the early 1900s, she said.

“I think the police should come out and say this was racism,” Cox said.

London police need to explain to the public exactly what they’re doing to address the incident and racism in the force, Cox added.

“The question is, does this act of the employee reflect the values of the employer?”

Police services across Canada, including London, are making efforts to understand and train officers in diversity, Perry said.

“This certainly takes them (London police) a step back.”

“It is hard to take seriously a police service that allows people to engage in this behaviour.”

An Instagram post from Dec. 13 shows London police Const. Katrina Aarts getting painted and then posing in what appears to be some kind of traditional African wear.

The person who made the post also shows Aarts in uniform and praises her. A reply, apparently from Aarts, thanks the friend for the praise but says nothing critical about the blackface photos.

It’s not clear when the photos of the officer in blackface were taken.

The Instagram post was shared with members of the police board, who referred the matter to police administration. The investigation has been turned over to the department’s professional standards branch.

Attempts to reach Aarts for comment were unsuccessful.

The reaction of readers on social media to the story, broken by The Free Press Dec. 29, was deeply divided. Some called the incident racist. Others defended Aarts, saying she’s not racist, and that people are over-­reacting to a costume.

All three human rights and anti-racism advocates contacted Tuesday said the act of painting oneself in blackface and dressing in tribal wear is morally and legally wrong.

“If people are saying they don’t know why blackface is a problem, they are either living under a rock or with white privilege,” Cox said. “White supremacy is not just the KKK. It is your race being so dominant, you don’t have to worry about anyone mimicking you for Hallowe’en . . . playing up your race as if you are a caricature.”

The photos perpetuate negative stereotypes of people of African descent, Morgan said.

“What does this mean for people’s perceptions of black people being primitive, savage, unintelligent?” he said.

Canadian law recognizes that stereotypes produce systemic injustices, he said. Human rights law looks at the impact, more than the intent, of an act to determine offences, he added.

It doesn’t matter then what Aarts’ intent was. The damage comes from the impact of the act, Morgan said.