Are the lives of white killers more important than everyday Black folk?

The horrific mass murder of innocent pedestrians in Toronto on April 23 triggered a mixture of torment and grief. The pain many of us experienced for the innocent lives lost in the traumatic act of violence and brutality was heartbreaking, fear-inducing and life-changing.

Yet the possible misogynist and sexist motives are not surprising in a world that constantly violates women, girls and boys and the sexually diverse, (dis) abled, poor, Indigenous and racialized.

For many of us, this reality brings up anger and memories of murdered women, men and children.

The praise given to the Toronto police officer, Const. Ken Lam who arrested without incident the accused mass murderer was widespread.

Was the fact that the police officer was Asian one of the reasons he did not shoot or kill the accused? Did his racial identity have anything to do with his reasoning? Or did the racial background of the accused impact his decision?

Did Const. Ken Lam learn from the past mistakes of the Toronto Police Service, especially the Andrew Loku shooting?

These questions have not been fully unpacked in our media but have certainly been spoken about over coffee or tea in many activist circles. These closed-door conversations of grief have manifested among politicized Black people and racialized folks who could not help but compare the facts.

This recent tragedy has led to conversations in general about how Black, Indigenous and other racialized people have been treated by our media and police systems.

As a witness and participant to these conversations, I wanted to share some of the ideas that come out of them. I write about racism’s impact on health and so I discuss these ideas as they relate to our health and well-being.

Black lives matter

To many, it feels like a white-skinned mass murderer’s life is still more valuable than the life of a Black, Indigenous and/or racialized person who has “no weapon” and has killed no one, in Canada or elsewhere.

In general, media coverage of crimes involving accused Black perpetrators include photos resembling mug shots, with faces devoid of emotion. The perpetrators are assumed to be “guilty.” In contrast, news stories often show white accused perpetrators with smiles, in photos from “better moments” in their life.

These images can give viewers optimism and cause them to doubt that the accused committed such heinous crimes (the Bruce McArthur alleged serial killer as well as the Kalen Schlatter case in Toronto comes to mind).

What is the impact of seeing these distinct images and media bias on a daily basis? Experiencing forms of racist violence daily leads to significant anguish.

The grief we feel is cumulative as we witness over and over that Black lives do not matter but white mass murderers’ lives do matter and are protected by any means necessary.

All of the white male suspects involved in these incidents survived: The Charleston Church massacre; the Québec mosque massacre; the Toronto van attack

Accused serial killer Bruce McArthur. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook

Microaggressions add up

Some people use the idea of microaggressions to explain subtle offences or insults. But use of this term renders the long-term impact of racism on racialized people’s health null and void and denies the real insidiousness of experiencing harm and violation on a daily basis, due solely to skin colour and other intersectional factors.

The Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) and Africans in Partnership Against AIDS (APAA) are two AIDS organizations supporting African/Black/Caribbean peoples and communities living with HIV — by linking resistance, racism, homophobia, anti-immigration and other forms of intersectional violence as part of their service and research agendas to dismantle HIV stigma.

Roberta has worked as a consultant for the past X years. Some of her areas of specialization include women abuse; child, youth, and adult violence; intersectional identities, critical expressive arts, multiple oppressions, transgenerational trauma, and resilience/resistance work.

Roberta is Co-Director of Continuing Healing Consultants and has engaged in anti-oppression consulting in the Toronto and global communities since 1997. She is also co-founder and trainer of Anti-Oppression Psychotherapy™.

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