‘Useful insider information’


Photograph by Diasporic Genius

From The Walrus:

On a sun-dappled summer afternoon, a member of the Pocket Facebook group posted photos of black teenagers biking on a residential street as a warning, saying that she had seem them “snooping” into private laneways and pegging them as potential suspects for a recent bike theft. As I read the comments below the pictures, I was alarmed to find that a majority of Facebook group members appreciated her alert.

Again, the assumptions about the membership of the Facebook group were evident. The poster and her supporters were not concerned about the potential consequences of uploading photos of teenagers without parental consent. Implicitly, the move pre-supposed that the parents couldn’t possibly have been members of the group. These youth were black and allegedly up to no good. Never mind that the teenagers were not guilty of doing anything but being teenagers. What was worse, the Pocket Facebook group membership included a local community police officer, who now had access to images of these targeted teens.

My earlier misgivings about the nature of the neighbourhood group quickly returned. Under the neighbourly chatter, the local recommendations and friendly swaps, lay a layer of racial assumptions, coded messaging and micro-aggressions ready to be expressed but later vehemently denied at the first provocation.

Indeed, it was only a matter of minutes before that first defensive comment was posted.

Lauren Simmons, a high school teacher and often-outspoken member of the Pocket group, pointed out that this was the same group that just weeks earlier had “liked” the link to writer Desmond Cole’s recent Toronto Life cover story about being a persistent target of police harassment. But now, within the confines of this group, people were racially profiling minors and identifying them as potential criminals.

“Neighbourhood Watch”, Asmaa Malik, The Walrus