Picture this. You’re driving along on a warm spring evening, and you get a call from a friend. Your phone is attached to the Bluetooth so you press the answer button on you steering console and say hello. You, enjoying the convo so much that your foot effortlessly presses down on the gas, without you being the wiser. After all you’re just following the flow of traffic, and there’s a car slightly ahead of you, a lane over. And bam it happens, an officer appears out of the Wild Wild West, with the cowboy stance, cocked radar gun, and raised left hand that would command a deaf man to halt. “Shit”! You curse to yourself, “damn it, it is the end of the month, isn’t it?!”

Yea it’s the end of the month. Such a simple phrase, with such a complex foundation, when referring to law and order. It’s the end of the month, and the hunt was on. This was the time of the month where law abiding, everyday drivers, know to skate on thin ice, in the spring, with tank road wheels and tracks. We know that it’s the cop’s last chance to fulfill their offering to the almighty numbers. They must meet their requirements of justice by quota.

Justice by quota huh?   Think about that.

A police man or woman is required to write a certain amount of traffic tickets in a month. They don’t call it a quota of course, although the description of the practice is eerily similar. Justice by the numbers. And this is just for traffic tickets. Simple violations of speeding or driving with only one headlight are enforced largely, not for public safety but because someone has a boss to answer to. And he has a boss that answers to the almighty sum. And I get it, being in law enforcement is a job, and therefore somehow the employees must be held accountable. Yet it seems to me that we have made the mistake of grossly accepting what is, as what is should be.

Law and order have been casted in a Sesame Street like cartoon skit, in which the digits on a paper come alive and belt out a catchy sing a long lesson of how to hit citizens with fines and suspensions.   And I say again, that’s just traffic tickets. If on what we could consider the base level of law enforcement, traffic laws appear to be, then imagine what is done on the higher levels, such as robbery or even murder. Are we to believe that the detectives aren’t told to solve a certain amount of robberies within a certain time frame? Are we to believe that the homicide division has no parameters or time expectations attached to their occupation? That would be as ridiculous as thinking that because the team leader, at the call center you work in, no longer has to take calls, he/ she no longer has to listen to and grade a certain amount of calls.  The jobs and requirements change but both still co-exist. Any job you can think of comes with bosses and quotas to please them.

The big difference between that call center job and being a police person is stress and obligation. The weight of a city’s safety is far more Herculean to lift than Mr. Thompson’s smartphone bill. But the only difference between the traffic cop and the homicide detective is the degree of difficulty. It’s much easier to find a speeder than it is a murderer, unless of course you’re forced to find a guilty culprit in both scenarios. It’s no surprise that prisons are filled with those who claim to be innocent. What is more of a secret, is that many actually are. See the numbers are there to make sure the lazy guy in the call center takes as many calls as the diligent worker. What makes you think that being in the employ of the city or government is any different? Connect the dots. If someone’s pay check and therefore, rent, mortgage, food, clothing, and overall well-being is dependent on them meeting certain numeric ideals set by their superiors, in most cases, that someone will do what it takes to keep their job. And in some cases, that someone will do anything to fulfill their obligations!

I remember an HBO show called The Wire, which I deemed the most realistic cop show ever made. So real that it depicted the members of the police force as quite simply, complex humans. Some felt the call to duty, others simply felt the need of a pay check. And in both cases not all were on a noble journeys to do better for civilian or family. Hierarchal Pressure, mixed with prejudice, and systematic oppression leads to innocence being tarnished by numbers at the hands of officers. If you have a quota and time limit to meet, damn sure the not so empathetic amongst the Police force will grab up the first person that “fits the description”. If you need to keep food on your table, you may not feel right doing it but it’s not farfetched that you may plant a couple grams here and there. And I’m trying to paint a picture of corruption, although it does exist.   I’m speaking of the guy who doesn’t want to harass the teenager on the street, but he knows doing so might give him a better chance at finding something and bolster his arrest record and then result in him moving up in rank eventually, than speaking to the kid and getting to know him, so that he doesn’t have to feel like all cops are enemies tends to become a less desirable option. This leads to a stigma and wide gap between Police and public relations.

I’m a 40 something black male, who’s lived in Toronto and the suburb of Brampton my whole life, never committed a crime, but have never encountered a Policeman in a situation of positivity.   And I’ve been stopped by police for everything from traffic violations to drug trafficking. Of the former I may have been guilty, of the latter never. The system is flawed based on the idea that justice and what’s right can be defined in quantity and not quality. It should never be reduced to how many tickets and suspects can be tallied.

By no means is this a bashing of the brave men and women who put on that uniform every day and literally risk their lives doing a job I’d never even consider. This is about the system in which they operate. And how it operates.   People are not numbers, and their treatment or justice shouldn’t be looked at through a calculator screen. To me the math is simple, but to them it may just be…numbers.


*SLANG HUGH can be heard alongside TOKS as part of  the podcast “THE MAN DEM”.  

He can also be found on instagram @slanghugh