As Quebec’s prime minister and mayor of Montreal defend their reactions to the deaths of two teenagers, insisting that it did not represent a double standard, not everyone is buying it.
Thomas Trudel and Jannai Dopwell-Bailey, both 16, were killed in Montreal in recent weeks.
Trudel, who was white, was shot and killed in Montreal’s Saint-Michel neighborhood 10 days ago. Dopwell-Bailey, who was black, was fatally stabbed outside a high school on the west end of town a month earlier.
Last week, François Legault and Valérie Plante each stopped at a temporary memorial set up for Trudel and mourned the teenager’s loss in public. But when a guard was previously held for Dopwell-Bailey, both were absent and neither of them showed up in public to show support for his family.
Some people noticed it, including Dopwell-Bailey’s older brother, Tyrese.
“Jannai got a lot of support from the community, but not from officials and those in power – and that’s what we need,” he said outside the teenager’s funeral last week.
SE | Jannai Dopwell-Bailey’s brother says politicians did not offer support to his family:
“I do not think they understood the seriousness of the message they were sending,” said Myrna Lashley, associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University and former director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
“It sent a message that the life of a white child is worth more than the life of a black child,” she said. “And that the premiere of the province and the mayor of Montreal City should attend the memorial services for that child, but ignore the other child.”
Lashley and other experts CBC News spoke in used words such as “unacceptable”, “disturbing” and “harmful” to describe the premiere and the mayor’s actions.
But they also all agreed that it was not surprising, pointing to a wealth of research that has looked at how imbalances shape differences in how black and white young people are seen, whether they are conscious or not.
Black youth become less likely to be seen as innocent
Two days after respecting Trudel near the scene of the teenager’s death, Legault lamented the latest string of violence involving young people in Montreal in a Facebook post.
In it, he wrote about the deaths of Trudel and Meriem Boundaoui, a 15-year-old girl who was shot last winter.
His post originally did not mention Dopwell-Bailey.
The premiere later edited the post to say he was also shocked by Dopwell-Bailey’s death, adding that he had not mentioned him in the beginning because he wrote specifically about gun violence and the black teenager had been stabbed.
On Monday, the prime minister held a joint press conference with the mayor of Montreal, partly to urge the federal government to ban small arms. But they also offered reassurance to those who had accused them of valuing the life of one killed teenager more than another.
“I want to say to the family [of Dopwell-Bailey] that there is no double standard, “said Legault.” My message was about shots. We would like to [ban] weapons, and that’s what I was talking about. “
As for Plante, she said members of her party were present at the guard held for Dopwell-Bailey if she was not. She also said she contacted his family to offer support.
“I will certainly reassure everyone that for me there is no double standard when it comes to just protecting our young people,” said Plante, who had acknowledged the existence of systemic racism in Montreal’s municipal institutions last year and promised to fight the.
However, research suggests that a double standard exists.
A 2014 study by American psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff found that black boys as young as 10 years old can “be perceived as responsible for their actions at an age where white boys still benefit from the assumption that children at the bottom and reason is innocent. “
According to Anne-Marie Livingstone, an assistant professor of sociology at McMaster University in Hamilton, these values and perceptions are “ingrained in our culture.”
“That’s why they can get away with not showing concern for the black child,” said Livingstone, who is originally from Montreal.
Her research deals with topics such as the relationship between public institutions and racial inequalities as well as the over-politicization of black youth in Montreal.
Montreal has lived in a climate where “black youth are demonized” for a number of years now, Livingstone said, with a lot of “very, very inflammatory, very harsh stereotypes about deviance and crime that connect black children with crime and gangs.”
And that connection may in part play into the reactions of the two leaders, she said.
There have been no arrests in Trudel’s death. When Dopwell-Bailey was killed, Montreal police said they were looking for three suspects; so far, a person, a minor, has been arrested and charged.
‘Racial dynamics at stake’
Kanika Samuels-Wortley is an assistant professor of sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa, who has done research showing how black and indigenous youths perceive law enforcement as treating them harder than white youths.
How politicians respond to tragedies can also affect how the public views crime, she said, and the actions of Legault and Plante “help perpetuate racial stereotypes that negatively affect members of the black community.”
“It’s hard not to see the racing dynamics in play,” Samuels-Wortley said, adding that “these representations can be quite damaging.”
“Perceptions of discrimination can also be perceived [by youth] who see their political leaders publicly mourn a white victim of violence and not their black counterpart, “she said.
Lashley wonders if anyone in the prime minister’s or mayor’s camps warned them about the optics of their actions.
“Who are the PR people? Who are the communication people where someone does not say to them, ‘Do not do this, [because] that’s the message you’re sending, “she asked.
“Do everything or do no one.”