Why the police have no business asking Drake for help - Macleans.ca

Why the police have no business asking Drake for help

Opinion: The rapper’s perceived inaction after the killing of his friend speaks to systemic and institutional issues

Drake performs during OVO Fest at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre in Toronto, Aug. 3, 2015. (J. ADAM HUGGINS/New York Times/Redux)

Drake performs during OVO Fest at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre in Toronto, Aug. 3, 2015. (J. ADAM HUGGINS/New York Times/Redux)

It can hardly be said that tact and self-awareness has ever been a strong suit for the Toronto Police Service. But the force’s latest PR strategy—press-ganging a private citizen into helping them with their investigation—has bordered on the bizarre. On Monday, a story ran in the Toronto Star reporting that senior members of the Toronto Police were disappointed with a lack of support and cooperation from rap superstar Drake.

If this story sounds familiar, it should. This isn’t the first time Toronto Police and local news media have pleaded with Drake to do something—anything—to help solve crimes. Two years ago, after a fatal shooting at Muzik nightclub where the afterparty for Drake’s signature OVO Fest was being hosted, the rapper came under intense public pressure to release a statement asking witnesses to come forward. Ten days later, he did so. Yet, after police interviewed hundreds of witnesses, the culprits in the shooting, which left two dead and three injured, haven’t yet been found.

The names and circumstances of the recent incident have changed dramatically, but the tactics of Toronto’s police service and its news media have not. This time around, they’ve turned a private citizen’s grief into a tool for public conscription. By any other professional standard, this crosses a line into exploitation.

A couple of weeks ago in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, local rapper Anthony Soares, known by his stage name as Fif, was gunned down in the lobby of an apartment building after being dropped off by a friend. As he waited to be buzzed into the building, two men rushed to the vestibule and fired several times through the glass door. Soares was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, but he succumbed to his wounds. He was buried last Saturday, and one of his pallbearers was international celebrity Aubrey Graham, whom the rest of us know as Drake.

Soares, a father and entertainer, has had a lengthy friendship and business relationship with Drake, and that must have made his death difficult enough. Yet, before the wreath laid on Soares’s grave had begun to wilt, the Toronto Star printed a lengthy story calling up everyone from police detectives, social media commenters, and even Mayor John Tory to shake their heads solemnly at Drake’s perceived inaction. The article went on to question Drake’s judgment in signing and touring with local rappers, the “heavy-handed tactics” of his security team, and even the responsibility Drake holds as ambassador to the Toronto Raptors and holder of the Key to the City of Toronto.

Some context is in order here. The Toronto Police, which has long had an antagonistic relationship with the city’s Black community, is hardly in a position to demand any help from anyone. This is the same police force that has fought tooth and nail to resist the most basic of reforms to end racialized profiling and incarceration. It required marches in the streets and several fiery public debates to end the practice of carding, which still persists to this day in various forms of stop-and-question that continuously target people of colour neither having committed nor even suspected in any kind of crime.

This is the same police force whose sloppiness in protecting witnesses has led to retributive killings. It took the high-profile 2009 murder of Kenneth Mark, an anti-gang activist and local role model, for the Toronto Police to bother putting together a witness protection policy—one that was drafted by Deputy Chief Peter Sloly — who worked to reform the Police Service’s image, and repair its relationship with Toronto’s communities of colour, but was ultimately passed over for the role of police chief. Sloly later left the force after making withering criticisms.

This is also the same police force that failed to report to the SIU when Michael Theriault, one of its own officers, allegedly chased down and brutally beat a young Black man named Dafonte Miller with a metal pipe in the nearby city of Whitby. Miller was grievously wounded, rendered blind in one eye, for having committed no greater crime than being outdoors after dark. Not only did Toronto Police fail to report the incident, Miller’s lawyer alleges the father of the accused—Detective John Theriault, who works within the Police Service’s Professional Standards Unit—improperly contacted Durham Police to obtain information about the investigation, as well as to provide false information about injuries to his son.

MORE: The Dafonte Miller case reveals a troubling trust gap for police

Beyond the diminished moral standing of Toronto Police to use media pressure in conscripting the aid of private citizens, there’s also the narrative of the story itself—that Drake’s celebrity status in Toronto requires a sort of saintliness from him that is rarely expected of others. Doug Ford, a former Toronto city councillor who’s just declared himself as a mayoral candidate for the second time, has gotten by mostly unscathed by his own alleged shady associations. Yet the criminal record of the rappers signed to Drake’s music label are held up for public scrutiny—rappers who, mind you, have come up from some of Toronto’s most marginalized neighbourhoods, and by dint of racial and geographic profiling, are five or more times as likely as the average Torontonian to be caught in the criminal justice dragnet. The current mayor’s words denying the existence of white privilege are hardly worth mentioning, yet Drake’s lyrics, and those of his labelmates, are added to the Black pathology evidence manual. Toronto Police did not implore former mayor Rob Ford to come forward and assist with the investigation of gang murders to which he could reasonably be connected, yet a hit piece chastising Drake and reminding him of his public responsibility ran in a major newspaper less than 48 hours after he laid his friend to rest.

Over the last few days, there has been a conversation in North America about the duty of Black athletes and celebrities to perform gratitude for their riches. In the United States, that conversation has mostly pertained to the appropriateness of kneeling for the national anthem, in protest against police violence and systemic inequality. But the overarching theme in the conversation is what rich Black people owe for the privilege of being allowed to benefit from their labour.

MORE: To sit or stand? It’s Sunday night in the NFL

What we’re seeing in the treatment of Drake, by Toronto’s media and its police service, is that he owes a kind of fealty that’s never been asked of nor expected from another Torontonian that’s risen to his level of success. And Drake being enlisted into this service by institutions that have systemically excluded and marginalized people who look like himself. Whether he decides to make a statement or not, by this point, hardly matters. What does matter is that our institutions, police and media both, seem to have learned nothing over the last five years.

If there’s anything I can humbly offer to Toronto Police, as well as their allies in news media who believe they’re entitled to the labour of a private citizen, it would be a saying well known within my community: sweep your own veranda before you set foot on our porch.

Andray Domise ran against Rob Ford in Toronto’s Ward 2 city-council race in 2014.


Why the police have no business asking Drake for help

  1. So the author thinks it’s immoral for the police to ask the community for witnesses to solve a murder.

    Are we to interpret this as also the position of black lives matter?

    Does it then follow that they matter only when police take them? Or when police are blamed for being ineffective at getting witnesses to solve murder?

  2. i 1,000% disagree w/ the columnist. in the rap world especially police should most definitely talk to the head of the snake. the underworld that is the rap industry deals in all kinds of shadiness and danger. when tupac/biggie were killed who did they talk 2? from stuff im reading on the net ppl believe aubrey had his boy killed for an illuminati sacrafice. the guy had a teardrop underneath an eye which means he’s either killed someone(s) or had his hand in a murder so that’s another unstated fact. also, police are now using rap lyrics to put rappers an or their associates behind bars. if ppl watch the video of his friend’s homicide then its clearly seen as a hit an nothing more so that smells of setup ie: drake is the 1st person im askin 4 info. because of his lifestyle drake is the person im askin 4 info or usin him 2 help in a death involving one of his comrades. drake’s association w/ the streets of toronto is why he’d be the 1st person im askin or usin him 2 help in a death involving one of his friend. this article is baseless and misleading.

  3. If one of my friends, acquaintances or anybody at all was killed or injured by an attack upon them I would not have to be asked by the police to aid them in finding the perpetrator I would be offering my help. Is it only my perception that those who cry about violence surrounding them are the last to offer assistance in stopping those that do it? Not every police officer is to be considered for “Person of The Year” but I also realize that every day they must deal with the worst of society and if I ever should encounter trouble they are the people I would call for help. The phrase “If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem” comes to mind.

  4. Take a knee. This is free speech.

    In our country, when a black man is killed by police, regardless of the circumstance, the sky falls and everyone except the blacks are racist.

    Perhaps if media reported every once in a while about what’s going on in Africa, the supposed homeland of African Canadians, the magnitude of black on black violence, our troubles here might be seen with a clearer perspective.

    Look at the wars around the world. How many are you even aware of?


  5. LOL Macleans is in an awkward spot because they can’t reject anything that Domise writes – even if it’s silly drivel like the above – or they’ll be accused of racism. Domise has quite the privilege, doesn’t he. Anyway, does he not agree that Drake should do everything he can to help with the investigation? Domise doesn’t seem concerned about the murder at all. There’s no tragedy he wouldn’t exploit for his career. Pretty low-class if you ask me.