Update: On Thursday evening, the CBC updated its story to reflect the criticism and include more context about the risks of calling the police.
In response to racist attacks on East Asian people in Vancouver, stemming from ignorant views about who to “blame” for the coronavirus, CBC News published an article on how to intervene if you witness a racist incident.
The piece, titled “8 things you can do if you're witnessing a racist incident,” starts by addressing readers who “have the misfortune of witnessing such a situation,” which is qwhite the framing as it as it centres the bystander rather than the victim.
Even more dumbfounding, the first step listed is to “call the police.”
But the piece doesn’t explain any of the myriad issues that make many Black people and people of colour wary of police, including systemic racism in policing; police brutality against Black and Indigenous people; and a tendency for police to disbelieve or minimize hate crimes.
“When we do seek help from the police, from a security guard, it’s often turned against us,” said Nana Yanful, staff lawyer at the Toronto-based Black Legal Action Centre.
Last month, D’Andre Campbell, 26, a Black man who lives in Brampton, was shot dead by Peel police; Campbell’s family said he was dealing with mental illness and had called the police for help. A 2015 investigation by the Toronto Star found that Peel police were three times more likely to street check Black people than white people.
The CBC’s own reporting on a racist verbal attack on a woman in Richmond quotes the victim as saying police did not take her seriously.
All of this context was missing from the CBC’s piece on bystander intervention.
The story quoted a transit cop and Natasha Aruliah, a Vancouver-based diversity and inclusion facilitator.
Reached by VICE, Aruliah said she did not advise calling the police as the No. 1 action for bystanders.
Aruliah said despite the many racist encounters she’s dealt with in her line of work, she’s never called the police because it often turns into a “he said, she said,” where the victim has to prove that the attack wasn’t provoked.
“The lack of responsiveness by the police is also harmful,” she said.
Aruliah said her main piece of advice is to interrupt the incident and let the perpetrator know that they are being watched and that their behaviour is unacceptable.
“Silence and doing nothing is often interpreted as acceptance that what they’re doing is OK,” she said.
She said threatening to call the police, but not actually doing it, could be part of that.
As for when to call the police, Yanful said there’s no blanket answer, but if something very violent is happening, it might be one of the few options.
She said to keep checking in with the victim and empowering them while you’re trying to help. For example, ask before you start recording the incident with your phone.
“Something has just been stripped away from them in public,” she said.
The fact that no one at the CBC flagged the tone-deaf suggestions in the piece speaks to a larger problem about the whiteness of mainstream media.
The article ends by saying someone “who witnesses a racist attack in public and doesn't do anything” has a chance to “do better next time.”
Perhaps the CBC should take its own advice.