As the mayoral campaign heads into its last weeks, former Globe and Mail urban affairs reporter Siri Agrell and the blog Torontoist are hosting Real City Matters, a weekly series of panel discussions on the state of the city. On Oct. 14, Jamil Jivani, a recent Yale Law School graduate and the co-ordinator of Policing Literacy Initiative (a local think tank of 20 young leaders devoted to fresh concepts on how to improve police services and community safety), will talk about the need to change the mindset of the young Torontonians who feel unsafe and marginalized politically. We spoke to him earlier this week.
What are your feelings on how the mayoral campaign is being conducted, as far as the variety of issues being discussed?
It seems to me there are a lot of big issues that are driving the conversations, namely transit. I'm glad that's a priority, but often these debates are getting bogged down into conversations about taxing and spending and saving money. I think all of us, not just politicians, underestimate how much people are concerned about other things. So, I think the purpose of Real City Matters and what I do with Policing Literacy Initiative is to draw attention to issues that sometimes are on the periphery.
What issues are you talking about?
Equality issues and how diversity is experienced in the city. Fortunately the transit debate has served as an umbrella for a lot of things. There are neighbourhoods that are disenfranchised, because of their distance from public transit. So, discussing access to transit becomes one way of exploring inequality.
The Policing Literacy Initiative, which you've spearheaded, is about bringing new ideas and diverse perspectives to improve police services in the city, and to address such issues as racial profiling. Do you feel progress is being made in those areas?
Absolutely. I spoke at the TEDx Toronto Conference last week about the Policing Literacy Initiative, and there were 1,100 people there. There's an appetite for exploring some of these issues that are hard for people to talk about. I think generally that since the Toronto Star got access to the data on who was being stopped by police, we've seen a gradual change away from racial profiling and equality and diversity issues eing peripheral issues that people only talk about in community centres. Now you get a mainstream audience when you host an event.
What's your general message?
What I want to deal with is that pessimism that something can actually be changed. For someone like me, who grew up with a very cynical view of law enforcement, what does it mean to persevere through that and struggle toward optimism? Where you believe in and see evidence of real political engagement that leads to a change in the issues that you are affected by. Policing is a good example, because it does affect people in low income neighbourhoods and it does affect people of different backgrounds. But it's not unique to that. There are a lot of issues where people feel like the political process doesn't work for them, and that they feel they've been silenced.
So, it's about changing that perception?
It absolutely is. It's a two-step process, and the first part of it is building a community that is receptive. Real City Matters is a good example of this. You're coming to an event with a panel of people, an organizing team and an audience that are all looking to engage with issues that aren't getting the attention they deserve. There's something critical to democracy about that. People need to feel that others are receptive to their lived experience. Just knowing that goes a long way.
Real City Matters, Oct. 14 and 21, 7 p.m., free, Revival Bar, 783 College St., torontoist.com/realcitymatters.