After reading Bashir Mohamed’s thread on Twitter and watching a City News report on these yellow BOLO billboards in Edmonton (my city) that appear to put a bounty on people wanted in connection with a crime. The report showed a reward of $50,000 for Amin Yussuf. After some additional research, I’ve reached out to members of City Council and asked that we put a stop to this program in Edmonton.
While I agree it can be beneficial to enlist the public’s help in identifying the whereabouts of these people, my concern stems from the fact that these billboards contribute to the perpetuation of the stereotype, suspicion, and fear of men of colour as violent offenders. Specific to this one billboard in a post on Facebook, I am appalled by the racism, hatred, and hysteria on display in the comments. It’s easy to say “Don’t read the comments” but that‘s willfully turning a blind-eye to the messages people of colour hear everyday.
The argument that these billboards increase the chance of apprehending a suspect is flawed. BOLO effectively states in their Annual Report that their definition of “mission accomplished” is to generate views, engagements, and impressions on social media. The one person “captured” (BOLO’s term) for a Toronto crime was apprehended in Texas with help from the US Marshall Service (a law enforcement agency Canada already shares information with). It’s misleading to say this program increases the safety of anyone when it actually increases fear, racial profiling, and encourages vigilantism.
My questions then are why are we supporting an ineffective program that does more harm than good to the public perception of men of colour? Why are we endorsing a private company putting bounties on Canadians? Why are we choosing to embrace American-style policing when we know the myriad issues associated with that approach?
This doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t work as advertised, and it simply isn’t Edmonton. We need to put an end to these billboards. There’s no place in Edmonton or Canada for them nor for the bounty-hunting encouraged by a private company.