Interest convergence is a Critical Race Theory principle suggesting that social change for minority groups occurs when their interests align with those of the majority. The theory was first coined by Derrick Bell, an American lawyer, theorist and civil rights activist in the 1970s.
I thought of the interest convergence theory recently when I heard a CTV News Montreal report that the Quebec Association of Police Directors (ADPQ) were asking for body cameras, to protect police officers from violent attacks against them by civilians. According to the association’s estimate, nearly 2,300 assaults were committed against Quebec police officers in 2022 which represent an increase of nine percent from the previous year. The report also stated that 581 of those assaults occurred in Montreal. “The ADPQ believes the rise in assaults is linked to an “increase in armed violence and vulnerable clienteles,” as well as the “trivialization of violence on social networks” said the ADPQ director.
But wait a minute. Let’s go back to February 2019, shall we? That year, on the first day of Black History month, and after a 3-year pilot project on the use of body cameras for its front-line officers, the SPVM released its conclusions to Montreal’s public security committee. In essence, the report stated that outfitting officers with body cameras would be too expensive and wouldn’t help build trust with citizens. Furthermore, according to the report, 90% of SPVM officers felt that the cameras were an invasion of their privacy and feared the recordings would be used against them!
Never mind that the racialized community most often victims of police abuse of authority, including racial profiling, had been relentlessly asking for body cameras for SPVM officers. Nope, cameras were deemed too expensive and an infringement of police officers’ privacy!!! Privacy? Privacy to do what? Then came the summer of 2020 and the killing of George Floyd. Feeling the “heat” from racial justice activists, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who in the past had resisted outfitting police officers with body cameras, said the city would adopt them as soon as possible. However, nothing happened.
Nearly a year later, following a video showing an SPVM officer punching a man in the head as several other officers hold him to the ground, true to form, Mayor Plante said she was “shocked” and renewed her calls for bodycams for the police service immediately. The cameras never came.
Then, during the 2021 election period, of course, the Plante administration stated that it aimed to start implementing the roll out of body cameras for the SPVM at the beginning of 2022. No cameras were ever rolled out.
Following the submission of the SPVM evaluation report of 2019, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) conducted a second pilot project on body cameras for all of Quebec police services from April 2021 through to June 2022. Interestingly, the project was conducted in Rimouski, La Vallée-de-l’Or, Beauharnois-Salaberry and Drummondville (not particularly diverse communities) and had 3 objectives: (1) strengthening public confidence in police interventions; (2) increasing transparency of police actions; (3) ensuring respect for citizens’ rights and the safety of police officers in the performance of their duties. That seems fair enough.
The final SQ evaluation report tabled in the fall of 2022 showed overwhelming support (96%) for body-worn cameras by their officers. The report also mentioned that most of the citizens surveyed in those areas have a positive opinion of the police, which is not particularly the case amongst Black and racialized communities! In a statement following that SQ report, the Plante administration “welcomed” the report, adding that they were ready to equip the SPVM with body cameras but were awaiting directions from the province! However, since then, radio silence from every level of government. And still no cameras!
According to the interest convergence theory, racial justice advocates will only be successful when their aim aligns with the needs and desires of privileged White people in society. Through the lens of interest convergence, it looks as though this sudden push by the police services in Quebec to be equipped with body cameras to supposedly protect themselves from “armed vulnerable clientele” who “trivialize violence on social media” (codewords for young Black and Brown men), may end up coinciding with the needs of Black and racialized citizens for more transparent police services in the province.
While all lives matter, do they all really matter equally?
Let’s stay tuned.