Toronto police think this “preppy” bank robber is just “down on his luck” and you’ll never guess his race

At a press conference on Tuesday, Toronto police announced they were searching for a robber politely dubbed the “Lunchtime Bandit” for his tendency to show up to banks promptly at 1 p.m. The Lunchtime Bandit has robbed five banks since late November. At four out of five of the banks he victimized, he slipped bank tellers “well-written” notes with “proper grammar” demanding cash and claiming he had a gun, which apparently led the police to call him a “preppy” bank robber just “down on his luck.” So, surely you can guess his race, at this point. Yup, he’s white.

“Maybe he has never been in trouble before,” Toronto Staff Inspector Mike Earl said at a news conference Tuesday. “Maybe he is an educated individual that is down and out and this is his only hope to get some type of money.” Earl additionally described the Lunchtime Bandit as “clean-cut” and spoke of him in unsettlingly sympathetic terms. Earlier this year, Toronto police certainly did not sympathize with a man who also robbed a string of banks and was neither “clean-cut” nor white.

The Toronto Police’s portrayal of the “preppy” white robber reflects a common phenomenon of white privilege in law enforcement. White offenders, as demonstrated by this case, tend to receive lighter treatment — from shorter sentences to more sympathetic portrayals in the media — and are less likely to be targeted in the first place, as they don’t fit the stereotypical, racist model of what society has conditioned us to believe criminals looks like (read: anyone with darker skin).

Canadian police have far fewer cases of recorded instances of racially charged police brutality, but in America, there is a very clear double standard in how individuals are treated and portrayed by police and media based on race in both countries. This double standard is only magnified by Canadian law enforcement’s sympathy for a well-dressed, educated, “preppy” white robber. Racial discrimination knows no borders.

First and foremost, in the policing of drug crimes, officers disproportionately search low-income communities of color, which certainly explains why arrests and harsh sentences (often substantially longer than those faced by wealthy white drug offenders) tend to disproportionately affect poor men of color.

One 2015 study by Media Matters further exposes how the media disproportionately emphasizes crime by people of color, conditioning society to believe criminals are people of color and be more dismissive of white criminals, as the Toronto police were. According to the study’s findings, the suspects in major broadcast news stations’ coverage of murders between Aug. 18 and Dec. 31, 2014 were 74 percent African-American, 84 percent African-American in coverage of thefts, and 73 percent African-American in coverage of assaults, despite how African-American suspects were arrested in just 54 percent of murders, 55 percent of thefts, and 49 percent of assaults.

The above tweet additionally shows how the media never cedes an opportunity to nail the criminal image to people of color, not only through the words used to describe suspects, but also the pictures that represent them. In the above tweet, white suspects have the privilege of prestigious university photos of them being shared by media, while black suspects’ mugshots are shared, offering very one-dimensional representation that serves to reinforce stigma and societal perceptions of criminals as people of color. Brock Turner’s mugshots were not released to the public for months, and Turner was popularly referred to as the “Stanford swimmer” rather than the “Stanford rapist,” which many understood as the result of white privilege.

In 2015, Sarah Furay, a white female teenager who sold Ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and LSD in Texas, left jail on $39,000 bail and was dubbed “photogenic” and “adorable” by media, while police in Waller County, Texas highly publicized the small amount of marijuana in Sandra Bland’s body after she was found dead in her jail cell. Bland, an African-American woman, was pulled over for a routine traffic stop and attacked and arrested by a police officer for her reluctance to get out of her car. Publicizing the small amount of marijuana in her system was a transparent attempt by law enforcement to offer the media an attack on her character and tarnish public opinion of her.

Sure, it could be argued that maybe Toronto police are just sympathetic of people they perceive as “down on their luck.” But if that’s really the case, find me one example of a black man in a hoodie who’s successfully robbed five banks portrayed as anything but a threatening criminal. Given the police’s emphasis on the robber’s groomed looks and apparent level of education, it seems more likely they’re giving him a pass because he doesn’t seem “dangerous” (read: isn’t a minority and doesn’t come across as “street”). At the end of the day, this really just appears to be a classic case of law enforcement and media offering preferential treatment to wealthy white people.