By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 4, 2020.
and Jason Laurendeau
Once again, there is violence in the streets in many American cities. And once again, it is the usual suspects. Meanwhile, those charged with protecting their communities, those who have seen enough of this thuggery, are rallying in the streets, insisting that Black Lives Matter, and that the police be held accountable for murder. And they are doing so knowing that they are putting lives at risk by taking to the streets in the middle of a pandemic. But they are fighting for their lives and their communities. Perhaps, however, we need to back up a bitÉ
Many readers will have grown up understanding the police as a force for good, as the people you could trust if you were worried, scared, or in danger. But we must understand that historically, that has not been true for everyone. Historically, in both the U.S. and Canada, police have been a force that protects property, not (all) people. They have been a force that divides, one that sees some as suspicious based on assumptions about whether someone that looks a certain way belongs in a certain neighbourhood – indeed, we heard this from the former Police Chief in Lethbridge. They have been a force that has torn children from parents to put them in residential schools. A force that disproportionately stops, questions, arrests and charges Black and Indigenous people, and other people of colour. A force that somehow finds ways to de-escalate situations with even armed white suspects, and yet too often fails to find ways to peacefully engage with unarmed Black folks. >
It is as part of this history that we must understand the kind of blatant police brutality the world witnessed on May 25: the violent murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. This form of blatant cruelty is not new – Floyd’s death has sparked nationwide protests not because it is unusual, but because it was caught on video and is but the latest example of an unarmed Black person being killed by those charged with law enforcement. This kind of violence – foreign to many readers but all too familiar to Black people and communities – stands to remind Black people that their lives do not matter, just as they did not matter during slavery and the Jim Crow era. What lynching, a practice of public execution, was to Black people during the Jim Crow era, police killing of Black people is today, in this era of mass incarceration. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. David McAtee. And too many more lives and loved ones lost. >
And as the hashtag highlighted this past weekend, “meanwhile, in CanadaÉ” Meanwhile, in Canada: Regis Korchinski-Paquet. D’Andre Campbell. Machuar Madut. All dead after encounters with Canadian police forces. And again, they are among too many racialized folks whose lives have ended in this way. Canada, like the U.S., has a long history of police violence disproportionately directed against Black people and communities, as well as Indigenous peoples and other people of colour. >For example, recent data indicate that while members of the Black community represent only 3.4 per cent of the Canadian population, they constitute nine per cent of the victims in fatal police interactions.
As the mainstream media tells all of us, we are in an extraordinary moment including “looting” and “violent unrest.” But who, exactly, is being violent? And what, exactly, does “looting” mean in a country literally founded by stealing land? What does it mean to refer to protesters fighting for their lives as looters, while celebrating those who profit from the exploitation of those same lives by paying them less than a living wage to cut our meat, to ship our online purchases to our homes, and to be more at risk for exposure to COVID-19 than those of us who wait in our comfortable homes for our purchases?
In a different register, we might ask what it means to think of the safety of our communities in terms of law and order. We might define safety, or perhaps better yet, the well-being of our communities, in other terms. Instead of investing most of our property taxes in police “services,” perhaps we should follow the advice of activists, journalists and authors like Sandy Hudson or Desmond Cole and invest, instead, in community supports and services. Instead of investing in a force designed to arrest offenders (a symptom of a broken system), perhaps instead we should treat the causes: record levels of social inequality, lack of access to housing, quality food and mental health supports, for example. Perhaps, in such a world, society would respond to a mental health crisis with support rather than force, and a woman would not fall 24 floors to her death. Perhaps, in such a world, we might work towards reducing social inequalities rather than responding with force to those fighting for justice in their communities. If we think in terms of investing in our communities rather than policing them, not only will we better serve marginalized peoples and communities, but we might work towards redefining community itself.
Ibrahim Turay is an instructor at Lethbridge College, School of Justice Studies, and a Ph.D. student in the Cultural, Social & Political Thought program at the University of Lethbridge.
Jason Laurendeau is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Lethbridge.