January 17th, 2021

Radical change needed, activist tells SACPA

By Jensen, Randy on June 13, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


Canadian author and activist Desmond Cole spoke on Friday with the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs in a YouTube livestream event about the Black Lives Matter movement, and recent calls to defund police agencies across North America in wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hand of officers in the Minneapolis Police Department.

Cole did not stint on his criticism of police forces as institutions founded, in his opinion, on colonialist ideas of the superiority of the White race, and as perpetuators of the ongoing system of racism which continues to exist in Canada today.

“We see a policing system in places like Lethbridge that is nine times more likely to stop a Black person than a White person,” he explained, using the local example of carding. “And five times more likely in Lethbridge to stop an Indigenous person than a White person. Not stopping them because they are committing a crime, but just because the state wants to hassle them, intimidate them, and take their information so it can keep tabs on them and control people with this collection of information and this fear-based policing.”

He also pointed to recent high-profile incidents of police violence in Canada this year like the police shooting death of D’Andre Campbell on a streetcar in Toronto, the beating of Chief Allen Adam by RCMP officers in Wood Buffalo and the shooting death of Indigenous woman Chantel Moore in New Brunswick by RCMP officers who were supposedly there to do a wellness check.

“It was a wellness check at the barrel of a gun, and this kind of behaviour has been normalized in Canada,” said Cole. “Responding to people in mental health crisis at the barrel of a gun has become the rational and normal thing to do. Responding to noise complaints in communities has become a rational and normal police response. These are the most violent responses people can conceive, but in the White settler imagination has tricked you into believing that responding in these violent and militaristic ways is normal. It is not normal.”

Cole advocated for funding to be taken away from police forces and instead spent on crisis intervention workers and more mental health services for people in communities. He also advocated for all street-level officers to have their firearms taken away, and for only allowing trained specialists on police forces to respond with deadly weapons when there was clearly no other choice.

“Do you really believe the only reason people behave is because the police can come and kill them? ” he asked. “Or the police can come and take them into prison, and take away their freedom? Is your society truly being held together by the threat of punishment, loss of liberty and death? If that is the method to keep yourself safe, you need to re-evaluate your society. That is what we are talking about when we talk about police abolition. Because my safety matters just as much as anybody else’s.”

“Defunding the police,” he added; “that is taking money out of police budgets and reinvesting it into the kinds of health and services I am telling you about that is a means of abolition.”

Cole said the change must be radical, and the “White supremacist” system which underpins Canadian society must be completely uprooted.

“There are no compromises for our liberation,” he said. “Our liberation is not going to come incrementally when White people are ready to take their knee off our neck. It has to come now, and it has to come by getting to the root of the issue. If someone is beating you up with a stick, you don’t say ‘let me give you training on how to use that stick differently.’ You don’t say ‘let me put a camera on you so I can watch how you beat people with that stick.’ You take the stick away.”

During his talk Cole stated the sight of a burning police station in Minneapolis during a George Floyd protest was “the most hopeful image” that has been broadcast on television in his lifetime, which he explained in the context of the ongoing racial oppression he as a Black man continually deals with in Canada at the hands of the police.

When asked if violence did not just invite more violence? And how he could justify street violence in response to police violence, Cole stated the two types of violence were not equivalent in his mind.

“The murder of Black and Indigenous people being equated with the smashing of a window or the burning of a building, how dare any person in this society equate those two things? If you think people responding to a murder is the same thing as the murder itself, you need to re-examine the priorities. If it weren’t for that response, the murderer of George Floyd would still be free even when the district attorney had all the evidence necessary to charge (the officer) and his colleagues. They thought they were going to get away with another murder. People in Minneapolis said, ‘Not this time.'”

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the wood buffalo incident, well documented and available for all to see, is not a great example of profiling or racism practiced by cops. time again the “victim” challenged the officer, was entirely disrespectful – shamefully so – uncouth and vulgar. he could have accepted the warning or ticket for the missing plate sticker, but decided to grandstand and crate an issue where there really was none. the initial officer conducted himself very well, and i am no fan of cops. could the chief have just stayed in the truck and shut his foolish mouth? no, he had to exit several times and behave like a low life.
however, the second cop arriving was well out of hand; there was no need for the hero tackle and punching. that needs to be investigated and the officer may likely require appropriate disciplinary measures.
the point is, had the chief not chosen to behave as crassly and stupidly as he did, there would have been no greater issue; he and the second cop each have played a contributing role in this sordid affair, and one would expect more from an officer of the law, and from a leader.