August 4, 2020

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Time to fix broken police system

Opinion

The past three months has revealed incredible evidence of police violence against Indigenous peoples.

Three were shot and killed by Winnipeg police in 10 days: on April 8, there was 16-year-old Eishia Hudson; on April 9, Jason Collins; on April 18, Stewart Andrews.

On June 1, an RCMP officer used a police truck to knock over what police later called "an extremely intoxicated" Inuk man in Kinngait, Nunavut.

Once the staggering man was down, five RCMP officers surround him and several pile on — even as he shows little sign of resistance and nearby community members beg them to stop.

On June 4, during a "wellness check" by officers from the Edmundston Police Force in New Brunswick, a cop shot 26-year-old Chantel Moore, after she allegedly approached with a knife. Police officials admit non-lethal force "was not attempted;" Moore’s family dispute the police account.

This week, a 12-minute dash-cam video surfaced from Fort McMurray, Alta., featuring Wood Buffalo RCMP aggressively arresting Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in March over an expired licence plate.

This is not the case of one "bad officer" this is a broken system that produces and protects bad officers.

In the video, while Adam is confronting one officer over being stopped, another blindsides him (with what Adam called it a "WWE clothesline"), causing him to suffer head lacerations and reportedly go in and out of consciousness.

It’s clear throughout the video Adam does not provoke the attack, and resists only to protect himself. Still, RCMP charged Adam with one count of resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer.

A later RCMP review of the incident concluded the arresting officers' actions were reasonable, "and did not meet the threshold for an external investigation."

Confronted with the video this week, Alberta RCMP deputy commissioner Curtis Zablocki told media there was no systemic racism in policing in Canada.

Later, responding to backlash and calls for his resignation, Zablocki reversed this claim, stating "racist individuals" can be anywhere in society.

On Thursday, local police abolitionist group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm released a short witness video, showing city officers surrounding, kicking and kneeing Flinn Dorian, an Indigenous man, during an arrest in the Exchange District. In the video, Dorian is clearly in distress.

At a news conference Friday, Winnipeg police showed a much longer video to "give context" to officer actions. Police officials claim "the man appeared to be on methamphetamine," was damaging property, "brandished a handgun, terrifying pedestrians and resulting in multiple calls to 911," and had other weapons on him. (The gun was an airsoft replica.)

Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth added he has "reached out to Indigenous leaders" to discuss the arrest — but didn’t say who.

Thousands of people marched in Winnipeg on June 5 to protest police brutality. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Thousands of people marched in Winnipeg on June 5 to protest police brutality. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

It’s clear police from coast to coast are resorting to an incredible and deadly amount of violence when it comes to dealing with Indigenous peoples.

The one thing that ties all of these instances together are there are witnesses and video recordings. So, these are just the instances the public hears about.

There’s more: talk to any Black, Indigenous or LGBTTQ* person.

This is not the case of one "bad officer" this is a broken system that produces and protects bad officers.

It’s also the case of a society that demands too much of police.

As emergency rooms are closed, libraries are cut off from the public, and money for social services is funnelled from poverty-stricken areas of the city — all of which has happened under the current civic and provincial administrations — police are left to deal with the outcome.

During any one shift, an officer is expected to do multiple jobs, most of which they are completely incapable of fulfilling.

One is being a social worker, helping people get out of unsafe situations or obtain necessities. Another is crisis worker, dealing with legacies with long histories and far-past reconciliation. Another is historian, understanding anyone who shows up wearing a badge in many communities are often not greeted as helpers but harmers.

Police forces are creations of society. The past three months has proven defunding the police has to happen.

Defunding the police, of course, doesn’t mean no police. It means asking police to do the jobs they were meant to do: peace-keep, protect, and provide help to those who need it.

It also means equipping them with the proper tools necessary to do that work. This is more than just the inclusion of officers of colour, but training, equipping, and supporting all police to be competent in the situations they enter.

It means taking the racism out of the police.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Friday, June 12, 2020 at 7:36 PM CDT: Updates photo

9:21 PM: Updates story.

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