At this point, we are all aware of what it means to defund the police. It simply means moving money and tasks away from police departments and then funneling that money into new social programs that can properly deal with public health issues. One example of this could be social workers showing up to a mental health crisis.
Protests have erupted throughout Canada and the USA in response to all-to-familiar accounts of police brutality. One would think that maybe the police might start paying attention?
Wrong. They’ll just punch you in the face.
A pattern of violence
That’s what happened to Genesta Garson of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation. Video has recently surfaced of three RCMP officers in the Thompson, Manitoba detachment trying to get Garson into her cell.
While surrounded by three officers she struck one officer with her belt. Without hesitation one of them punched Garson right in the face, knocking her out instantly. Then the officers proceeded to drag Garson on the floor to her cell. And the crime that started all of this? The officers arrested her on the “suspicion of being drunk.”
Or there’s the story of Celine Samuel, 44, from Northlands Denesuline First Nation. She died in a cell in the same detachment in Thompson, Manitoba. Another victim of the province’s Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA), which is used disproportionately against Indigenous people.
Another similar event happened earlier this year. On Thursday, June 4th of this year, Police Officers were sent on a wellness check of a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, Chantel Moore. The result of this ‘wellness check’ was that she was shot and killed by the police.
Clearly, even after protests erupting and calls to defund the police, they are still willing to harm Indigenous people.
A systemic problem
It gets worse, too. The superintendent of Manitoba RCMP, Kevin Lewis, dismissed the violence, saying that the police were simply “reacting to the situation at hand.” When Garson filed a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, police showed up at her home and workplace and pressured her to withdraw the complaint.
There are other ways in which policing has failed Canadians. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry has sharply criticized the RCMP for “rotating their most inexperienced officers in and out of remote Indigenous communities” and that they should “instead find ways to install veteran detectives and specialized Indigenous squads,” for example.
“The continued racism and sexism by many RCMP officers directed at Indigenous Peoples, the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women … have caused many Indigenous Peoples and communities to lose trust and confidence in the Canadian justice system, the RCMP, and police services in general,” according to the report. Consider also that between 2007 and 2017 one third of people killed by police were indigenous. Shifting funding to civilian watchdog groups would be a highly effective measure to provide a counterbalance to often unquestioned police narratives and pressure police to take Indigenous people’s concerns seriously.
There is no doubt that dealing with mental health issues on the spot can be a huge challenge, with split-second decision making and crucial de-escalation tactics needed. That is the point. These challenges require specific training and psychological expertise. The police have 2 major insurmountable problems associated with them: 1 – they are not mental health experts, often with minimal training, and 2 – the mere presence of the police during a mental health crisis can escalate the situation due to perceived hostility of the police toward vulnerable communities.
The idea of redirecting police funds to a new Emergency Crisis Assistance Force is not a new, far fetched idea. In Oregon, the CAHOOTS program has been active since 1989. This program responds to emergency crises such as suicide prevention, conflict resolution and mediation, grief and loss, substance abuse, housing crisis, first aid and emergency care, domestic violence and many more services, free of charge. They respond to roughly 22000 requests annually, making up 20% of all public safety requests in the metropolitan area. This program has been wildly successful and if implemented on a provincial or national scale, could save countless lives and provide effective services that the police simply cannot.
This shift in public safety policy must be done strategically. The last thing Canada needs is to defund policing without having alternative programs in place, leading to a possible power vacuum and ultimately defeating the entire purpose which is public safety. Let’s get to work and build non-authoritarian, non militarized, alternatives to policing. Then we can shift our funding from the police to these new, more effective institutions.