Josh is the main author of Northern Currents. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow me on Twitter at @josh_nc.
The Vancouver Police Department released a series of recruitment ads on March 1st. The set of ads had a common theme attempting to showcase who the cops really are. “This is who we are” was the title of each ad.
It turns out that, according to one ad, “who they are” includes wall scaling, armoured vehicle driving, jumping out of helicopters, quasi-military organization. If you didn’t know any better, you would think it was an ad for the army. Nope, it’s an ad for the VPD. Watch below or click here.
What kind of dystopian hellscape future is this? Who would actually want this? And exactly what kind of person are they trying to target with this ad?
Needless to say, there was much pushback on Twitter, and the VPD ended up deleting the tweet, issuing an apology. The apology itself also missed the mark:
The “tactical response” video was not “upsetting for some, particularly during current world events.” The problem with the ad was that it elevated one of the worst parts of policing – the high militarization of the VPD – in a blatant pro-police propaganda campaign.
As Trent Daley recently said here on Northern Currents, the police have a problem.
“It is clear that the systems and leaders have not been listening. Legislation that allows the system to reproduce the same old issues is not going to bring our salvation. Our electoral system chases its own tail, from election to election to election, from coast to coast to coast. Yet, our leaders see systemic racism as an ‘American Problem’ and ignore the many examples of harm here, at home.”
“The land we call Canada cannot commit to reconciliation or a better tomorrow when politicians continue to push platitudes and pepper spray.”
Time for alternatives to policing
On Saturday, Feb 19th in the afternoon, Calgary Police Service shot and killed a Black man experiencing a mental health crisis – the restraint they showed during the Convoy protests & ‘Freedom’ rallies was mysteriously absent. Perhaps Police should not respond to mental health crises. Instead, we should fund & send those qualified to respond. Latjor Tuel’s loss will forever impact his family and the South Sudanese community of Calgary.
“Defund the police” is much more than a slogan chanted at protests. It is a concrete policy proposal that has been implemented to varying degrees in different places.
Put simply, the goal is to remove some funding for the police and redirect that funding to other programs that are more effective at solving the roots of societal problems. These programs must be non-authoritarian, non-militarized, and must incorporate the ideals of direct democratic control, to the greatest extent possible.
For more info about #DefundThePolice, read one of my previous articles: Let’s defund the Police in Canada too. But what does that mean?
Sandy Hudson, a founder of Black Lives Matter – Toronto and co-founder of the Black Liberation Collective, demonstrate how racial attitudes toward policing are different, even here in Canada:
Black communities interact with police regularly because we live in neighborhoods police target. We are experts in the ways that police can brutalize and inflict violence upon us. Their presence is no assurance of safety in Black communities. This is often true for Indigenous communities and communities living in poverty as well.
There are other communities who do not interact with police regularly. Wealthier, non-Black, non-Indigenous, privileged communities tend to feel safe because they have a rarely used option to call the police when they feel their safety is threatened. But, they are generally not interacting with police; their communities are not policed in the same way, and they are not targeted for criminalization.
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.
What is clear to me is that Canada does not need a highly militarized police force to guarantee public safety. In fact, the police may actually make things worse in certain situations. We need new democratic and empowering alternatives. This includes a broad range of responses: Everything from crisis response teams, better mental health programs, improved work/life balance, affordable housing, safe supply and legalization of drugs, and anything else that strikes at the root of crime.