The uprising against systemic racism and police brutality that was sparked by the murder of George Floyd has gone global. And the demands of the demonstrators are coalescing around a single goal: defund the police.
So what does that mean, to ‘defund the police?’
We support this demand and I’d like to explain why we do, and what it is.
Our communities have been under siege by a decades-long program of austerity. Health, education, and community services have been steadily defunded for decades--both to serve the conservative obsession with privatization and to reduce the taxes of the wealthy.
In place of those programs and services we have substituted policing. More and more, the police are handed tasks that were previously handled by social services and civil society.
For years the people who have been harmed by austerity have called for those services and community organizations to be brought back. The knee-jerk response that has always been thrown back is “well, how will we pay for it?” And now folks have found the line item in the budget where all the money is. Did you know that in Edmonton and Calgary, around 15% of the entire municipal budgets are going towards policing? Those two cities alone spend more than $750 million a year on their police departments. Edmonton is planning to spend over $80 million on a single shooting range for its police department. That’s almost eight times the city’s entire annual budget for homelessness and housing.
The proposals to defund police--such as the demands of Black Lives Matter Edmonton, as outlined in their open letter to Edmonton city council which has been sent by more than 10,000 Edmontonians since last Friday--are specific and concrete. They (and we are in complete agreement) would like to see police budgets reduced and for that money to be invested in other things, in the civil society organizations and public institutions that we have been starving of funding for years.
They’re asking for our police to be de-militarized. For our cities to stop spending obscene amounts on war-zone tactical gear, tanks, and helicopters. For the overall size of the police force to be reduced. And with the public funding that we claw back, we can invest in things that actually do promote public safety, and which actually do reduce crime, like housing people who are homeless and lifting up people who are struggling with poverty.
Not everyone agrees on how far this process should go. Some of us feel as though the end goal should be to abolish police and prisons entirely. Others feel as though we’ll always need police of some kind, so we won’t get rid of them entirely. And that’s okay, it’s okay that we haven’t entirely figured out what policing will look like once we have solved all of these problems. But whether you would just like to see the police demilitarized and kept in check, or abolished entirely, there is only one way to get to either of those goals. You defund them. You reduce their budgets and you take that money and you put it back into our communities.
That’s why we have been proud to support Black Lives Matter Edmonton’s call to divest from policing and reinvest in our communities, and we hope to support this movement in other parts of Alberta soon too.
I’ll leave you with these closing words: we owe it to these folks who are standing up to take them seriously. That means not just going with your gut or your knee-jerk reaction. If you sincerely and honestly want to be an ally to our Black and Indigenous friends and neighbors, take the time to actually read their proposals and actually consider the details. Don’t base your judgment on headlines and soundbites. The call to defund the police is bold but it is not impossible. We can have it now, today, if we want it.
In response to Black Lives Matter Edmonton’s letter campaign, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson has announced that the city will be holding public hearings on racism and public safety, date TBD. We’ll keep Edmonton readers up to date on this.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation came forward on Friday with alarming video of an assault, upon him and his wife, by the RCMP on March 10th. His counsel is demanding the immediate release of the RCMP dashcam recordings, but the RCMP has yet to comply. Meanwhile, at a news conference on Monday, Alberta’s RCMP deputy commissioner firmly denied that there is any systemic racism in the RCMP.
While many folks are calling for police budgets to be pared down, the UCP are moving in the other direction--Doug Schweitzer’s Bill 16 aims to change the Victims of Crime Act in order to let the government raid the Victims of Crime Fund and divert money from it to police budgets.
- Jennifer Koshan, Lisa Silver, and Jonnette Watson Hamilton, from the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, argue in a very thorough analysis on the ABLaw blog that the UCP’s anti-protestor legislation, Bill 1, is not only a serious threat to civil rights but likely to cost the province an expensive--and unwinnable--charter challenge. If Bill 1 had already been in force, a number of recent demonstrations would have been illegal, including the Black Lives Matter candlelight vigil in Olympic Plaza and protests by meat-packing plant workers outside the Cargill and JBS plants.
The NDP have put forward a private member’s bill that seeks to undo many of the recent UCP changes to AIMCO and also to prevent the provincial government from ever taking control of Albertans’ CPP. As a private member’s bill, from the opposition party, aiming to completely reverse the government’s agenda, the legislation is likely to fail--unless UCP backbenchers break ranks to support it. If you have a UCP MLA, now is a good time to tell them how you feel about this.
- On May 20, the Alberta Energy Regulator announced that environmental monitoring of nearly all oil and gas sites in Alberta would be suspended until further notice. Athabasca Chipewyan, Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations are now appealing this decision, arguing that the AER’s snap decision violated Alberta’s duty to consult with treaty nations.
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