1. New York, New York
Why are Halifax Police marching in solidarity with one of the most violent and racist police forces in the United States?
Last Sunday, Toronto police, requested not to march in uniform in Toronto Pride, went to New York and marched in uniform in their Pride parade.
The move backfired.
Black Lives Matter NYC promptly released a statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto and called for uniformed New York police to be removed from Pride:
As many people in NYC fawn over the NYPD’s participation in Pride events, we cannot forget the dangers that one of the biggest military forces poses to Black communities. In standing with BLM-Toronto, we must call to awareness the hyper-militarization of local police. Along with such awareness, we must stomach the death of Mx Bostick; a Black trans woman murdered here in NYC this past spring. We must acknowledge the daily taunting and threat to trans women of color as they ride the train. We must remember that Islan Nettles’ head was bashed into the sidewalk just outside of the PSA 6 Precinct in Harlem after a coward realized she was a trans woman.
We know that 92% of those arrested for fare beating are Black & Brown folks, and we have accounts of how trans women, who are among the most impoverished communities, are treated by the NYPD for something as simple as not having $2.75 for public transportation…We connect the increase in violence against trans women of color to the deaths of Black immigrants like David Felix, murdered by an NYPD detective and his body not claimed for 21 days. We see all of those issues, happening here locally, as a reflection of the racist, transphobic, and homophobic rhetoric we have spewing from those as high up as the White House.
The Pride parade in both cities took place as the inquest into the death of Andrew Loku was taking place. His killing was ruled a homicide on Friday.
The inquest under Dr. John Carlisle heard how six people had interacted with Loku, whom neighbours described as a sweet man, in the run-up to the shooting.
They said they had been able to calm him down and he was on the verge of giving up the hammer he was holding when police — responding to a 911 call about a drunk, angry man — raced into his apartment building and confronted him.
Within about 20 seconds of their arrival, Const. Andrew Doyle fired twice, hitting Loku on the left side of the chest. Doyle testified he fired because he feared for his life when Loku, hammer raised, started walking towards him and his partner in a hallway.
Shime, however, argued the officers panicked, in part because Loku was black.
“I don’t think Andrew needed to die,” Shime said. “There were a number of failings with respect to the training and the handling of this situation that precipitated his death.”
In an inquest setting, the term homicide is used when jurors find a person has killed another. It is a neutral term that does not reflect culpability or blame.
Ontario’s police watchdog found that Doyle, who admitted to having almost no experience interacting with black men, was justified in his use of force and no criminal charges were laid.
Among the recommendations the jury made was one to have police measure the effectiveness of training related to “anti-black racism and persons in crisis” by way of written and oral examinations. Officers should also be tested for implicit racial bias, the jury said.
As Toronto organizer Rodney Diverlus made clear following the Toronto Pride parade:
“Our police can’t just escape us and [hope] that they’re not going to be held accountable. Folks in Black Lives Matter New York reminded Toronto police that no matter where they go black people will resist them. We know where you are. We know what you’ve done.”
According to this article in the Toronto Sun, Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack indicated that Halifax police were also present in New York:
He said four uniformed officers from Halifax (that city’s Pride parade has also banned cops from marching) will also join the Toronto contingent.
The participation of Halifax officers is confirmed by an article in the Chronicle Herald on May 24th, where Chief Blais described the invitation as “unique and generous” and said officers were welcome to attend if they wanted to.
At the same time as Blais spoke about the importance of “allyship,” of “stepping back for a while” from the parade to build relationships, and the “multigenerational harm” caused by historic police mistreatment of the gay community, he apparently didn’t consider what it might mean to Black people for the Halifax police to ally with the NYPD.
Toronto activists described the participation of the Toronto Police in New York Pride as a “slap in the face.” As communities fight for justice and try to end racist, transphobic, and homophobic policing, when officers evade those communities by marching elsewhere, it sends the message that the police don’t care about Black communities, and worse, that the police have no interest in respecting or listening to Black communities; that they have contempt for Black lives.
Like the Toronto Police, the Halifax Regional Police are also currently being held accountable by the Black community for racial profiling and bias. Evidence released by CBC in January showed that Black people are three times more likely to be stopped by the police.
Unlike in Toronto, the Halifax Regional Police voluntarily removed themselves from Pride, and were praised for their “proactive” and “community-minded” decision.
Members of the police force took to social media following Chief Blais’ decision to share fake memes and voice their displeasure with the decision.
The participation of Halifax police in the New York Pride parade alongside the Toronto officers raises a number of questions.
As in Toronto, Halifax police are welcome to participate in the Pride parade in Halifax, just not in uniform. If Halifax police, like their Toronto colleagues, marched in New York in uniform, the move suggests that members of the force are not interested in attempts to build more positive relationships with the LGBTQ2S+ community, particularly with Trans and Black, Indigenous and POC (BIPOC) members. As Blais acknowledged in a statement released at the time of the police withdrawal:
“We recognized that our participation in the parade may contribute to divisions in the LGBT2Q+ community, which is contrary to our intent of building a strong and sustainable relationship.”
What is more divisive than showing solidarity with U.S. police at a time when those police are shooting hundreds of Black people and getting away with it?
And given the open and public hostility of the Toronto police to Black Lives Matter and their willingness to stoke wider anger against Black people, the choice of the Halifax police to choose solidarity with their colleagues over responsibility to their own communities sends a worrying and threatening message to Black people living in Halifax.
If the Halifax police are not only unwilling to listen to the Black community, but are also willing to march beside a force described as “hyper militarized” and “dangerous,” what hope is there that these same police will be able to change police cultures or address their own racial biases?
So far, the police have resisted acknowledging that street checks are fuelled by racial bias, that they result from institutional racism, or the traumatizing impact they have on Black youth and Black communities. As the Human Rights Commission derails police accountability by investigating whether racial profiling should be considered racist, Halifax police are apparently busy making it clear that we should probably stop giving them the benefit of the doubt and accept that they are not only engaged in racist practices at home, but they are also willing to travel to stand with other, even more racist police forces.
Despite touting racial bias testing and diversity training that we are supposed to believe eliminates racism from policing, I would suggest that our police are publicly failing a very obvious test of racial bias — their support for fellow officers accused of killing Black people.
Chief Blais has frequently asserted that, unlike the United States, or unlike Toronto, Halifax police don’t have a history of police violence against Black people:
“We recognize the issues that occurred in Toronto are in Toronto. … Some of the other issues we recognize is that there has been charges levelled that there has been a history of brutality, a history of crimes by police against this community, when, in fact, there hasn’t been that history.”
Well, they’re in Toronto until you march beside a Toronto police force being protested for the murder of Black people. Then you bring those issues to us.
If you narrowly define “a history of crimes” as only police shootings and ignore active racial profiling, human rights judgements against the police force, use of excessive force, racism against their own Black members, the complicity of the police in historical oppression and violence (such as their role in Africville) etc. etc., then the Halifax police might possibly be able to claim “it’s not like that here,” but the actions of officers make it clear that at least some members of the Halifax Police are in full solidarity with police forces that are shooting and killing Black people.
It may not “be like the United States” here, but when your officers cross the border to march beside a police force renowned for their racist violence, they sure seem to be making it known that they support these actions, and that perhaps they wish they could be a little more like that here too.
Blais has spoken about the impact that publicity around shootings in the U.S. has on police forces in Canada:
We in Canada have often lived under the long shadow of America. Particular to the U.S. experience, the events in these cities have underscored the challenges that police there and in the entire United States have had to deal with.
But it also speaks to the challenges that we have here in Canada as people try to link the two together as a result of that interconnectedness through social media.
This is what I term the Ferguson Effect.
Whereas in the U.S. the Ferguson Effect refers to the reticence that some police officers may have dealing with certain citizens for fear of being labelled a racist, for me the Ferguson Effect essentially means that what happens there matters here.
That some event, as isolated as it is to a specific faraway place, has a direct or indirect correlation here in Halifax — be it a visceral reaction, a call to action or a genuine desire to make changes. These events oftentimes affect the trust that we, as a police service, have or don’t have.
What is the “NYPD effect” then, when police tell us we don’t experience police violence, and then link themselves together with violent forces in the name of Pride?
It’s notable that while the Halifax Regional Police have expressed condolences for police officers killed in the United States, they have never publicly condemned police shootings of Black people or expressed any outrage when police officers are acquitted in shootings.
If we have a police force that can’t bring itself to acknowledge that shooting Black children is wrong or that shooting Black teenagers in the back and then hiding the evidence and lying is appalling, then what are we to think when officers indicate that they prioritize marching with U.S. police over relationships with Black people in their home communities? They can’t say that they oppose officers killing Black people and getting off, but they can indicate that they oppose us.
It’s particularly “bad optics” (as they say) when the Halifax police, being rightly challenged about racial profiling, march alongside the police force who are known for racist stop-and-frisk policies (imported into Halifax as street checks).
Here is a partial list from 2014 of some of the Black people killed by the NYPD. In addition, the NYPD have faced sexual assault charges, corruption scandals, racial wrongful convictions (including the Central Park 5), and numerous other scandals.
Do the Halifax Regional Police support the killing of Black people by the NYPD? Did they use their time in New York to condemn racist shootings?
It’s funny how if a Black person commits a crime, the whole community is held responsible, and we are asked to hold meetings and marches and speak out about the violence, but when police are responsible for Black deaths, their colleagues not only don’t have to say anything, they can march beside them, yet still complain about “not all cops” when people try to address systemic racism and police violence.
Should it be at all surprising that Black people, and particularly Black Trans people, feel threatened by these police marching alongside us in parades when they openly side with racist police who kill Black people, and side with them against the safety of Black people in their own communities? If anything, officers from the Halifax Regional Police travelling to New York to march with the NYPD should make it even more clear exactly why people are scared of the police, and why we have good reason to feel terrorized.
Canadian police forces like the Halifax Regional Police want to take credit for it “not being like the United States” and deny Black resistance and protest by claiming that we have no reason to feel the police are racist. They want to march in the United States and be cheered by crowds who presumably buy into mythologies of Canada as not racist and who imagine that our police forces aren’t anti-Black like theirs.
They want to benefit from this pretence that racism doesn’t exist in Canada at the same time as they evade any accountability to their own communities, and show no willingness to address racial profiling or any histories of police oppression. And at the same time as they claim that any charges of anti-Blackness are a fiction and they couldn’t possibly be racist, they want to stoke public anger against Black people, and ally with police forces who are being condemned in their own communities for racist violence. They are happy to fan the flames against Black activists by claiming they are unfairly excluded and persecuted, while making their contempt for Black people and their support for racist police practices known.
Will the moderate police officers speak out? Will the police community condemn the racist practices of the NYPD? Or does this indicate that Halifax Police support the police shootings of Black people in the United States?
And is it more important to the Halifax police to march in uniform in Pride, no matter where, and no matter in what company, and no matter what the message sent, than it is to listen to the LGBTQ2S community and Black people and try to build “sustainable” relationships?
If the police claim to be “stepping back” from Pride only to go and march elsewhere, what faith are we supposed to have that any commitments the police make to the Black community to address racism are serious, and not just lip service to give cover while they continue racist practices behind our backs and where we’re not watching?
If Pride is only a stage for the police to assert themselves, then it seems that rather than celebrating the gay community or symbolizing inclusion and progress, Pride for the police is only about another show of force.
When the police use Pride to stand with the killers of Black people, then communities are right to ask them not to be present until they can stand with oppressed communities instead.
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