1. Police violence
Stephen Kimber speaks to white people:
Still, we — white people again — are at least in a more honest place today than where we were before May 25 when a Minneapolis cop named Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck and squeezed the life out of him.
The real question is what are we prepared to do with this new awareness?
What will we do, for example, to hold our public officials (mayor and city council, police commission, police chief), as well as private businesses (Walmart), accountable for the lack of official accountability to date in the case of Santina Rao?
And once we get answers to what happened to Santina Rao, we could move on to the case of the 15-year-old Bedford boy who claims he was racially profiled and then roughed up by police outside a shopping mall in February, and the more recent case of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the Toronto woman with Nova Scotia connections who “fell to her death after an interaction with Toronto police,” and the still more recent case of Chantel Moore, the indigenous woman who died last week during a police “wellness check,” and then …
We white people have some work to do.
2. Defund police
“Calls for police accountability and even abolition have been growing,” points out Harry Critchley, but here in Halifax, councillors are not responding:
The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) council had originally proposed $5.5 million in cuts to the Halifax Regional Police Department (HRPD) budget, accounting for a little over 6% of the department’s total budget — an amount that Chief Dan Kinsella said was workable operationally.
However, when the HRM Budget Committee revisited this proposed cut on March 26, it voted to reduce it from $5.5 to 3.5 million… from the time Councillor Tony Mancini introduced the motion, it took less than six minutes for the Budget Committee to decide to amend the cut by over $2 million. Additionally, many of the councillors seem to vie with one another to see who can be more in favour of the police, with for example, Councillor Steve Adams noting at one point that under normal circumstances he would never support a cut to the police budget.
So, before you go and like Mayor Savage’s tweet calling anti-Black racism #inexcusable, or that picture of him kneeling at Monday’s protest, remember that neither he nor the rest of the city council thought twice before adding $2 million back into the HRP’s budget during the single largest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
For many people, defunding police is simply unthinkable — it’s not an option that has any purchase at all in their world view, a nonstarter.
I can relate. I had much the same thought process when it came to prisons. I was a reformer: surely, we can make this situation better, improve conditions, implement programming to help prisoners when they are released, and so forth. But doing away with prisons completely? Inconceivable. A non-starter.
But then thanks to mostly to watching and reading El Jones, I ran the mental exercise: What would a world without prisons look like? What if tossing someone in jail simply wasn’t an option? Note I wasn’t thinking, What if prison isn’t the best option, but rather, What if it weren’t a possibility at all?
In such a world, we would take a bunch of different approaches to addressing crime. We would better recognize and better address issues of poverty, mental health, and community inclusion. We would see that most of the truly dangerous people are young men under 30, and specifically target that demographic for social interventions to help them become valued members of society. We would provide better supports for people addicted to drugs and alcohol, and for programs addressing domestic violence. In the courts, we would fully value restorative justice.
As I ran my thought experiment, I began to see that when you have a bunch of hammers sitting around — cops and prisons — everything looks like a nail, and those hammers become the go-to solution for most everything.
I think in the end, there is a necessity for putting some few people in a form of state custody — I don’t want the Russell Williams and Paul Bernardos of the world set free — but once I realized that the vast, vast majority of people in prisons don’t need to be there, I realized that the remnant custodial institutions needed to protect us from the unreformably awful need not look anything like the warehouse prisons we now use.
And I started thinking about how prisons create an us–them duality, pitting the state against a segment of the population, and that will necessarily reflect the racist underpinnings of society. It occurred to me that we can’t have policing, courts, and prisons that aren’t racist, because that’s who we are, and doubling down on the tools of racism doesn’t do anything to address that underlying reality.
Running the thought experiment changed my world view.
So what about police? What would it look like were police simply not an option?
The question is contrary to the prevailing attitude. In fact, we increasingly have placed more, not less emphasis on police. I remember a few years ago there was a successful recreation program aimed at marginalized communities, which was shifted out of the recreation budget and into the police budget because “it better fits the public safety mandate” or some such bureaucratese.
Even crossing guards fall under the police budget, because they’re providing “public safety.” By that logic, the street light budget should be under the police budget. Or the entire road budget.
And we’re buying the police department a tank.
Moreover, as Critchely points out, politicians trip over themselves praising and coddling the police, vying for who can be seen as most “pro-police.” I don’t blame them, really: that’s where the votes are.
But again, let’s run the thought experiment: what if police weren’t an option? What if all those hammers weren’t around? What would we do?
I think we’d do many of the same things we’d do if there weren’t prisons, but additionally, we’d probably quickly realize that when people are in mental health crises, experiencing overdoses or addiction problems, or simply in need of well-being checks, we could respond by sending people who are trained in those areas, and not armed cops. Instead of tossing people in the drunk tank, we can have sobriety centres where their actual medical situation is addressed. We can teach deescalation techniques in schools. And so much more.
Defunding police isn’t so much being opposed to police as it is reimagining our world.
3. The body-worn camera fallacy
One recurring argument I’m having on Twitter is over body-worn cameras (BWC). Lots and lots of people think the solution to police violence is to put cameras on every cop. It’s simplistic thinking, and won’t address the problem.
First, do body-worn cameras even work? Probably not. A team of researchers from Yale University and the Metropolitan Police Force conducted a randomized-controlled trial among 2,200 cops in the Washington, D.C. police force; half were provided cameras and the training to use them, while the other half were the control group. The finding:
We are unable to detect any statistically significant effects. As such, our experiment suggests that we should recalibrate our expectations of BWCs. Law enforcement agencies (particularly in contexts similar to Washington, DC) that are considering adopting BWCs should not expect dramatic reductions in use of force or complaints, or other large-scale shifts in police behavior, solely from the deployment of this technology. We would also temper expectations about (and suggest further research into) the evidentiary value of BWCs. The administrative court data we had access to has certain limitations, but preliminary analyses do not uncover any clear benefits. Body-worn cameras may have great utility in specific policing scenarios, but we cannot conclude from this experiment that they can be expected to produce large, department-wide improvements in outcomes.
We tracked many different variables: How many times did they use force? How many times did they use serious force? How many times did they use serious force against a person of color? How many times did they receive a misconduct complaint? How many times did they have a case go before a judge? How many arrests led to convictions? We looked at a whole bunch of categories like that. Then we looked to see if the results in the treatment group — the officers with body-worn cameras— were different from those in the control group. The answer was “no” in every category.
Why don’t cameras affect cops’ behaviour? It may be as simple as cops are so certain their actions are beyond reproach that they can’t think there may be a contrary view. Or, as El Jones once told me (I’m paraphrasing), we already have a ton of videos of cops doing horrible things, and white people see one thing, while people of colour people see something else. It’s only in the most stark cases like the police murder of George Floyd when the vast majority of people can agree there was criminal intent; most of the time, cops are given the “benefit of the doubt,” even when the video shows something else.
Consider that after the killing of Sammy Yatim on a Toronto street car, which was caught on camera, the jury did not convict responding cop Jason Forcillo of murder, Asaf Rashid points out:
It provides a good demonstration of the gross power held by police through their licence to kill and carry firearms. Yatim had a switchblade and was suffering from a mental distress. When Forcillo and other officers arrived, the streetcar was empty, as everyone had cleared away from the vehicle. Police did not try and take Yatim down through non-lethal means. Forcillo shot him 9 times, and Yatim was also tazered, but his gunshot wounds were fatal before the final shots or shocks. The Ontario Court of Appeal summarized the findings at trial, which they upheld:
 The appellant testified and acknowledged that he shot and killed Mr. Yatim. He claimed that the shooting was justified under either s. 25 (lawful use of force) or s. 34 (self-defence) of the Criminal Code.
 The trial was hard fought. The jury returned verdicts of not guilty of second degree murder on count one, and guilty of attempted murder on count two. The verdicts indicate that the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the first volley of shots was not justified under either s. 25 or s. 34, but had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that neither defence applied in respect of the second volley of shots.
 The combination of verdicts returned by the jury presents an unusual, if not unique, result. The appellant stands acquitted of murdering Mr. Yatim and he stands convicted of attempting to murder Mr. Yatim, some 5.5 seconds later. In effect, the appellant has been convicted of attempting to murder the very same person he was found to have justifiably fatally shot just 5.5 seconds earlier.
This reveals how easily police discretion to use deadly force can be abused. Forcillo was found not guilty during the first volley of shots that actually killed Yatim because his use of deadly force was considered justified under sections 25 and 34 of the Code. In other words, his decision was considered reasonable. There are many reasonable ways that the situation could have been de-escalated, none involving drawing a firearm as an introduction. But Forcillo did exactly that, immediately drawing his gun, escalating the situation, firing a barrage of shots, and the ordeal ended with Yatim dead.
Would a body-worn camera have changed this event? It seems unlikely. Would it have changed the jury’s verdict? The jurors already had a good quality video of the events leading up to the killing, and the killing itself, and yet they didn’t convict of murder.
Lots of people seem to think body-worn cameras are a simple solution to police violence. What could it hurt? they argue. But given the unproven effectiveness of the cameras, we should consider the costs associated with them, which are enormous: it’s not just the initial camera purchase, but additionally the costs of storage (for how long?) and maintenance of video files; processing, editing, and redacting for court use; complying with privacy legislation; and responding to freedom of information requests. In fact, after a rush to employ body-worn cameras, many police departments in the US have abandoned them because of the costs.
But the urge to put cameras on every cop is a reflection of the prevailing neoliberal framing of society: every problem can be solved with more technology, more surveillance, and more money dumped into both technology and surveillance.
Camera advocates I’ve spoken with don’t say we shouldn’t talk about “root causes” or the sociology of police violence or even better approaches to addressing crime, but they want cameras now, and we’ll deal with those other issues later. Problem is, later never comes.
I can see how this might play out: putting cameras on cops will actually lead to an increase in the police budget. First for the purchase of the cameras, then for the costs of maintaining them, then for ongoing training of officers (via a contract to some connected insider), all in the name of “improving trust” or some such bullshit.
Along the way, there will be cultural sensitivity training for cops and the like, ballooning the police budget even more.
There’s not an easy fix to police violence. More training or some quick tech gimmick won’t address the issue.
4. Jail break
You’d think for $42 million, we’d get something that isn’t so leaky.
5. The “new normal”
On Friday, the first day many businesses were allowed to reopen, Yvette d’Entremont spoke with several business owners to see how things were going.
Budget Committee Special Meeting (Tuesday, 10am) – live webcast. Agenda and link to meeting here.
City Council — directly after the Budget Committee meeting. Agenda and link here.
No meetings this week.
In the harbour
05:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:30: Maersk Mobiliser, offshore supply ship, arrives at Irving Oil from the Sable Island Field
09:30: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Moa, Cuba
12:00: Atlantic Star sails for New York
14:00: Maersk Mobiliser moves to Pier 9
My publishing output has been much reduced of late, as I’ve been focussing on finishing the Dead Wrong podcast. A trailer for the podcast will be published in coming days, and the series itself will start to air on Wednesday, June 17. Stay tuned!