Photo: Halifax Examiner

Halifax’s police union is lashing out after two of their members faced scrutiny for assaulting a Black youth.

On Monday, the union that represents Halifax police officers leaked an email to CBC complaining that chief Dan Kinsella placed the officers who assaulted a 15-year-old Black boy — leaving him with a concussion, bruising, and injuries on his hands — on administrative leave.

Dean Stienburg, the president of the Halifax Regional Police Association, told CBC that:

Morale is probably the lowest I’ve seen it in 30 years, it’s actually getting worse.

Let us be clear about what is happening here. The police are telling us that they derive morale from beating up Black children, or at least, from getting away with it.

This is not some rogue organization. This is the body representing the police, speaking for Halifax police officers.

They are not telling us that they take racial profiling seriously, and that they’re worried about their relationship of trust with the community. They are not telling us that it is their priority to eliminate racial bias from policing. They are not telling us that the responsibility to use force is a serious one and that they do everything to de-escalate situations. They are not telling us that beating up Black people is, at the very least, a bad PR move.

Police Chief Dan Kinsella. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Instead, they are telling us that their priority when it comes to dealing with Black people is to continue to be able to use as much violence as they want without being held accountable. Not by the chief, as little as he is doing, and not by the public. If we refuse to let them brutalize us freely, then they tell us that they can no longer do their jobs.

They are telling us that they consider it their job to brutalize Black people.

All you police apologists, please let that sink in.

What seemingly drove the police union to writing and releasing this email is that Black people held a couple of protests asserting that no, we are not okay with the police beating up mothers in front of their children or with children being assaulted and handcuffed for challenging the police.

Stienburg’s response to this small amount of public pushback is to threaten that if they are not allowed to brutalize Black people, they will stop doing their jobs:

“They [officers] start being reactive, and they simply respond to the calls that come to their car, or their computer in their car or come over the radio, and that’s a real step backwards for policing and a real step backwards for public safety,” he said.

In other words, if Black people dare to keep speaking out, then the police will simply have to stop policing, and therefore it’s Black people who don’t want to be beaten up who are making our communities unsafe. Public safety depends on granting police free rein to assault Black people even if they are not doing anything criminal, and even if they are only asserting their rights. Our battered bodies are, the police tell us, the price of public safety.

Officers who threaten to stop doing their actual jobs — not the “job” of beating up mothers and children — should be immediately dismissed from the force. We are being told that our police force must be allowed to escalate violently with impunity as a condition of serving the public.

Let us also keep in mind that these will be the people tasked with running a know-your-rights campaign.

This statement from the police should put to rest any ideas that police violence is a matter of a few bad apples.

Over the past couple of months, as I’ve been attending the police commission and council meetings asking them to freeze the police budget until the police demonstrate they can deal seriously with racial profiling and police violence, the officials tasked with overseeing the police and holding them accountable have responded to this moral challenge by congratulating the police on the job they are doing and giving them more money to do it.

Shame on every single one of those officials who enable a police force that is openly telling us that they consider it a necessary part of their job to brutalize children and mothers, and that if they are not allowed to do that, they cannot do their jobs or feel good.

This response by the police union to officers not even being suspended and still being paid after being filmed assaulting a child is exactly what we should expect from officers.

In Toronto, for example, the police union continues to use the exact same rhetoric against the banning of carding. A 2018 email from Toronto Police Service officer Mark Hayward to Toronto Mayor John Tory that was also leaked to media similarly argued that without racial profiling, police cannot do their jobs:

“You flip-flopped on carding and supported its demise. You forced budget and staffing cuts on the Toronto police,” read the email…

…“It is obvious Chief Saunders is a puppet on strings and you are pulling them. You have zero qualifications to run a police service and should be hands off, to allow the police to do what they do best,” he wrote in the email.

In fact, I included text from this very email in my presentation to the police board, arguing that the police always respond to demands to end racial profiling by threatening any officials who try to hold them accountable, and by arguing that racial profiling is a vital part of their job.

In response, I was asked if I had anything good to say about the police.

CBC’s publication of this email without interviewing any members of the Black community for context also demonstrates how the media frequently colludes with and engages in propaganda for the police. Questions a reporter should ask in this situation include:

• Why are the police leaking this email and why do they think this benefits them?

• What public message are the police trying to send with this email?

• What do Black people who are trying to hold the police to account feel about having police officers openly argue that violence against Black people is an integral part of their job?

• What effect might this have on Black people who challenge the police?

That CBC publishes this material unchallenged — and in fact provides follow-up space for the police to further assert their right to assault Black people without offering any Black voices in response — is a failure of journalistic responsibility to the Black community.

Desmond Cole, author of the bestselling book The Skin We’re In, which chronicles a year in resistance to policing and state violence, suggests that this email from the police union shows us who the police really are:

When we say that policing is violent, this is the clearest example of what we mean.

What’s going on here is that this is a distillation of the idea that policing is violence without consequences. What you notice here is that in a so-called normal workplace environment, people would be disturbed to know their colleagues are acting like this. If it were a teacher or a social worker who hurt a child, people would say, of course you have to punish them.

But with policing, the only social code is to protect each other. The code is to do whatever you want and get away with it. So there’s no outrage among police saying, I can’t believe these people are acting this way.

So what is useful about this is it tells you about their nature. They’re not saying that these violent officers don’t represent us as a police force. They’re saying: not only do they represent who we are, but letting us get away with it is part of our job, and if you don’t let us do this, then how are we supposed to do our job?

The police have shown us who they are, if we ever had any doubts. They are not interested in healing from racial profiling, in working with the Black community, or in changing police culture. And they made sure to leak this email so that the public knows it. If our officials continue to refuse to hold the police accountable while giving them more and more resources to be used in their “job” of unchecked violence against us, then they are also letting us know who they are.

This email lays it all bare. It is past time to do something about it.

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El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. > This statement from the police should put to rest any ideas that police violence is a matter of a few bad apples.

    Amen. Refusal to see the Halifax situation as anything other than part of a systemic, intentional architecture of violent suppression is just more of the same centrist blathering that perpetuates this shit. Educating people about hegemonic systems is crucial, and the tone of this piece is entirely justified, right down to the attention-grabbing, not-as-over-the-top-as-it-might-seem headline.

  2. The culture of violence in the police force is becoming worse. A sad example is the “tank” they just bought. There has never been a situation where such a vehicle or associated paramilitary tactics were required. I bet the first time we see that monstrosity and the adrenalin charged occupants in their black armour in action it will be in an offensive maneuver. We should be celebrating the contribution to our culture made by the African Nova Scotian community, not justifying the ceaseless brutality inflicted on them by the police force.

    1. It is not a tank. It is an Armoured Rescue Vehicle, to be used in a hostage situation or similar incident.
      The Board of Police Commissioners had nothing to do with this purchase and the solicitor for HRM has said that capital spending for the police department is in the jurisdiction of the Council and not the Board.
      Comments re Ms Rao and the 15 year old black youth should be put to one side until all the information is made available.

  3. I have learned that one sided accounts are just that.

    CAO claims in his budget presentation that he has ‘direct oversight’ of HRP and I suggest the media ask him what his ‘direct insight’ entails.
    I spoke at Budget Committee last week and raised the issue of ‘direct oversight’ of HRP and quoted from page 5 of a draft budget document. I questioned how the CAO has direct oversight over HRP when no such provision is contained in the Police Act. Fortunately I printed off the page some time before the meeting and the document now on the HRM website has been altered and the words ‘direct oversight’ have been erased and replaced with ‘ The business units the CAO’s office oversees are : Halifax Regional Police’ etc.
    The new page is here : available on Attachment 2 (page 28 of 45 when viewed online)

    I find it somewhat disconcerting that Mayor savage gets a free ride from the media on controversial issues.
    He has no interest in policing; made sure he was out of town when Chief Kinsella issued the apology for street checks and the only time I have seen him at a meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners was when Mr Thomas, an indigenous person was was sworn in as the provincial appointee to the Board. He made sure his staff took a selfie with him and Mr Thomas before disappearing back to his office. In his almost 8 years as Mayor he has attended one BOPC meeting.

    1. Missed one part where I should have mentioned the page I printed off is page C5 of the link. Page C1 is slightly different.

    2. I am a big believer in unions but as with many things police related, they are way off base. Somethings transcend sticking up for membership. Racism is one of them.

      Morale is low? From a force that seems to have zero oversight and gets whatever budget it wants? $500,000 for a tank?

      Perhaps if the membership did a better job of rooting out racism I might have some sympathy. As it stands HRP deserves all the bad coverage it’s getting and bravo to the Chief for doing something about it.

      The mayor has been getting a free ride on everything since he took office.
      At $200,000 a year one would hope for a little more.