Black-led Community Organizations Call to Defund WRPS

Since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was murdered by members of the Minnesota police force on May 25, cities across the United States and abroad have organized peaceful protests, demanding justice for similar racially-motivated crimes. The Region of Waterloo has not been exempt from the conversations surrounding Floyd and systemic racism. 

On June 3, thousands gathered for the KW Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter which was held so that community members could peacefully protest and show solidarity with those who have been impacted by police brutality and racial injustice.

In the days since the march, Black-led groups within the Region, such as the African, Caribbean, and Black Network of the Waterloo Region (ABC Network), have been working to keep these conversations moving towards permanent change. The ACB Network is calling on Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS), the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) and elected officials to take action against racial injustice within the community.

On June 2, the ACB Network released a statement calling for the defunding of WRPS, with the hopes that the resources will be reallocated to support community initiatives and upstream prevention, such as income support, healthcare and education. 

The statement also included a list of Black Canadians who have been killed by police or law enforcement as of May 29, 2020.

“Police violence is a problem in Waterloo Region. [WRPS] have not addressed their disproportionate carding of Black people, which happens [four times as often within our population], and is deeply rooted in poor, racialized communities such as Chandler-Mowat and Kingsdale,” read the statement. 

The ACB Network is calling to reduce WRPS funding by at least $29.3 million, the total accumulation of the past three years worth of budget increases from WRPS. In 2020, 19.9 per cent of the regional budget — approximately $200 million — went to WRPS.

Nearly a third of property taxes — approximately $663 per household — goes towards the police service each year. As the ACB Network noted in their press release, the budget of WRPS is more than public health Initiatives, senior services and income housing services. 

In an interview with CBC News, Karen Redman, chair of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, and WRPS police chief Bryan Larkin said they do not believe it is currently possible to cut the year’s police budget.

“While their budget was going up, [budgets for] other social services, like education, were being cut… We have seen tremendous education cuts within our school board and just within Ontario,” Lang Ncube, community development coordinator of the ACB Network said. 

“We’ve been seeing cuts to public health as well, whereas, for police services, their budgets are drastically increasing as the years go by.” 

The ACB Network is also specifically calling for the end of the Region’s community outreach program (COPS) and the removal of the Region’s school resource officer program (SRO).

COPS was introduced as a direct response to increased rates of crime amongst youths in regional neighbourhoods such as Kingsdale and Mill-Courtland. According to WRPS, the program is meant to foster positive relationships between police officers and youth in the community. However, the ACB Network said that instead of forming positive relationships between police officers and local youths, the program introduces police surveillance into racialized neighbourhoods within the Region.

The ACB Network has also been critical of the SRO program. WRPS has described the program as a team of 10 officers focused on developing positive relationships between students and the police. According to Ncube, the SRO program actually increases the chances of behavioural misconduct between officers and students. Presenting a police officer in schools may also heighten the stress and internalized fear that Black and racialized students face. 

According to the ACB Network, both of these programs contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline a process by which racialized youth are pushed out of schools and forced into systems of incarceration and punishment.

“[Black or racialized students] may be doing the same thing their peers are doing, but because they are Black or racialized their actions are seen as more threatening, therefore their punishment is increased in comparison to their peers,” Ncube said.

On June 15, WRDSB decided to suspend the SRO program during a board meeting. Students for Inclusive Schools, a student-led group, is working on seeing police out of schools permanently and establishing anti-racism initiatives in schools and incorporating Black history into the school curriculum.

“We’re working with these students, we’re hearing their stories and we’re trying to compile them because stories are data, and their testimonies show how this program that may have had well intentions has actually played out in the real world,” Fiqir Worku, a member of the ACB Network Advisory Committee and co-chair of the WRDSB Black Brilliance Advisory Committee said.

While the ACB Network works to promote its calls to action, both Worku and Ncube said that the only form of communication the Network has received from WRPS has been through the media.

“We haven’t officially been contacted in regards to the demands that were asked… They have not made any attempt to have made contact with us, to reach out to us and talk about the demands,” Ncube said.

During a WRPS board meeting on June 17th, the Community Edition asked WRPS why the police had not been in touch with the ACB Network regarding defunding the police and the other calls to action that they’ve asked for.

Redman, acting as chair of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo explained that Larkin had not reached out to the ACB Network or other organizations but that she had reached out as chair of WRPS on their behalf to Black-led community organizations within the Region.

In a Twitter response, the ACB Network made it clear that they and other Black march organizers and organizations who generated the calls to action, had not been in consultation with Redman or WRPS:

“What I have found is very thoughtful conversations, very enlightening conversations that have influenced how I hope to see a path forward,” Redman said in regards to the conversations she claimed to have had with community leaders of Black-led networks.

Racism in all its forms is unacceptable. [It] is our duty as elected officials, as public servants, as human beings, to focus our efforts and work together, to make progress in our fight against systemic racism,” Larkin said during the WRPS board meeting. 

The ACB Network hopes the public can educate themselves about conversations surrounding the history of racial discrimination and the police while recognizing that Canada, including Waterloo, is not exempt from racism. The ACB Network is also calling on residents to reach out to their elected officials and police services with issues surrounding racial discrimination.

“It’s very easy for people to attend a march and never think about it ever again, but for actions to be meaningful, work needs to be continuously done and people need to be always taking action,” Ncube said.