A protestor calls for changes to policing at the BLM March in Kitchener in June. MELISSA EMBURY PHOTO

Excessive Force Against BIPOC Community

In June, over 20,000 Waterloo Region residents took to the streets of downtown Kitchener to demand justice for Black lives. Simultaneously, more than 5,000 were live-streaming the march from home. 

The KW march was in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, crying out for justice and safety for Black and BIPOC community members globally who are heavily patrolled, and in the most extreme cases, murdered at the hands of police. 

Protests began after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, was recorded and shared online. The video, which was captured by 17-year-old Daniella Frazier, shows white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for a total of eight minutes and forty-five seconds, all while two officers restrain him and another prevents onlookers from intervening. 

While thousands of people marched for justice in the U.S., they were also marching for justice in the region we call home. 

Selam Debs, creator of The Anti-Racism Course, and owner of Juici Yoga Studios noted that some of the local accomplishments have come out of work done by grassroots organizations, such as the ACB Network, here in the region. 

“The pausing of [Student Resource Officer (SRO)] programs in schools, looking at having an inclusivity and diversity anti-racism committee come together for the region, and now the race-based data that is finally being looked at and communicated.”

This is the first time that the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) has included perceived race in their semi-annual use of force report

The report indicated that 16 per cent of the use of force incidents happened with members of the Black community. This number is startling considering that the Black community only makes up three per cent of the population

WRPS’ statistics on the excessive use of force were not surprising at all to many members of the Black community. 

“What was startling to me was that other people were startled”, NDP Kitchener Centre MPP, Laura Mae Lindo said.

When asked about the reports and the new race-based data collection, WRPS did not respond to the Community Edition’s request for a statement. 

Since July, WRPS officers have been accused of excessive use of force by members of the public on at least two separate occasions.

The first was back in July when a Black man with mental health issues known to the police was aggressively pulled out of his car. Police approached the incident at Westmount Rd. and Victoria St. with their weapons drawn, as seen in a video that was recorded by community members witnessing it happen.

According to a CBC interview in July with WRPS chief Bryan Larkin, “an external police service and a use of force expert [would] be called in to investigate after a video of an arrest in Waterloo Region surfaced online …”

Another notable instance took place in early October, after a video of a 15-year-old boy being pinned down by three officers at Fairview Park Mall began circulating online. According to a statement released by WRPS, the boy spit near an officer, resulting in a three-man takedown. 

While footage of both of these incidents makes its way around social media, MPP Lindo said that members of the Black community continue to feel unsafe in the region.

“They don’t feel safe, because they’re over-represented in the criminal justice system. They don’t feel safe because they’re over-represented in use of force,” MPP Lindo said. “They don’t feel safe, because even when they have said that this is the problem, everybody has said, well, no, you’re lying, you’re a criminal — they’ve criminalized our bodies.”

Selam Debs also noted her concerns about the actions of WRPS police officers in the videos being captured and shared online.

“I have dedicated my life basically to ensuring that my son can move in the world where he can know his value, he can know his worth and understand and have that sense of Black love and pride,” Debs said. “But I am also always fearful. I do worry, he’s tall, he’s Black, he has an afro. He dresses in the way that most teenagers dress, but I know he’ll be stereotyped.”

These acts have led individuals across Canada and the U.S. to call for new methods of policing and the reallocation of exorbitant police budgets. 

In October, WRPS proposed an $8 million increase to their 2021 budget, citing an increase in contractual salaries and facility maintenance.

This call for an increase comes at a time when there is also a call to defund $29.3 million and invest those funds into organizations that would increase access to affordable housing, harm reduction services, accessible rehabilitation, conflict resolution services and reintegration services.

Black community organization leaders like Ruth Cameron, the head of The African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network, continuously stress the need for WRPS to reallocate some of their resources to community-based initiatives and mental health training — improving safety for Black residents. 

While the discussion continues on how to address issues with policing in the U.S. and at home in Kitchener-Waterloo, MPP Lindo noted the toll these kinds of incidents are taking on members of the Black community.

“Do you know what just happened to the community when on the front page of The Record was a 15-year-old child with three officers on him, like physically on him? One was very close to being right on his neck, which we had just seen a Black man die from in the U.S.”

MPP Lindo also noted that when cases of excessive force are being investigated, the officer should be suspended. 

“They shouldn’t be on the streets if we’re worried that this is what they’re doing.”