WATERLOO REGION — Only a few weeks ago the term “defund the police” was mostly reserved for discussion among academics and activists.
Few people had heard of the concept until the killing of George Floyd.
Now, Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police just over three weeks ago, has galvanized many in the mainstream population and forced them to think about police reform.
For some, it’s cutting back on what police do, reducing their budgets, while others want to see police-free communities.
“Defund the police” has become a movement and a hashtag on social media that stemmed from protests across North America, following Floyd’s death.
So what does defund the police mean?
American activist and scholar Angela Davis suggests the concept shouldn’t be seen as negative. So instead of dismantling the system, she asks people to reimagine it.
Defunding the police “is not simply withdrawing funding for law enforcement and nothing else,” she said in a recent interview with Democracy Now.
“It’s shifting public funds to new services,” Davis said.
Defunding the police means redirecting taxpayers’ money away from the police and moving the money to community-led programs, focused on mental health, education and housing for racialized groups.
Sandy Hudson, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter in Toronto, wrote in the Huffington Post that defunding the police means freeing up money that can be reinvested in services that provide real safety.
“The police’s emergency support is inadequate and it kills Black people. Surely we can create an emergency support system that doesn’t kill Black people and Indigenous people,” she said.
What police reforms have been tried?
In the United States, many police forces have body cameras, including in Minneapolis where Floyd died a brutal death when a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Activists say body cameras haven’t stopped the violence against the Black community and neither has anti-racism training.
In Canada, the Toronto officers could be wearing body cameras by July. The city is also considering reducing the police budget by 10 per cent.
Locally, Waterloo Regional Police have said they are exploring options to have front-line officers wear cameras.
Activists say police reforms have been repeatedly tried, but failed. They want to see real change.
What has happened in Waterloo Region?
A protest in downtown Kitchener three weeks ago brought thousands together in solidarity in a Black Lives Matter rally.
The African, Caribbean and Black Network of Waterloo Region is working to end anti-Black racism. It has called for actions to defund the police, reallocating the money to communities they say need help and not officers policing them.
At a minimum, the network says $29 million should be diverted from the $180-million police budget and those tax dollars invested in community-based health initiatives for impoverished and racialized groups. They are also calling for the School Resource Officer program in schools be scrapped.
This week, the Waterloo Region District School Board agreed to put the program on pause while their review it. A student-led group of high school students — Students 4 Inclusive Schools — say they want the review to include their voices. The students say they are fearful and feel unsafe with armed officers in schools.
Waterloo Regional Police has not publicly said what their stand is when it comes to defunding the police. A police board meeting will be held Wednesday. Black Lives Matter and their calls for action are on the agenda.
Additionally, at a regional council meeting on Tuesday, councillors agreed to a community roundtable that will listen to stories of lived experience from community members and talk about addressing racism in the region and integrating anti-racism strategies in regional policies.
Council also said social agencies serving racialized groups should receive equal funding.