Reform or defunding?

Reform or defunding?


Would Andrew Loku, Sammy Yatim, Marc Ekamba and many other Black people be alive today, if not for the colour of their skin?

We ask the question as police behaviour once more comes under scrutiny with last Wednesday apology to the Black community by Interim Toronto Police Chief James Ramer.

As we reported in last week’s issue of The Caribbean Camera, Ramer apologized to the Black community at a news conference as the Toronto Police Service released race-based data showing disproportionate use of force on Black people.

“As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing,” Ramer admitted.

“For this, as chief of police and on behalf of the service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly,” he said.

Of course, it comes as no surprise to us that his apology was swiftly rejected amid renewed calls to “defund Toronto Police.”

In other words, reallocating or redirecting funding from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality.

Several anti-racism groups and civil rights advocates have been saying that community safety would be better achieved by redirecting police funding to social supports and services.

Asked for his reaction to the question of “defunding”, Ramer said: “When we hear that discussion, I think what the community is talking about is reform and it’s talking about modernization of the police service.”

But is it?

For Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, “reform” is not a replacement for defunding.

“Reform has been attempted over the decade,” she said. “What hasn’t been done is taking the power away from police to harm us…. I want to see that action, “she said.

In 2020, two Toronto city councillors had introduced a motion to cut the Toronto Police Service’s budget by 10 per cent – about $107 million – and use that money for community services.

The motion was rejected in favour of a series of reforms proposed by Mayor John Tory, which included anti-racism measures and the implementation of body-worn cameras.

Moya Teku, executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre, said in a statement on Wednesday that police continue to fail to serve and protect Black people “and yet, year after year, all levels of government continue to pour money into police services.”

The solution, according to Teku, is “not to provide the police with more money for body scanners, or training.

“It is to de-task the police and to redirect funding into those services that will actually protect and serve and increase the public safety of Black people.”

Of course, we understand full well the anger and frustration welling up in the Black community over the disproportionate use of force on Black people by the police. This problem is not new.

But let us be clear about this issue: not all Black people in Toronto are in favour of just “defunding”. Some would like to see reform – genuine reform.

One of them, Michael Thompson, deputy mayor of Toronto and the city’s only Black councillor, says “defunding” police is a non-starter.

As he sees it, “The police are necessary agents of our society to help to keep the peace. Without them, quite frankly, I think many of us would have sleepless nights.

“Frankly, we need police.”

However, he said Ramer’s apology over overpolicing of Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities is “just noise” without concrete “equity-based” reform.

We agree with Councillor Thompson that the police are necessary agents to help keep the peace.

And we support the call for “equity-based reform.”

We hope this can be achieved within a reasonable time.

Clearly, apologies are not enough.

So we are pleased to note that the Toronto Police has laid out a series of recommendations to tackle the problem of overpolicing.

These include engaging with Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities to understand the data and discuss a path forward; implementing a mandatory review of body-worn camera footage for all use-of-force incidents; and requiring officers on probation during their first year of service to debrief with supervisors after use of force incidents.

If these recommendations are implemented – and we sincerely hope that they are – they should go a long way in solving the problem of excessive use of force.

We hope that these recommendations are put into effect as soon as possible.

We also hope that special efforts will be made to get rid of the “bad apples” in the force who continue to give Toronto Police Service a bad name.