The state of discourse on state violence

Bringing conversations about police violence into the light

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

On March 11, Keeping the Peace?, an event exploring the relationship between peace and the police, was held at First Mennonite Church. On March 15, the March Against Police Brutality will be held at city hall, organized by Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (WPCH).

Nickita Longman, an Indigenous activist originally from Treaty 4 territory who works with WPCH, says that, as a new group, formed after “seven citizens were killed by police and a youth was shot by an officer nine times outside of a 7-Eleven,” WPCH felt it was important to organize an event for March 15, which became the International Day Against Police Brutality in 1997 in Montreal.

Bronwyn Dobchuck-Land, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, will speak at the Keeping the Peace? event. She says she was invited by David Driedger to speak about making connections between the pacifist orientation of Mennonite faith and its ramifications for living in the West End.

Dobchuck-Land says that “a lot of time, the conversation involves a discus- sion of the difference between safety and comfort, and through that discussion, we often get to a place of realization that police intervention often happens in sit- uations where some people feel uncom- fortable, and the police intervention puts the safety of the person who is causing this discomfort at risk.”

Longman says “the average person is not comfortable questioning authority, especially considering that we all grow up with the understanding that police are in place to protect us. But the more you break things down, it becomes more and more apparent that police are in place to protect property first.

“Further, it becomes more clear that it is of great interest to the Canadian state to monitor Indigenous people, Black people and People of Colour, newcomer populations and those who experience poverty or those who struggle with mental health,” she says.

“As new budgets roll out each year, we hope to do our best to inform Winnipeg that healthier communities have more resources, not more cops. That means slashing or freezing police budgets and increasing costs for resources like social housing options, mental health support, harm reduction and safe injection sites and free, reliable transit systems.”

Dobchuck-Land says that even when speaking to people who are not vulnerable to police brutality, a lot of individuals don’t have great relationships with the police.

“A lot of people don’t have a lot of regular contact with the police, so they assume that certain things will happen when the police come,” she says. “At least part of the work is talking through the kind of scenarios that they imagine the police might be helpful in, and talking though the ways that other people have found police to not be helpful in those situations.”

“It is my sense that there’s a moment right now, due to a number of factors, that there is more skepticism and ques- tioning about police and securitization than there has been in a long time in Winnipeg,” Dobchuck-Land says. She cites disillusionment with a decade of police investment, awareness-raising movements and a greater critical spot- light on policing as factors.

Longman says that while WPCH still receives online aggression, “the initial resistance toward WPCH has definitely quieted down a bit, perhaps as it becomes more clear that we are not going anywhere.”

Published in Volume 74, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 11, 2020)

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