content warning: police brutality, racism, ableism, death
The past few decades have displayed a pattern of escalating police violence reported in North American media, and although this could be attributed to poor police-community relationships, it is part of a “larger crime-and-punishment system, that for the past two decades has featured the mass incarceration of poor and minority people.” Addressing the issue of police violence means taking into account the social factors which generate violent behaviour. This is a complicated and controversial task but it is not impossible, so long as we help each other get past our taboos preventing us from understanding that a broken system lies at the base of this violence, and not some malevolent enemy.
Addressing the issue of police violence in Montreal means acknowledging the blatant misuses of power on behalf of the police in crisis situations, propose alternatives to the police, questioning its inherent and continued monopoly on violence, and taking into account the relationships between minority groups and police officers which make them more susceptible to experiencing violence. This analysis must stem from a formal questioning of the ancient systems of crime-and-punishment, monopolies of violence, and the Social Contract, while taking into account these realities under the North American capitalist system.
The Code of Ethics of Quebec police officers clearly states that a police officer must not “(4) commit acts or use injurious language based on race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political convictions, language, age, social condition, civil status, pregnancy, ethnic or national origin, a handicap or a means to compensate for a handicap; (5) be disrespectful or impolite towards any person.” The way the distribution of power stands today gives the police force full monopoly on violence as well as the power to judge whether the situation calls for uses of force. There is an inherent trust put into the subjective experience of individual police officers, leaving officers to use their best judgement for each individual situation. Having the monopoly on violence means that despite the restrictions stated above in the Code of Ethics, any prejudices existing within individual officers are left to govern their decisions, decisions which could mark the difference between someone being shot and killed, or not.
The existence of this space between the Code of Ethics and the individual acts of police officers assumes that officers do what is just and forces them to be objective in their actions, separate themselves from any and all prejudices, discriminations, personal vendettas or power trips. Montreal is yet another example where people of colour and disabled folks are disproportionately affected by police violence and killings. Nicholas Gibbs, Pierre Coriolan, Farshad Mohammadi, Joséphine Papatie, Joyce Thomas, and countless more. Questioning the legitimacy of police use of violence in Canada must come from an acknowledgement of the countless incidents where marginalized people have been abused or killed by police officers, and refusing to see them as isolated incidents, but rather representations of a wider epidemic.
Acts of violence enacted by police unto racial minorities seem to us important reflections of a racist and classist system. The fact that social minorities and economically disadvantaged folks are most often the targets of this violence seems to us anything but coincidence. It is important to us to draw the connection between acts of dissent and the oppressive social norms upheld by the state against specific identities and economic realities. Doing so, we see in what ways police repression is shaped along lines of race, class, and other social markers. The police’s violent repression of student protesting as seen during the 2012 “Maple Spring” as well as “deviant” practices such as cruising (“This is No Longer a Safe Place,” The McGill Daily), exemplify this phenomenon.
We need to move away from a vision of police as protective and be critical about the use and legitimacy of its force. As journalists, we must hold police forces accountable for the ways in which it arbitrarily uses violence against civilians, and for the ways this violence reinforces systems of domination. As citizens, we need to fight for police accountability and physically and materially stand by marginalized folks bearing the brunt of and fighting that violence the most. We need and have to develop alternatives to the police to end this cycle of violence. End police brutality! Fight the power!
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