Erica Ifill is an economist, columnist, and founder of the intersectional business consultancy Not In My Colour.
There was, according to some, justice for George Floyd on April 20. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck, was convicted of all charges, ranging from second-degree murder to manslaughter. The defendant’s stunned reaction to the verdict revealed a glimpse at how righteous and permanent he’d felt police power had become in a “law and order” society that provides a kind of shield of entitlement to take Black lives, as so many officers before him had.
And so after a collective trauma, the global Black family was afforded reprieve – that is, until the Tuesday reports that a Columbus police officer had killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, just moments before the jury found Mr. Chauvin guilty. And only if you ignore the police killing of Daunte Wright in the same city as Mr. Chauvin’s trial, just nine days earlier. And only if you forget about the more than 1,500 Black people who have been shot to death by police since 2015, according to the Washington Post. And then only still if you excise the fact that this pain has been heaped onto a diaspora that has disproportionately suffered from the pandemic and is being left behind in the vaccination rollouts of too many Western jurisdictions.
This was not justice. It was a pause from the status quo.
Without the damning testimony of Minneapolis’s police chief and an incriminating video of the killing taken by Darnella Frazier, which sparked a global Black Lives Matter movement protesting police violence, Mr. Chauvin may well have been acquitted. Research collaborative Mapping Police Violence, estimates that 98.3 per cent of killings by the police in the U.S. result in officers facing zero criminal charges; 28 per cent of those killed by police in 2020 were Black despite being 13 per cent of the population. One conviction does not erase a decades-old trend, nor does it represent a turning point of a system of brutality gratuitously funded by taxpayer dollars.
Canada is no different. Erick Laming, who co-authored a study on excessive police force for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, found that “the vast majority of people shot by police were young men. When race could be identified, 48 per cent of people shot were Indigenous and 19 per cent were Black.” Last October, Ottawa constable Daniel Montsion – who struck Abdirahman Abdi in the head with police-issued knuckle-plated gloves – was acquitted when a judge felt there was “reasonable doubt” about whether the blows “exceeded the bounds of reasonable police force response” and whether Mr. Abdi’s underlying heart condition was a bigger factor in his death. Evidently, in Canada, being beaten by the police is not considered beyond reasonable force – even with video from a surveillance camera.
Nearly a year after taking a knee at the anti-police brutality protests in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to do anything about the violence that results in the death of Black and Indigenous bodies by police. In an appearance on the CBC radio show Real Talk, Mr. Trudeau responded to Mr. Chauvin’s guilty verdict with perfunctory gibberish about systemic racism, as he carefully avoided the words “Black” and “police brutality.” In keeping with the standard incantation of “listening and learning,” he said that “there’s an awful lot of work to do” – tacitly acknowledging the government’s inaction. Without addressing the integral part that state violence and carceral punishment play in the structures of anti-Black racism, solving systemic racism is a pipe dream.
But here’s real talk: the Liberal government continues to increase the RCMP’s budget. Last week, the federal budget provided the organization $75-million over five years and $13.5-million ongoing to “take action, with steps to combat systemic racism” – in short, more money for the police to police themselves. Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change, an Ontario-based racial-justice education and advocacy network, said that they were “puzzled by the proposal … when the institution has a troubling track record of perpetuating systemic racism in the criminal justice system.” This additional funding comes after the Liberals granted an extra $238-million to the RCMP for body cameras in last fall’s fiscal update; there is still no evidence to prove that body cameras reduce police violence or increase police accountability. “By design,” wrote Louise Matsakis in Wired, “body-worn cameras point outwards into the world, often aiding police officers in monitoring communities, rather than helping communities watch police.”
While the Prime Minister often squawks about systemic racism existing in our institutions and addressing anti-Black racism, he continues to empower and reward those same institutions to figure it out on their own. This contradiction seems to be the approach of this government: Say the right things while keeping Black people in a consistent loop of criminality, underwritten by institutional and systemic racism.
That’s justice, I guess.