The police in Ottawa had a week to prepare, to some degree, as this convoy snaked its way across Canada. They are now three weeks into an occupation, and it’s clear to those of us who have been watching the police for a very long time that, at best, they aren’t going to interfere with the occupiers, and at worst, are actively encouraging them. The lack of action and progress on getting the convoy occupiers to leave, or at least be less disruptive, has prompted the resignation of Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly.
This isn’t a surprise to Black and Indigenous organizers who saw this coming for years, decades, hell, even centuries. The brutality we face when we so much as hint at civil disobedience is painted throughout our history books. We are met with violence, dogs, water cannons, tear gas, and guns, just for marching on any particular day. Two years ago, young Indigenous people doing a round dance in downtown Ottawa, (with a permit!), warranted snipers on rooftops, but if you’re in this convoy, by all means, set up bouncy castles, a hot tub, speakers and terrorize local residents for weeks on end.
The difference between the groups is that one is Indigenous, and one is largely white. Yes, we’ve seen BIPOC people dragged out to be tokenized as supporting the cause. They even set up an Instagram account where they recycle photos of the same person and throw in a Malcolm X quote every now and then, but the undeniable facts are that this convoy is largely dominated by white people, and one of the organizers, Pat King, has abhorrent views on anyone who is not from “superior Anglo Saxon bloodlines.”
In between the shock at police inaction, are small murmurs from well-meaning white people who are now climbing onto the defunding the police bandwagon. Although I am sure people will say that we should be thankful for the support, the intention behind the support does require some examination. Because it isn’t the ongoing police violence towards Black and Indigenous peoples that propelled them forward, but that the police aren’t upholding their end of the bargain. “We pay taxes, you protect our property and status quo.” Their newfound belief in defunding the police doesn’t come from a place of knowledge or conviction, but from a stance of a broken contract, so therefore police must be punished.
Moreover, the movements to defund or abolish police stem from a belief that the police were never about protecting people, rather the oppression of largely Black and Indigenous people’s to secure land and labour for wealthy white people. Police were created to maintain a status quo of peace and order for white landowners that comes on the backs of racially marginalized, impoverished, and disabled communities. Not having this at the root of ones understanding as to why police should be defunded, creates shaky ground for support.
What happens if police forces do clean up their act and start maintaining the status quo again? That means that borders are open, the good people of Ottawa can go about their normal day, and that people in the convoy go back to their homes to grumble. So what happens when Black or Indigenous people stage a future protest? The police maintaining “law and order” will invariably maintain the status quo, and chances are our newfound comrades in the defunding movement will again fall silent about it…just as they have been in the past. The fact of the matter is that white people need police to maintain a status quo that is harmful to so many non-white people. Defunding and abolishing the police will shift us into sharing more power and centering communities that have not historically been centered. Are people ready for that? More importantly, when it comes time for forcibly marginalized communities to disrupt the status quo again (and it will come), will all the folks who are now interested in defunding the police still be on that bandwagon?
Additionally, it is very frustrating that NOW you want to defund the police? Not when we are raising the alarm that marginalized communities are being terrorized by the police? Not when the OHRC found that you were 20x more likely to be killed by police if you were Black? Not when the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Toronto was raising the alarm for years that a serial killer was on the loose and the police were not acting? Not when the RCMP points assault rifles at Indigenous women and elders in Wet’suwet’en for defending their unceded land and waterways? Not when police violently removed people from encampments and their supporters?
Now, when Ottawa is being occupied by a small, but noisy group of people, well-intentioned white people have decided that maybe the police are a little out of control. We have been saying this for years, but it’s seemingly okay to have police forces out of control when it comes to the lives of Black, Indigenous, Queer or racially marginalized peoples. Can you see why some of us may be a little wary of this fair-weather support?
Ideally, joining forces to just get the police defunded should be an easy win, however where that line is drawn in the sand about what is unacceptable police behaviour is going to be a key point. Wanting to Defund or abolish police because they didn’t maintain your status quo is a little different than defunding or abolishing police because they are fundamentally aligned with the goals of maintaining the wealth of the state, and systemically arrest, oppress or harm anyone who threatens that. It is important to understand where support for abolishment comes from, and to gauge how far it goes, because this is going to be a long fight, with a lot of uncomfortable conversations and the beliefs and values of why police should be abolished is going to be that compass point to guide us.