Taking Suggestions Instead of Making Change

Despite the fact that the post curiously doesn’t use the words #blacklivesmatter, I like the text that introduces the Windsor Black Lives Matter Questionnaire from the Mayor’s Facebook post. I also appreciate the fact that it tells us that the questionnaire closes July 10th.

I do not like the wording of the introduction from the questionnaire itself. But it is telling. The questionnaire was created after a virtual roundtable discussion called “Windsor Black Lives Matter Panel Discussion.” The theme of the discussion, as identified by the mayor was talking with people.

On June 19, 2020, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and Windsor Police Service Chief Pam Mizuno participated in a virtual roundtable discussion with local Black and African leaders in our community. On the theme of ‘talking with people who make you see the world differently’, the open and honest discussion that followed provided an opportunity for leaders to highlight efforts, causes and communities they champion; explain and discuss local barriers to justice and equality; and identify opportunities Windsor has to become the most inclusive and respectful city possible.

Windsor Black Lives Matter Questionnaire

I watched the entire discussion in two sittings as the panel discussion is an hour and fifty minutes long. So I can tell you what was not discussed. The word defund was not used nor any discussion about the enormous size of the police budget was brought up in conversation. Despite that there are currently three WPS members and one retired WPS member with court dates in September, the criminal conduct of certain WPS police officers was not mentioned during this Black Lives Matter discussion. Nor was the June 18th event in which an officer reacted badly to two young people taking a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter — an event that the WPS addressed in a matter that impressed me while the Mayor chose to commiserate with the unnamed officer and questioned the beliefs of those taking a knee. Frankly, this makes me wonder how much the Black Lives Matter movement has made our mayor see the world differently.

Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens chairs the police services board and says the young men in the photo are entitled to their beliefs.

“You know, I thought through this and certainly the young men in that picture have a perspective. Clearly there’s something that’s on thier mind and I’d appreciate hearing what they think we could do better. What could we do to improve the situation that would make them feel comfortable not to have to take a knee? At the same time, I support our police as well and I think they do a great job.”

He says he doesn’t blame the officer for returning the food.

“If I were the officer driving that car I likely would have handed the bag back as well. I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating what’s in that bag if that’s the perspective of the people who made that food. That would cause me concern as well. So I certainly appreciate the officer’s position and I appreciate the young men in there having an opinion.”

Dilkens believes something good can come from the situation.

“These types of conversations, it’s not wrong to think that there’s some good that could come out of this. What are the perspectives of those young men? They took a knee, what are their beliefs? What do they actually believe? What would they like to see made better in the community? How can we have a conversation and include their voices in that conversation to see how we can make the place we love better together?”

“Windsor Police Launch Internal Investigation After Arby’s Incident”, AM800

I was also disappointed in the responses of the Mayor during the June 19th Black Lives Matter panel. After a considerable discussion of the racism of our school systems which have poor expectations for black youth and guides them accordingly, the topic of the poor success of WPS police recruitment racialized groups came up and in response, Mayor Dilkens suggested that the qualifications to be a police officer could be reduced.

That being said, that conversation brought my favourite moment of the entire panel. It occurred when Black Historical Research Society President Irene Moore Davis responded to the Mayor’s comments by making the connection that the unnecessary stops of black men and women by police are added to a record that, if they chose to apply to join the WPS, is used against them during the regular background check of applications — a textbook example of systemic and systematic racism. Mere moments before this particular exchange, Michael Brown, the operations manager of Rapha Christian Center, told his story about how he and his friends were stopped by police not far from his Walkerville home because it was reported that there were suspicious black men in the area.

Irene also mentioned the Human Rights Project that formally concluded in 2014. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that Windsor police are among forces with highest number of human rights complaints in Ontario with “reprisal, sex complaints highest per capita at the Windsor Police Service.”

Source: Jason Viau · CBC News · Posted: May 01, 2019

With that, I thought I would share my five recommendations for the Black Lives Matter questionnaire. I’m not entirely sure where this questionnaire will go as it appears to be from the Mayor’s communication channels. This leads nicely to my first suggestion:

1. We need a new chair of the Windsor Police Board

There is no reason why the Mayor needs to be the chair of the WPS board. As the city is still in the grips of a global pandemic, now would be an appropriate time for the Mayor to step down from his duties as Chair to concentrate on one of our greatest threats to our safety and security. There are many cities in which the Mayor of the city is not the chair of the police board. In London, Ontario the chair of the London Police Services Board is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Paediatrics at the Schulich School of Medicine.

It can be problematic when a politician holds the role of chair because their actions can be seen as reacting to political problems, rather than systemic issues. Maybe it was appropriate for the Mayor to declare a zero tolerance approach to crime on October 1, 2018. Or perhaps the Municipal election date of October 22, 2018 weighed in his decision to use an approach both known for being ineffective and disproportionately affecting marginalized and racialized people.

When Drew Dilkens announced that Windsor Ontario is going to be the first community in Canada to partner with Amazon’s Ring surveillance system, in what capacity was he acting in?

2. The Mayor must step back from his pledge to bring Amazon’s Ring to Windsor

Amazon’s Ring network would bring corporate-controlled surveillance into our neighbourhoods. For more information explaining why letting them would be undemocratic and dangerous, please read Bonnie Stewart’s One Ring to rule them all: Surveillance ‘smart’ tech won’t make Canadian cities safer, CBC’s Spark’s conversation with Chris Gilliard: Smart home security could have real impacts on privacy, racial profiling, and the other conversations we’ve started at NoRingPlease.ca

3. The budget of the Windsor Police Services must be made public.

At the moment, even our own city councillors cannot read the complete WPS budget. A budget reflects the real values of an organization.

Trust is a two way street. If the WPS does not trust its community to see its budget, I’m unsure why it expects trust in return.

4. Police who remain in the service after being convicted of crime are toxic to the force and toxic to the community

Many people are shocked when they learn that members of the police who are convicted of crime are frequently suspended or demoted but are still able to remain on the force.

Addressing this challenge of bad apples spoiling the barrel will take years of sustained effort and a will to change the culture of the WPS from above and from within and with cooperation from the Windsor Police Association.

From a quick read of the Windsor Police Services Collective Agreement, I suggest that our Windsor Police Board and other parties consider addressing what articles it can to reduce harm from these menacing officers.

03-07 a) The Board agrees that if it becomes necessary to reduce the Service, this shall be accomplished in reverse order of seniority, and further, that any recall from layoff shall be accomplished in reverse order of layoff in that the last member laid off shall be the first member recalled, further that the member’s seniority shall remain intact, if he/she returns within one (1) year, subject to s03-07(c). (revised 2006)

Perhaps those with criminal convictions can be first to be pushed out?

For more insights about how Police oversight can be improved, I would suggest the reading the short policy paper, End Police Violence. Invest in Black, Indigenous and Racialized People’s Lives from the Ontario NDP. From it, I learned:

4. d) Currently, officers face no statutory penalty for not complying with an SIU investigation
4. e) Gold-standard reports full of pragmatic improvements and recommendations, including the Tulloch Report[9], have sat on the shelf gathering dust for years
4. f) In 2012 the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, noting that officer misconduct was rarely disciplined, specifically asked the justice system to punish officers for lying, misleading the court, and fabricating evidence[10]

End Police Violence. Invest in Black, Indigenous and Racialized People’s Lives

5. Defund the police. This means: move both the funding and the responsibility to provide social services such as mental health check-ins to other providers

Windsor Police Services, like many Ontario police services, also provide community services, such as training school children as cross guards. It has been argued that many of these youth oriented services could be provided by others agencies and community groups, perhaps at considerably less cost (it’s hard to tell for sure, see Reason #3 above).

Endnote: A little less conversation, a little more action

In the wake of the wave of police brutality against protesters both in the U.S. and in Canada, agencies such as the Windsor Police Services are asking the community for suggestions on how they can hurt their community less. It appears that organizations such as the Mayor’s office is unaware that by asking for the uncompensated time and expertise of racialized people, they are further burdening people who already have to dedicating too much of their energies just to survive and thrive in an anti-black world.

If you and your organization really want to make Windsor be known as the most inclusive and welcoming community, then it is incumbent on you to make an action plan that spells out how you are going to do the long-term, unglamorous, and difficult hard work in your organization. In my humble opinion, only when you have a first draft of such a plan, should you go to the community for feedback. They might send you right back to the drawing board (and if they recommend doing so, you should do so) but at least you will not ask your community to do your homework for you.

Alternatively, rather than giving people the power to make suggestions, give racialized people the power to make change in your organization.