Patty: So we’re here with Desmond: Cole. Hello, Desmond,
Kerry: you are in the trenches right now, brother. Hello, welcome.
Desmond: Hello, Thank you so much.
Patty: I was listening to your book again. And one of the things that I really liked about it is how; I mean people get scared of activism. Right. Like they get scared. They think it’s going to be this like, overwhelming thing. And I think I mean, I’m a little overwhelmed right now thinking about Saturday. But it’s also it’s tangible, practical things like you showing up at Police Services Board meetings, and asking questions, paying attention.
Desmond: It’s boring stuff. It’s going through meeting agendas, is reading the Police Services Act. It is boring stuff, sometimes nerdy stuff. It’s sometimes stuff that you don’t immediately understand when you’re looking at it there’s a lot to this work that’s just thankless and time consuming. And you forget a lot of things too, that you acquire along the way and then you have to go back again. Right, but yeah, I mean, certainly like I probably never thought that I was going to be doing any of this work. And I certainly didn’t think that my life was gonna involve getting arrested at police board meetings for talking out of turn, but like, you know, here we are.
Kerry: I’m hearing you as you came on, and we started this conversation, one of the first spaces that I just recognize I’m feeling coming off you is the weariness there. I know. And I’m not even nearly in the same spaces you have been, feeling that weariness. I was talking to my partner today. I was saying to him how I am exhausted. And I am really feeling that sense of the overwhelm. And I was thinking about what you just said because I’ve been spending today reading the minutes for the last school trustee meetings and this the just the tediousness of where that space sits.
And in that Desmond, I you know what my questions have been for myself today is to really figure out how do we best serve in in these spaces of activism or standing up against our you know, anti-Black racism in you know, is it in the protests is it in you know, fighting a system that so is entrenched and in a way that we know we have to tackle. But are there other means and ways that we, as Black people should be approaching this space? Like, is it more powerful for us to build our own power centers? In our own circles? I’d be curious to know what your thoughts are on that.
Desmond: I think variations on the question you’re asking are among the most common question that I get doing this work is like, where do we devote our energy ? And I can only I can only say first of all that where I do devote my energy is not instructive for everybody else. Because it’s my own interests and passions and talents that kind of have led me to the kind of cumulative work that I do now. Right.
So, I have come to this place very much through things like the reporting on City Council that I did in Toronto for several years, going to community events and writing little reports about those, which led to like going to City Council Committee meetings and like, Okay, how does the committee system work at City Hall, okay, now, I understand that but you know, there’s this really important committee called the police board. And, you know, most of the rest of council doesn’t even occupy themselves with what happens there. So how does that work? I better start going to police board meetings, because policing is something I’m really interested in now.
And it’s probably around like 2012, 2013 that I really first started going religiously to council’s Police board meetings and really learning that structure. All that reporting background is what ended up leading me to doing this, like a lot of this kind of work, activism against policing. And that’s my that’s my entry point. Right. But that’s a very specific entry point.
So often, you know, I mentioned getting arrested, at the Police Board a couple of years back. People would say to me that year in 2017, why don’t why do I always see you alone? you’re getting into trouble. You’re getting surrounded by police officers? Why are you there by yourself? And my answer was always that like, well, how am I going to ask somebody else to do this work the way that I’m doing and expect them to put themselves on the line or take the specific risk that I feel like taking in that moment? Like, I can’t ask other people to do that, because maybe that’s not their way. You know what I mean, maybe that’s not what they are focused on. Maybe they don’t have the time. Maybe they don’t have the ability to get arrested the way that I did it because it’s going to really mess things up in their life.
So that’s a long way of saying I don’t think there’s one way.
And I think that actually colonial structures and bureaucratic structures make us feel like there’s one way and that usually that that’s the like,” inside the system” kind of way, working in collaboration with politicians meeting with them, learning how to pass motions, learning how to get votes wrangled, the at official proceedings, and like quite frankly, not all sucks. It’s like the worst, most draining work. I hate it. I’ve done it for many years. I can’t stand it. I never want to be in another meeting like that again. And and yet I’ve seen value in that particular kind of resistance.
There are 1000 ways to resist; I think that all of them are valid. I think that what actually matters is that the principles that we’re operating under are in harmony and in sync with one another. And that the goals that we’re trying to achieve, that we’re articulating and sharing those goals.
I see a lot of people talking about this kind of disembodied notion right now, for example of defunding police. And I keep asking people like, okay, to what end? So, I want to abolish the police because, like, we don’t need them. So when you say like, take away some of their money … You don’t talk about taking away their power. You don’t talk about taking away their legal right to murder us. You just want to take away some of their money. I’m like, okay, but like, we are not maybe working along the same lines there. Right. So I think those kinds of considerations are more important and how you do it. Because once you want to abolish the police, you can do that by making art. You can do that by writing your councilor, you can do that by blocking the road. You can do that by organizing and feeding and supporting people and helping to heal people who are subject to police brutality in your community. It’s limitless once once once you know what it is that you’re trying to do, and you can be in collaboration with people who are doing it in a completely different way, but have the same ideals. I feel like
Kerry: I love that.
Patty: Yeah, I really like Kelly Hayes. She’s an abolitionist working in Chicago, with Miriame Kaba. And Kelly talks a lot about strategic partnerships. It was, it was so funny because I’d heard you talking about, you know, not defunding the police. We’re abolishing the police. And then the very next thing that I was listening to was Kelly saying, defunding the police starves them of resources on our way to abolition. Because I had just been working on a letter because there’s templates going around that people can use to send to their various, you know, whoever the political people are in their area that are in charge of the police about defunding. And so I had decided I would do one for our area, for the Niagara region. And so I worked on it and the tedious business of going through the budgets, and reading the budgets, and what are you spending your money on? And, you know, and just kind of picking a number almost, at random, you know, looking at these letters. And then after I listened to you and I listened to Kelly I was like, Okay, I got to reword this letter, change some stuff in here, to make it clear that the defunding is not is not the goal that the defunding is a strategy in service of a larger goal so that the people that we’re sending this letter would know, and we do have a regional counselor on side. But like you talked about, she has talked about how exhausting that is, you know, the trolls that she gets on Twitter, the hate mail, the email and but it’s exhausting, tiring work, how do we support them? How do we build alliances with them? And how do we support them to keep them onside?
Desmond: Um, well, just going back first to what Kelly Hayes had said, if somebody could successfully put through a defund by 10-15-20-30% motion in any area of this country tomorrow and get it passed, I mean, more power to them. I’m not against that. I can think like, again, philosophically, if we’re not agreeing on why we’re doing it, it’s hard to convince people what the right number is. Because like, let’s not talk in the abstract. What does police budgeting fund mostly the salaries of police officers? So what we’re actually talking about if we’re talking about a simple defunding strategy without anything larger is taking police officers off the street. And while that might work in the abstract, find me a city councilor who’s like, yeah, we don’t need them in my area, you can take them out of my area, and my white residents will care and they’ll be fine. Like, I’m not hearing that from anybody, right? And so then it comes to this fight of like, well, where should they be taken from and my community will be less safe. If there aren’t these stormtroopers running around. I reject the whole premise.
But if you’re going to do it piecemeal, you need to then make a convincing argument where they should draw down the resources and why those places and I don’t see anybody willing to make those arguments. I see these kind of very vague, 10- 15% numbers. I think it’s without the larger philosophical reasoning behind doing that. It’s very hard to make that case.
Kerry: I actually really, really hear you on that. I too, have started to do some, you know, I was all on it. I’m like, yeah, let’s defund the police. You know. FIGHT the power because my Black sons and my Black husband have also been very much targeted. We know we know what the po po’s like when you Black and we walk in in the spaces. So that that instinctual space for us is real. But when I look at the concept of what the funding is I agree there’s there still seems to be a lot of abstract in I love that word that you use in how this is being formulated. What are what are the ends to it and if we took it away, if we do take it away, what’s going to replace it? Is it then federal military that will be on our streets like what what is that and and when I start to see such a large call start to go out, when that wave comes in. It makes me also question who is really behind the absolute agendas of this idea of defunding the police. Exactly. You know, like last night, I don’t know if you’re aware in Atlanta, Georgia, they had a situation where the police department stepped down in protest over it
Patty: They’re on strike now.
Kerry: Right, but because they charged that they’ve charged the officers who were involved in the killing of Rashad Brooks.
Desmond: That’s right.
Kerry : And I’m, I’m noticing that it’s the, you know, the, the loss of life to me is is, you know, part of our system part of where this has gone. And yet the, I’m seeing the shift from the value of us almost having, you know, anti Black racism, like there’s this shift happening to this idea of the politicalization of defunding the police becoming front and center and then the police officers in their reaction to it when you know, standing down, allowing their police stations to be overrun. I’m weary of what we are seeing the movement being morphed into, does that make sense?
Desmond: Of course
Kerry: And its right and I once again feel like we’re almost losing the sites. It’s shifting into ways that we who are front and center and doing the fight in the in the in the trenches our voices are getting lost behind whatever these political rallyings are and growing agendas from the political mainstream
Desmond: Quite right, quite right. I feel as though they have latched on to the term defunding, because it means taking a little away in their eyes. They can work with defunding whereas the term abolition totally terrifies them. And I say abolition I believe in abolition. But I also say abolition because I know that if I just defer to the more comfortable language of defunding, then we’re going to get away from, again, that goal of what we’re trying to do.
I want to talk about how to support people who are finding themselves in the political system, and then are up against what the rest of us are up against. And I think what’s important is that we have to provide political cover for people. And so when a politician is willing to step out and say, we need to make a dramatic change. I’m willing to write a motion. I’m willing to take this towards Council. I’m willing to take the brunt of white people being like “How dare you risk our safety” and all that they need our cover as civilians to say no, no, this person is actually doing something called leadership right now. And I know that’s foreign to y’all but like this is called leadership and going along with what everybody says unquestioningly is not actually, it’s not political leadership, doing what the white majority wants you to do is not it’s not political leadership. So we have to be able to be there in numbers and be visible to show that there’s a constituency for what that individual or small group of individual legislators, councilors, whatever the case may be that there’s a constituency right for what it is that they’re putting forward.
I want to talk also about, though this idea of backlash. So, Rayshaud Brooks, Atlanta, the police officers deciding that they want to throw a tantrum because they’re seeing some modicum of accountability. I would like to read you from a piece in The New York Times I just pulled up here while we were talking from 1989. And this is after the Toronto Police murdered Lester Donaldson, a 44 year old Black man who was in a rooming house. Six police officers went into his room in the house said that he had produced a knife and they shot and killed him.
After that happened, the police constable who shot Donaldson was actually charged with manslaughter. And I believe that that was the first time in the history of the Toronto Police force that an officer had actually been charged with manslaughter. So that’s in my lifetime, like I was seven years old when that happened. Like that’s how recently even the notion of legal accountability for police in this city was in play.
But I want to read you a couple of excerpts from this New York Times article. “On Sunday at a rally called by the police union 2000 members of the 5300 number Toronto force voted to demand the resignation of the Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott, under whose authority the manslaughter charge was laid. The rally also marked the public launching of a new citizen’s body Citizens Opposing Police Slander. By the way, that’s cops if you’re not catching the acronym, composed mostly of whites, some of its members appeared at a rally with hand lettered signs airing the legend. “Our all our politicians are flops but our cops are tops.””
It talks about some of the pushback from groups like the Black Action Defense Committee who were also fighting against murders like people like Wade Lawson, who was shot and killed by the police also. But the thing that really sparked me to bring this for you, it is “Spokesperson,” This is right at the end of the article, “Spokesperson for the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association: The police union have been similarly outspoken. Arthur Lyman, the union president, said after charges were laid against the 33 year old officer in the Donaldson shooting, that police officers, quote, are going to be reluctant to arrest Black people. And they’ll just take over the city.” .
So that’s a police of something 31 years ago, saying the quiet part loud because in today’s very hyper sophisticated media driven policing era, no one would ever say that quiet part loud, they would infer it and point at it, but they would never actually say it. But 30 years ago, this men felt like as the Police Association leader, he could just say, the problem with holding us accountable for killing Black people is that then you give Black people that sense of freedom that they can just do whatever they want. And obviously if you do that, they’ll take over. So what we’re seeing with Rayshaud in in Atlanta is not a US thing. It’s a Police Association power thing. And I refer in my book the skin we’re in to the Police Association in Ottawa. After Daniel Monstion was charged with the manslaughter killing of Abdirahman Abdi they created wristbands with Monstion’s badge number in them saying united we stand divided we fall.
Kerry: I think for me, the whole police around has so much trauma wrapped up around it. You know, there there have been positive experiences.
Desmond: Yeah, I just thought of that Arthur Lyman, you know, the the Black people are going to take over thing because that really is the subtext of all policing in North America whether the police still are smart enough to say it openly or not. That’s why they refuse to do their job because they kill Black people. They’re held accountable. They say how are we supposed to do our job if we can’t kill Black people, which just tells us as I said, as I read it in a tweet today that that means that your job, as you see it is to kill us and to get away with it.
Kerry: and well, just even the beginnings of where the police forces even came into being. You know, that makes so much sense. Desmond, like police forces were originally for and about being in in the slave patrols they were they were originally set up to police in North America, you know, or, you know, runaway slaves or when slaves were, you know, out going to different, you know, services for their masters being in control of how their movements were happening on the roadways, and then afterwards, into, you know, the whole realm of slave catching and all of that, think about the history and the mentality and this idea of the Blue Shield.
I mean, we all have accounts for longer than I’d like to admit. And I had Black sons in Peel Region. And I know what a complete please I always say this it is a police state,
Kerry: the city of Peel like I saw the whole of Peel Region. I recognize how my my son’s at least we had seven kids all together. Five teenagers, all in one space and three of them who are boys, and then one that my daughter, the four of my sons and my husband. Literally somebody would be stopped at least once a week and asked for ID, asked where they were going. It didn’t matter if they were coming back and forth from school. My husband used to run a basketball programs in Peel. And like we just can’t even just get, you know, scrimmage games of basketball going for the young gentleman in the area. And there would be police officers sitting in just the parking lots, surveilling them as they were playing. And then stepping out once the games were over to ask every single one of them where they were going, what ID they had. It was a constant, just state of terror that these young men were growing up with and help How could it not couldn’t create that space of anger?
Patty: Well, in this the same like with the RCMP, they were started to you know, they were started to clear the west of Indigenous people. And they still like, you know, the head of the RCMP who said, No, we don’t have any systemic racism in the RCMP. And then the next day, she says, well, actually, maybe we do. Well, no, that’s because everybody lost their minds and said of course you do look at your history, look at what you do.
And you know and look at, you know, the way you know, like everything that you know, that you have talked about, you know, with your husband and your boys. Indigenous, you know, Indigenous, you know, women and men have the same experience of being followed around and stopped and I mean sometimes those of us that are white passing or you know, ambiguous like in Niagara I’m kind of ambiguous if people think I’m Italian because a lot of Italians down here with olive skin you know, but being hyper visible isn’t doesn’t help it just makes you noticeable and out west, you know, the Trail of Tears and just so many stories of police not even bothering to investigate
Kerry: how to make the noise and I think even coming from both ends, you know, Indigenous women and children and and just, you know, and our men on all sides, we have Just start making this noise. I commend you, Desmond, for showing up at the meetings and having those conversations where we say, yes, this has happened in your community. It’s happening in our communities, too. Because I know my story is it was not unusual for the area, all of our Black sons, friends were in that space.
Desmond: Yeah. And I mean, you know, shout out to people who are both Black and Indigenous ancestry. Right? Because there is an intersection there to that it’s easy for us to forget that. People are living with both of these identities. You know, when people I did a livestream recently, and somebody said to me, you know, you’re talking all of this Black stuff, but like COVID has really exacerbated a lot of racism against Asian people, and I don’t hear you talk about that, stop erasing that from the conversation like people aren’t people are multiple things, sharing multiple identities, right.
But when you were talking earlier about the tradition of the slave catching, it was making me think, too, about the other tradition of policing in North America, which is like frontier policing, which says, This isn’t your land. We want it, we’re going to take it by force. And if you get in our way, you’re going to have to deal with the Northwestern Mounted Police. Or you’re going to have to deal with other forms of like frontier policing to move Indigenous peoples off their land. And so when we see that that’s what the RCMP has morphed into today, is it any surprise just as the traditional slave catching continues in urban areas in the same way, the frontier pushing of people off of their land means that the RCMP are on Wet’suet’en territory pointing their weapons at people and having orders to shoot to kill. Not like this is the exact same tradition.
So the combined traditions of the slave catching and of the frontier policing, give us the RCMP and the local police forces that we see today. Give us the anti-Blackness, the anti-Indigenous sentiment and the deadly outcomes.
And you know, it is so pathetic in 2020 to see white people on television, saying, Yeah, systemic racism is real, but not in my institution. It’s real. But not in the RCMP, not in the local police force, not in the Department of Justice, not in the Department of Health, like it’s systemic, except for my area of the system. Shut up, shut up.
And the media that is giving so much time to these ridiculous and childish defenses like leaders of police forces literally telling us that they have to Google what systemic racism is. You’re pathetic. Get off the stage. Like the children are right to laugh at you, get off the stage, like, you’re the leadership of these institutions, pathetic. They have no shame for their own ignorance.
But what I find fascinating about Canadian society is that you are actually able to, first of all deny reality, and then turn around immediately and say, you know what; maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe I was wrong about reality. And now, I get to resume power over you for something that I just learned about. So I didn’t know what systemic racism was yesterday, but I googled, I talked to a couple of people and now that I’ve googled, I think business is normal. Right? Let’s go back to the way that things, what the hell? like it’s just very, very annoying. And the limits of the political discourse.
Jagmeet Singh creating emotion in the legislature, yesterday to very important stuff that Jagmeet Singh brought up. Let’s actually acknowledge that systemic racism also means the RCMP. But more importantly, Let’s release all of the use of force settlements. So let’s find out how much money the RCMP has. Because of all of their violence against people that they have settled and don’t want anybody to know how much is that? It’s actually fine because that’s our money. So let’s find out. And also Let’s review the actual practices of use of force. What has that become? It’s become a debate about whether or not Jagmeet Singh had enough decorum in the parliament after that motion, didn’t receive the support that it needed. Right. So I mean, yeah, the level of discourse. Childish at best, I don’t even know what else to say about it. It’s, it’s really disappointing, but I shouldn’t be surprised.
Kerry: Hey, you know, you’re bringing up a really powerful point I hadn’t even thought about it in that way. I mean, we know that the Canadian public really does want to exist in this bubble like we’ve really bought into this idea of us being a multicultural society that is supposed to be this utopia. You and I and anybody of color understands that that utopia may not necessarily be a space. But, I have been so taken in especially since I’ve moved into this part of Ontario, how, you know, white folk really believe that like, they really, really believe that that is the truth. We have all just morphed or melded into this reality of their world.
And because they exist and the levels of power and privilege, they just don’t want to examine it. And for obvious reasons, and say, you know what, I can give that space up to somebody else, when you can tell me that and demonstrate it. That’s when we can really talk about it on a level. It’s got to be those kinds of conversations that are on the space and that true examination, and I believe that here, there’s been a big cushion. I think also because I think for like, let’s be honest, immigration has controlled the visibility and the numbers that are allowed to exist here. And so also for you know, when we were talking about Black and anti-Black racism, we are less than I think it’s what are we 2% of the overall population
Desmond: like three and a half I think
Kerry: we sit the numbers and being able to actually garner that has been, I think, very controlled. You know, how we have shown up has been very controlled And so that plays a role in that space. And we’re all clustered too, you know, we have these clusters of where you’re going to see Black people, but the second you start to set out to kind of stretch out into the wider areas of this country. You know, those white folks live very much in bubbles, and can’t believe that there could be, because they’ve all they all got one Black friend, you know, like, everyone’s got the one Black friend.
Desmond: Everything’s a lie, everybody a liar, though, can I can I actually just put that out. There is like, first of all, I really like your point about it being a matter of people in many cases, it’s not that they don’t know and so they don’t want to know and critical. And also, I think, like, I’m done with giving people the benefit of the doubt, white people like when it comes to these issues, you’re just lying. When you say you have a Black friend who says you’re racism is ok, you’re probably lying. And this is like, no there.
They said they did studies in the 60s, justified for all of the activism and the disruption. And they were engaged in. This is like mid-60s, majority of white people said, No, what they’re doing is not justified. They’re just complaining too much. But today, everybody marched with Dr. King. Everybody marched with them. So how is it possible today? That they are all there? but yet the data shows us very clearly no, that is not the case.
Um, like people are lying. People are revisioning their own history and changing it to say what sounds appropriate and what they think is the social line for the time that they’re, that they’re speaking in. And so like, it’s very, it’s very difficult to really take people at their word. And you know, James Baldwin said, I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do. Right?
So I always wonder about where this like, yeah, my Black friend, like I always am, like, very skeptical. Where’s this coming from? Not to mention the fact that we have also this idea when it comes to the, you know, you’re talking about the spaces where Black people are not. Because we tend to cluster in a lot of these areas and there are huge parts of the country where we’re just in much smaller numbers. Ignorance is learned, racism and anti Blackness is learned. It is practiced. It is reinforced, it’s taught.
And so people who live in spaces where there are not a lot of Black people often get this thing projected onto them that’s like, well, they don’t know any better because there’s no Black people around. And I’m like so then how come have ideas. If you just don’t have any Black people around? How do you still end up with these really, really pervasive racist ideas that the rest of the society has? Because that would suggest, and in a place like Toronto, where there are more Black people than anywhere else in Canada, people don’t have those ideas. And I know liberal white Canada would love for us to believe that.
But I’m sitting in the most militarized city in this country looking around as thousands of police officers run around with guns and white people in this city tell us, we can’t have transit, we can’t have childcare. Right? We can’t have food programs for kids, and the lack of those things. It’s not the lack of those things that’s making people unsafe, it’s the lack of policing that they’re afraid of, right. So how is it that they live in such proximity to Black people and have for many generations and they’re still so afraid of us? Right? It’s not a matter of ignorance or lack of exposure to Black people like anti Blackness is learned.
So if you You live in the sticks, and you don’t encounter Black people, you still have to learn to hate us from somewhere you don’t just naturally grow up with the racist anti Black ideas that the rest of the society has, you must be learning from somewhere and I think like, it’s a really, really important part of them who want to be let off the hook with its proximity to us as Black people.
But I don’t think that Toronto is a multicultural city for example, Toronto is a segregated city. The downtown core of Toronto somehow this is the most mind blowing statistic about Canada that I know. The downtown core of Toronto in the last 20 years has become more white, as the entire city as a whole has become more Black and Brown. How is that possible? Through the like very intentional displacing and pushing out and shoving out of Black people from this downtown entertainment district core with the theaters and the fancy restaurants and the good access to transit.
You don’t want us here. And you found all these ways to break down Regent Park, to break down Alexandra Park. And you’re going to do these revitalizations of these neighborhoods that you allowed to crumble because that’s where we live and you don’t want us to be downtown. And then you create policing systems that police’s when we come downtown to go to work. You create transit cops who say, where’s your fare when you’re downtown? They don’t, the transit cops in Toronto actually don’t operate so much in the suburbs, you know where most of us live? They wait for us to come downtown and say, Are you really supposed to be here? Did you really pay your fare? So we even, that the most disproportionate carding in the city of Toronto actually happens in the most white areas of the city. So those downtown areas that I’m talking about that are home to like 90% plus white folks, those are the places where Black people are the most disproportionately likely to be stopped by the police. Because as somebody very carelessly said to me one time, well, maybe they just see you and think that you don’t belong there. And it’s like that. That is exactly what that is.
Patty: that’s it.
Desmond: That is called racism. That’s what we call racism.
Kerry: You know, it’s amazing what you’re saying, because I wouldn’t been in witness to this, you know, you just confirmed something that I could so see, you know, when Regent was being dismantled, and you know, we all have peeps there, everybody started being expanded out. And when, you know, we’ve also talked to some activists that live in directly in the communities as well. And what came back wasn’t the same demographic that went in. Most of the Peeps didn’t come home, they weren’t coming back into Regent. And I was down there like right before For COVID and it struck me exactly what you were saying just how white, these spaces have become. Toronto in itself downtown, the urban center is really white. And it used to be much more flavor there. There was a lot more flavor in in those spaces before. So it Desmond you are you are touching some points I just got to say fire because you’re hitting the points, man it is fire. Preach to the real.
Patty: Yeah, I just sat through an implicit bias training about how racism is based in our fear of people who don’t look like us. And it made me very sad because that’s, I mean, that’s, that’s very comforting. That’s a very comforting thought to the white liberal that you know, and everything that you just said goes completely against that because it’s not this unknown random fear of the other it’s a very calculated, constructed fear of, of, you know, very specific people. It’s got …
Desmond: And this is why I believe that all of these notions of things like what we call now implicit bias, and unconscious bias training the way people are, like we didn’t even know we were discriminating
Patty: It was accident. Right?
Desmond: Which is not to say, which is not to say that some of the racism that is generated and perpetuated in our society isn’t happening on the subconscious or unconscious level. It is, but that’s not what racism is. No, that’s not what racism is. Racism is not like, Oh, I just, I didn’t realize it. Because when we tell you that’s what you’re doing, you’re like “true, but I’m not gonna stop. I mean, like, you can’t just stop. We can’t just not have police. Like I know they’re killing you and stuff but like, how do we stop?”
Somebody asked me on TV. When you say defunding the police, what do you mean? I was like, well not to be glib but defunding the police means defunding the police. Like, there’s this. Like, the intentional, kind of like the willful ignorance, right? I don’t know what you’re talking about, because I don’t want to know what you’re talking about. This is actually what the racism that we’re trying to overcome is based in and not some accidental, subconscious kind of bias, as they like to say.
It’s, it’s, it’s really when you recognize all of the power that you hold, and then still want to hold on to it anyway, because heaven forbid that we should have to live in a different world. Heaven forbid that you should have to learn how to live with us different. So it’s more of a holding on to power for me. And that’s why again, these arguments in the media about well, what’s the definition of systemic racism? What’s the definition? Who cares? No matter what the definition is, you’re not going to change. The police have been called out for their murderous ways. And what are they doing? They’re continuing to murder. They can’t stop taking our people’s lives. They can’t stop taking Indigenous People’s lives. Chantel Moore has been murdered. Aisha Hudson. Jason Collins has been murdered this year. We just saw the murder of Rodney Levi. We just saw Adam Allen being assaulted ON CAM by multiple RCMP officers. They all know that they’re being watched right now. But they can’t help themselves. Is that about the unconscious bias that they’re exhibiting in their actions? Or is it that they know that they have enough power to continue to getting away with what they’ve been doing? Right? There’s a deep lack of honesty in our conversation.
Kerry: I love that Desmond and it even speaks to I agree 150,000% with what you’re saying. So, I got pick up the number right. But I, I really also what comes up from you when you speak on that is also what kinds of, of psychological profiles are you pulling in to into the police force, you have got to be systematically recruiting and bringing in certain personality types that would be an avail to want to be in this power structure in the certain and specific way. And I often look at that piece of this as well. The Blue Shield is real, we know it is a cultivated space as it grows, but you got to also be looking for a certain type of individual that is coming in, and we, there’s enough psychological profiles to be done. To recognize that some of these people should not be officers, they’re not going to handle this idea of power well, and yet the system is allowing this perpetration over and over again. So what does that even speak to? Why and how we have these police forces set up and why they exist in the stance to which they do in the moment?
Desmond: Well, I’m glad you brought up Mariame Kaba earlier because Mariame Kaba has taught me more in the last several years and probably anybody in the whole world. I just think she’s, she’s, there aren’t words. I love her. I love what she does. I love what she teaches us. She’s wonderful.
But you know, people like herself, and other prison abolitionist, policing abolitionists that I follow. They’re always trying to get us to pull back and to say like, beyond any one of these institutions. What is the thing that makes people think that a prison is even necessary in their society? What is that? What makes people think that the police are a necessary response whereas this fear coming from? And I really think it has to do with, you know, what I cited in my book by bell hooks, she refers to it as dominator culture, right.
And I really believe that there is a certain profile of a person who would be more attracted, for example, to being a police officer or being prison guard, for example. But the problem isn’t that that’s the person that gets the job and that somebody else would do it better. The problem is that we shouldn’t be setting up relationships between human beings where one person has so disproportionately more power over another person to begin with, and that’s why for me, the conversations around abolition that I’m seeing, let’s just take police because that’s really a big focus right now. And it’s something I’ve been interested in for years.
I don’t know how you can talk about abolition, if you’re not talking first and foremost, about the license to kill that the police have under law. The criminal code says that if a police officer takes a life, it’s different from if a civilian does it, because they are given that authority by the state. And that, you know, more than likely, they’re not just going around abusing their authority. So we have to be very careful about holding police officers legally accountable for harming or killing other people, no matter how much they do it. Right. And I don’t know how we can talk about abolition with that law in place. If a teacher kills one of their students because they were afraid of them, the teachers probably going to get criminally charged. If a childcare worker doesn’t my mom’s a nurse, if my mom murders one of her patients because they grabbed her in a way that made her afraid, she will go to jail. And she’ll be tried in a court of law. And probably as a Black woman, she’ll be convicted. Right? I don’t believe in our court system. And I think we need to abolish that as well.
But I certainly feel like we are not having a serious conversation until a police officer under law or any first responder or helper or social worker or anybody in that role that replaces police, when they take a life they have to face the same social consequence that everybody else would face doesn’t mean they’re guilty. It just means that they face the same social consequence that everybody else. They don’t get immunity, because it is presumed that they were righteous because they were acting under the authority of law.
So the Criminal Code provision that says, as long as you are afraid for yourself or somebody else as a police officer, it’s not murder, it’s not assault. That actually has to be done away with. We’re not having any serious conversation about abolition until we do that. And then what about the means to enforce that Dominator relationship? That’s the gun. That’s the taser. That’s the body armor. These cowards go six or seven deep into situations with one person and the person’s still dies. But you have on military style gear, you have a gun, you have a taser, and you can’t. I mean, why would you I guess de-escalate a situation when you’re being given all these toys and the unlimited authority to use them? So until the license to kill in law goes and until the guns and the tasers and the batons and the mace go, I don’t want to talk about funding. The funding conversation comes after you take away the right to kill and the means to do it. Period.
Patty: That’s fair.
Kerry: I was gonna say, and with that …
Patty: No,that’s fair, I’m gonna go rewrite my letter. I think I think people are latching on to the defunding conversation because it feels possible. It feels like something that they can do. It feels it feels like a small victory. It feels like and it feels like something that we can that we can rally around, but, and I was excited about it at first, you know, and I jumped on the budgets, and I was working on that letter. And then, and then I started seeing all this conversation on Facebook, this stupid meme that I keep calling out all the time about defunding the police doesn’t mean abolishing them. It just means having more social workers and more nurses and letting police deal with crime and criminals. And of course, we’ve talked with Tamara Kitossa that criminologist at Brock and his whole jam is criminology was invented to criminalize Black people. That was like the whole so do you even see that statement? Let police work on crime. No crime, the whole concept of crime is racist.
Patty: So every time I see that meme and I’m like “raaahr”, but I think people latching on to defunding because it feels possible, whereas abolition just feels too big.
Desmond: Let me disabuse people who are listening to this, of that notion, if I can, about what’s possible and what’s not, because I think the best tradition of Black people is that we create possibility. We don’t accept the possibility that the racist white society has set out for us. We actually say how we would like to live and then we aspire to something greater than we’re being offered in the moment.
And I want to highlight a part of the motion in Toronto. A motion to defund, yeah so-called defund police. It’s a one year motion. It doesn’t have any real long term vision. It doesn’t address the legal right to use force. But it does say one very important thing and unless I am mistaken this motion has been amended by counselors Matlow and Wong-Tam in Toronto since they have heard from lots of people about it. And I don’t remember this part being here before and forgive me if I’m wrong, because maybe I missed it. But this is what I’m about to read you is very clearly the influence to me of Black abolitionists and their allies. This is in a city council motion. So people say it’s not realistic. It’s not possible. Number six in this motion. City Council requests the Toronto Police Services Board to establish an explicit policy to immediately ban the use of deadly force and military style weapons against unarmed civilians, including but not limited to firearms, chemical weapons, including tear gas or armored vehicles, and to dispose of all such weapons by no later than one year by June 30 2021.
Desmond: Yeah, everything is impossible until it happens, right? Now, there are some problems that I see with this motion with this particular clause. The first problem is that if you’re banning something immediately, you don’t need until June 30 of 2020. Right? That’s a big problem. So just do it. If you recognize that the weapons don’t need to be in the hands of police or shouldn’t be, just get rid of them now, don’t. We’re not gonna let these murderers run around for another year while we try to figure out how to disarm them. No. Again, that’s not what you would do with any other person who was armed, who was a threat. So acknowledge the threat and then deal with it accordingly
I’m more worried about the part that says ban the use of deadly force and military style weapons against unarmed civilians. We need to talk about that right. In Toronto, a hammer is a reason to use deadly force against the police, or against a civilian excuse me, and that’s Andrew Loku being murdered by the Toronto Police in 2015. They murdered Michael Eligon for having two pairs of scissors. You know, they said Lester Donaldson had a knife in his apartment but there were six people with guns surrounding him. We hear that there were multiple people in the apartment with Regis Kaczynski-Paquette before she felt 24 stories to her death
The Ombudsman the former Ombudsman for Ontario, Andre Marin wrote a couple of reports about the reason why we don’t have effective police oversight in Ontario. He listed things like police officers routinely destroying or tampering with evidence at the scenes of their own violence. This is in official Ombudsman’s reports, how police officers don’t testify to the SEIU and give their evidence don’t hand over their notes.
This has been going on for so long. And again, when you have the authority and no one was going to hold you accountable for doing these kinds of things. Why would you stop? But I say all that to say, the police will always say we were posing a threat and that we were armed. So I think that there needs to be more nuance around that language. And I and I want to be really clear about something lest people think that this isn’t really a conversation about public safety.
Gabriel Wortman went on a killing spree in Nova Scotia, and murdered almost two dozen people. And he had lots and lots of weapons and ammunition. I don’t think he should have had those weapons, I don’t think he should have had that ammunition. I don’t want to live in a world or in a country where people can inflict that kind of violence on one another. Unfortunately, we have allowed way too many people in this country to have that kind of potential for violence. So I can’t rule out ever dispatching people with guns to address a situation like that one. But I think it’s also really important to point out that Gabriel Wortman was engaged in intimate partner violence way before he went on a killing spree and nobody cared about that. Gabriel Wortman was assembling police cars and police uniforms and nobody cared about that. Apparently people in Gabriel Wortman’s community even more reported him to the police. And they didn’t do anything about it.
Kerry: his neighbor moved, there is he had a neighbor physically move and report that this guy, something wasn’t all right. And nobody cared about that. So you are right, Desmond.
Desmond: So so I don’t want to submit to the man with the gun. Because if we have to submit that he’s always the biggest threat and that he’s the person that we’re keeping ourselves armed for, this narrative of fear that the police are peddling always wins. So in in a case like that one. Should there be an armed response of somebody who’s going through the community murdering people in that way? Yes, I believe that that can be justified. But that’s not a police officer, to me. That’s a special force who never walk the streets, who are trained specifically how to use weapons, who don’t walk the beat talking to little children, who don’t go into our communities. You’re going to stop somebody for a traffic ticket with a Glock. You gonna go to a noise complaint with a Glock. And people want to tell me that this is normal, and that this is the world that we have to keep living in. No. When you don’t have that weapon, you’re going to behave really differently and you’re going to make different choices. And that’s actually what we want to see. Right. So that part of this motion that says unarmed, I think needs to be revisited. Because having a pair of scissors or a hammer, in your hand, is not a reason to kill somebody.
I worked at a drop in center. People brought weapons to the drop in center I worked at. I didn’t have the right to defend myself with a gun and neither do the police if I don’t have that right. Like this is what we really need to question.
Police in Waterloo, Ontario, said we want to have access to the COVID database. We want to know who has tested positive for COVID. This happened like six weeks ago. The province under its new emergency orders gave any police force in Ontario, the legal right to go into COVID databases. And before they contact somebody be able to look up their status to see whether or not they have COVID. This is a nightmare. This is especially a nightmare for Black people and just conjures up all of the things that have been done to us since the AIDS epidemic in the 80s.
And what’s behind that? It’s what’s behind that is that not only there the police there to keep other people safe, but that the police are more at risk for everything and need to be protected more than anyone else in the society. Because the person who works at Sobeys over here who has to touch my money or my card and do my groceries and stand right in front of me while I breathe. They’re more at risk than almost anybody for contracting this illness. But they don’t have the right to ask me whether or not I have Coronavirus. This is my personal and private medical information not theirs. But the notion that the police if they’re going to come to my house to evict me or to enforce a noise complaint, that they have the right to know whether or not I have Covid now? What makes them more important in terms of their own health and protection that they should be able to violate my privacy, and the person that works at Sobeys? doesn’t make any sense. But when you orient police as not only the heroes, but those most susceptible to all of the horrible harms, this is the twisted logic that you get.
Patty: Asking that question would get you some very get some very instructive answers. I think that gets at the beliefs of why they think that is justified, because a lot of people do you know, yes, and the police deserve everything. They’re, you know, they’ve got blue, you know, the blue stripe flag hanging in their house. They’re just appalling.
Desmond: Just to add to that a little bit. I just think that like the police should know enough not to put themselves in certain situations that could be dangerous, if you’re the police, and you’re being asked is how as it’s happening in this city, right now to go clear out homeless encampments of the people who are sleeping in parks and sleeping under bridges, even though the City of Toronto has been sued, because their shelters don’t provide adequate physical distancing. And then people sleep outside, in camps on under bridges or in parks, and the police are deployed to go and clear them out. Well, you know, what, if I was a police officer, and I had the union that they had, I’d be like, I’m not doing that. That’s bullshit. That’s dangerous first of all, dangerous for me. It’s dangerous for those people. And it’s not necessary. You’re trying to put me as a police officer to do a job that I don’t need to be doing.
If I was a fare inspector in the city of Toronto, and they’re like, hey, just spend your day going from bus to bus, street car to street car, just interact with thousands of people touch their card, touch them. If they don’t have the fare, grab them and take a hold of them. And then go home to your family at night during this global pandemic and give them a hug. I would just be like, no like I’m not doing that, like, you’re asking me to do something.
But the problem is this notion that the police are just taking orders. So all these ridiculous and unsafe and more dangerous things that they’re being asked to do that they can’t refuse them, and that that’s why they need the Covid database because they just have to follow orders and the poor police who can’t refuse. Of course they can refuse. Like I said, they refused to work after Lester Donaldson’s killer got charged. They sat in their squad cars and didn’t answer calls. They took their service guns home with them at night when they went home from work, just to show the state, well, we have more power than you think we have. So if you’re going to charge to the murder now, let’s see what we can do back to you. If the police don’t feel like obeying , they do it all the time. The police will get angry at another police officer for being like, Hey, you abused somebody, you abused your authority that police officer next time they call for backup. I hear this story all the time, they’re not getting back up. So police disobeyed orders all the time. They can disobey their order though when it’s like go break up, the homeless encampment, go crack down on the person who doesn’t have $3 for transit. They don’t have to obey these orders. And so they don’t need these special powers to go gallivanting through the society and putting themselves and others at risk. But when you’re a soldier, you do what you’re told, I guess I can’t relate. I I dropped out of university and I thought about like joining the reserves to just have some money. And I just realized like, I can’t I can’t do what people tell me to so I wouldn’t last.
Kerry: Did I just get that impression that maybe that little bit of truth, Desmond you were destined for different and greater things. You have spoken some, like just powerful in your face. Absolute gems tonight. So much food for thought I was I’m really just empowered by this conversation. Thank you so much Desmond, you, you really have given me a little bit more of a grounding in my own space of of doing this work of being active and how I can show up. And also some perspectives right on why and the how, and how easy some of it could be, you know, standing in it. And I thank you for that,
Patty: And how ridiculous some of the arguments are, right is really some of the arguments in favor of policing are they’re ridiculous.
Desmond: They’re about as ridiculous as the outcomes that the system produces, I guess. Yeah. I want to say thank you to both of you. And I’m really looking forward to being in Niagara on Saturday to practice some Black and Indigenous solidarity. And to dance. I haven’t danced I don’t think properly since COVID started. It really makes me sad. I love music festivals and I love outdoor dancing with other people. And it might be a long time before it’s safe to like, do that in the ways that we used to. But I’m, I’m really looking forward to having some of that emotional release when we see each other.
Patty: There’s actually I can’t think of the city that it’s in now, but every night they’re having a dance party in front of City Hall. That’s the protest. In front of City Hall, yeah, that same idea.
Kerry: But Desmond , we are looking forward to it.
Desmond: Dance, dance revolution, right?
Patty: Yeah, I suck at it.
Patty: Okay, thank you again, so much. We’ll see you on Saturday right. Bye bye
Desmond: Thankyou so much, bye.
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