“I can't breathe” …yet again are the words heard around the world. Words which bellowed out of the mouths of George Floyd and Eric Garner, both of whom were Black victims of extrajudicial killing at the hands of police. Words that originate deep in the soul of the Black experience. “I can't breathe” is the response uttered far too often by those who live at the intersection of being Black and being policed, or being Black and policed while suffering from a mental health crisis. In the case of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police while sleeping in her bed, she never had the chance to even utter the words.
The membership of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) Canadian Chapter also struggles to catch our breath as we mourn in anguish over the police-involved deaths of Canadians such as Regis Korchinski-Paquet, D’Andre Campbell, Andrew Loku and others. Our membership continues to wait for justice for Dafonte Miller, whose left eye was beaten out by the hands of an off-duty Toronto police officer. The senseless violence and brutality against Black people at the hands of police exists both north and south of the border between Canada and the United States. We are plagued by the effects of systemic racism. The sheer volume of reports spreading across news outlets and social media has brought many members of society to their breaking point.
Across multiple cities around the globe, people have taken to the streets and held rallies in support of the Black community to denounce racism, to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, and to denounce the barbaric actions of these and countless other police officers against the community. Even in the face of a global Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a strong showing of solidarity with the Black community renewing the conversation about race, the origins of policing, and the unacceptable level of racial profiling and violence at the hands of police.
“Defund the police” is the collective cry heard from around the world. Words which mean different things to different people. To some those words mean to eliminate the police budget and move forward without police. To others those words are interpreted as reducing police budgets and reallocating funds elsewhere within the community. (More information is available at defundthepolice.org and at tiny.cc/4bw5qz)
CBTU Canada adds its voice to the voices of those calling for defunding the police. We stand in support of reducing the allocation of federal, provincial and municipal police budgets and reallocating these funds towards non-police interventions, community-based-service interventions, and health-service interventions. These reallocations and changes to the policing construct can only succeed if the end solutions are geared towards fighting against systemic racism and servicing the community, placing value on all black lives which is too often not there.
The current policing construct has left the Black community with the belief that there will be little or no consequences for the taking of, or the severely injuring of, a Black life. It is further the position of CBTU Canada that until there are real consequences for such actions, future generations will continue to experience this pain.
CBTU Canada adds its collective voice to the calls of those seeking justice and appropriate consequences for all Black lives wrongfully killed or injured at the hands of police. We stand with Black Live Matter (BLM) in our common aim to “dismantle all forms of state-sanctioned oppression, violence, and brutality committed against African, Caribbean, and Black cis, queer, trans, and disabled populations.” While we often hear the names of Black men that suffered at the hands of police, in Canada research has shown that Black women were found to be three times more likely than white women to have been stopped by police. It is Black girls that are three times more likely than white girls to have been arrested two or more times. While there have been rallies calling for an end to racism and chanting Black Lives Matter, there have also been rallies that finally began to focus on the plight and vulnerabilities of the Black LGBTQ+ community.
Multiple Black Trans Lives Matter rallies were held to demand justice and fair treatment after two Black trans women -- Dominique "Rem'Mie" Fells, 27, of Philadelphia, and Riah Milton, 25, of Cincinnati, Ohio -- were murdered. There have been multiple reported murders of trans and gender non-conforming people since the start of 2020.
Although it was Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, who lead the June 28, 1969 Stonewall Riots in NY, and Black queer people who were leaders in initial protests following the Toronto Bathhouse Raids of 1981 where police arrested hundreds of people, Black and queer people of colour continue to fight against racism and discrimination within the modern-day queer rights movement, racism and discrimination from police, and bias and discrimination from within the Black community. CBTU Canada is adamant that the fight for Black lives must be inclusive of all Black lives. It was Black Lives Matter that organized a sit-in at the 2016 Pride Parade in Toronto to demand that police no longer walk in the parade, due to Toronto police’s history of brutality towards the queer community. Although they do not walk in the parade, the brutality towards Black lives has continued.
CBTU Canada would like to thank all our allies in the fight against systemic racism and the fight for true and meaningful police reform, particularly those of a common plight. We must move the politicians beyond the rhetoric and demand real and immediate change: DEFUND THE POLICE.
Until the Black life is valued as much as the non-Black life there will be no justice and there can be no peace.
CBTU-Canada Executive Board