Regina must defund the police

The system needs to change and it needs to change now. Photo courtesy of Yashmori (Flickr)

Calls to divest from policing have gone worldwide in the past month. Our city is no different

Policing is the City of Reginas biggest individual expense, and the nearly $4 million 2020 budget increase compared to 2019 demonstrates where the cities priorities align now, these increases not only need to stop, but the money afforded to police needs to dramatically decrease.

A petition was created at the beginning of June on calling for the defunding of the Regina Police Service (RPS). It reads, This petition has been created by concerned citizens to express opposition to the $96 million Regina Police Service (RPS) budget, a $3.5 million increase over last year’s budget.” The petition calls for increased funding to community-based organizations that work to protect all people.

The police budget increases,the petition continues, while Black and Indigenous-run community organizations, which provide low-cost alternatives to policing, are forced to rely on Go Fund Me campaigns, personal donations, and small grants from the city, in spite of the fact that they provide many of the same services as police, without requiring weaponry, communications departments, cells, or armoured vehicles. We should be funding community initiatives that support and centre the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in Regina.

Our inflated policing budget means that there will be more officers on the streets of Regina, and that does not keep marginalized people in our city safe. Rather, it endangers their lives. The RCMP was built upon a racist foundation, one that is a constant reminder of oppression the institution perpetrates, as the petition says: The organization that became the RCMP was founded to help forcibly remove nêhiyawak, Anihšināpēk, Dakota, Lakota, Nakoda, and Métis Peoples from their own lands.

The petition is directed towards Mayor Michael Fougere and the City Council. The demands are many and specific: Never again to vote to increase the Regina Police Service Budget. Stop the hiring of any new officers, purchases of equipment, and expansion to headquarters. Make the expansion of community-led initiatives the priority above financial investment in policing. Promise to disarm and demilitarize RPS,along with others. As of Sunday, June 21, there are 3173 signatures.

The response of the City of Regina and the Regina Police Service has been far from inviting, as they have failed to show their support to the BIPOC communities through this movement. In a tweet that they have since deleted, the RPS union on twitter sent out this address: Do you support the de-fundingof Police in Regina? If you do, this amazing work by our members will be one of the first to go. Choose wisely.

The amazing workrefers to RPSs Cultural Unit, which develops connections with marginalized groups in Regina. The tweet has received significant backlash from the community, accusing the police union of being disconnected and disinterested in what the drive to defund the police is truly asking.

I interviewed a U of R student, who wished to remain anonymous, about their thoughts and experiences here as a person of colour. In place of my limited experience, I would like to use this space to amplify their voice:

If you are driving as a person of colour you really have to, like, think about whats in [the back]. Like, just being conscious of your environment, like, extra conscious,said the student. In regards to the RPS they said, If a cop stopped me for any reason, like just any reason… I would be like, ughI hope I am not going to die.’”

BIPOC in Regina are often hypervisible, singled out in a crowd and therefore particularly affected by the systemic racism that has been built into our society. I, a white woman, have had encounters with the police where I have been on private property late at night. There was one cop who showed up and kindly asked me and my [white] friends to leave, then said, have fun, kids.I never once feared for the lives of my friends or myself. But the police do not act the same way with people of colour, because the initial, racist assumption when you see a young adult of colour is that they are up to no good.

The student I interviewed mentioned an experience they had one night upon the grounds of Saskatchewan Polytechnic. They and a friend just wanted a calm place to work on a project, when three cop cars quickly approached the two as they studied. We were kind of scared at first, but when [the police] came in, I mean, they asked questions they wouldnt normally ask[whats] your ID, whose car is it?Explained the student. It could have went the other way around.

The student also mentioned the differing struggles of Black and Indigenous people who live in places like Reginas north end, which is highly saturated with a police presence. I have seen the way cops actually [treat] Indigenous people, and honestly, it is really, really not something that I would like to experience.

The petition clearly outlines that this is a movement to defend the dignity of Reginas Black and Indigenous communities. Police forces were founded to and continue to protect white peoples lives and property, at the terrible expense of the lives of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour. Abolishing the police means addressing social issues at their root, instead of responding to them with guns and prisons.

There are major changes that need to be seen in Regina, in Saskatchewan, and all across Canada to protect the lives of those who the law continues to oppress, target, and murder with impunity. The City of Regina and the Regina Police force have not yet taken any action or acknowledge the calls to action stated within the petition, but it still makes a powerful case. It reads:

Per the City of Reginas Code of Ethics for Members of Council, your role [as the RPS] is to focus on issues important to the community and to demonstrate leadership and to build and inspire the publics trust and confidence in local government. As such, it is part of your duty as Mayor and council to address this petition with all the urgency that such a matter requires.

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