“Centering Black Lives”: An Evening with Desmond Cole

 Desmond Cole was in Vancouver to deliver a talk at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (CBC)

Desmond Cole was in Vancouver to deliver a talk at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (CBC)

By Jeff Shantz  - November 19, 2018

Journalist Desmond Cole has been one of the most prominent voices against police violence and racial profiling in Canada. On November 16, 2018, Cole shred his experiences and insights with a standing room only gathering at the Alice McKay Room in the Vancouver Public Library in downtown Vancouver. Cole engaged in wide ranging conversation at an event hosted by Black Lives Matter Vancouver and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

The evening started with conversations among attendees at tables around one or more questions related to issues of racial profiling, white supremacy, carding, identity, etc. There were prepared questions about the responsibilities of white people in overcoming white supremacy. There were questions about racial identity and social engagements with identity.

Before Cole spoke, singer-songwriter Desiree Dawson sang several of her original songs including CBC Searchlight winner from 2016,”Hide.” Dawson proved popular with the audience who responded enthusiastically.

In an honestly emotional start, Desmond Cole began by relating his disturbing experiences of being carded by Vancouver police within 24 hours of his arrival in the city. Cole did say that the Vancouver Police Department denied they do racial profiling or even have racism on the force. Yet their own data show that while one percent of Vancouver’s population is Black, they are five percent of those carded. While Indigenous people are two percent of Vancouver’s population, they are 16 percent of those carded. And police had denied for years that this data even existed. Cops lie.

Cole asked people to think about the challenges that brought us together as communities on the evening. These were perhaps questions about what it means to be Black in Vancouver or Canada today. Maybe simple curiosity. Cole asked why people where there and what it is about communities in struggle that makes them want to attend events like this—which do not happen all the time.

The first response was from a woman who said she was working through white supremacy, as a Black woman, and having to overcome the valuation of white culture taught from an early age. Throughout the evening there were several discussions of healing and the need for healing. People spoke of the dominant social pressures to be other than they are. One person who spoke said, “Belonging is the opposite of ‘fitting in’.”

There were many thoughts conveyed on the immense strength it takes for people to get up and into the world—given all that is going on today. Self-care and care of those around us was recognized to be essential. Desmond Cole stressed that this is work that is often not looked at as The Work (capitalized) of movements. But Cole said finding time to laugh, and laughing, is The Work too.

Cole spoke of his upbringing in Red Deer (which surprised many) and Oshawa and his increasing appreciation for nature. Anyone who follows Cole on social media knows that his journalistic and political posts are often joined by lovely photos of flowers. Sadly, this is what he was simply trying to enjoy when he set out for Stanley Park and was stopped by the Vancouver Police Department officer.  

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White Supremacist Improv

One highlight of the discussion was Cole’s discussion of what he calls “White Supremacist Improv.” This involves white people making up rules that Black people have supposedly violated , as a means to keep them in their place. So white people online made up or looked for absurd bylaws that Cole must have violated for the cops to have stopped him. It could not have been, according to the white supremacist improvisers, that the police are a racist institution or practice racial profiling.

A key point stressed by Cole is the need to stop incrementalism and middling approaches to social change (that do not really change anything)—and go directly for what is needed. Cole emphasizes that Black people have the right to demand what they need on their terms. It is not impractical or unrealistic to demand what is necessary for justice. Indeed, as Cole puts it, there is nothing more impractical than believing that white supremacist systems will recognize their inequity and decide to do what is right for Black people.

Relatedly, the law, is fine not protecting Black and Indigenous people. Cole noted that police street checks are violations of multiple Charter rights. The Charter is not for Black people. It was made despite their needs. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained. Everyone has the right to be free from reasonable search or seizure.

White supremacy tells people that police acting other than they do would be unsafe. Black and Indigenous people are viewed as criminals in the making or as potential criminals. Legal systems allow many, predominantly white people, to make money building, staffing, filling the prisons and prison structures. It is a system of accumulation.

In response to a question from an attendee, Cole noted that police discretion could be exacerbated under the new cannabis regime. Stops could bee based on smell, red eyes, etc. Impairment is supposed to cover being tired, using legal substances, etc. How is and will it be applied. Historically, along lines of racial profiling. 

A Road Map to Abolition?

Cole is clear that he is a police and prison abolitionist. He suggests that we need a road map to get to abolition and has three initial steps as related to carding.

First, cops should tell people their rights up front. Cops could articulate the law to people-not make people guess what their rights are and certainly not deceive people about their rights. If any police officer cannot do that they do not get to perform that role (either as a cop or as whatever role might replace cops).

Second, police should not keep records on innocent people. Where cops are replaced with something better there might be reasons to document caregiver or safety patrol interactions with someone. But they should be given receipts with details of where they can complain and on what grounds. For Cole, current cops should give you a receipt with badge number any time police interact with you. It should say why they interacted with you.

Carding is for non-criminal behavior. It involves information on people who have not been convicted of acts involved in the stop. Does the RCMP have the information also? Does CSIS? CSEC (the secretive intelligence service in Canada)? Who do the VPD share it with? We know that information from police encounters in shared with police forces in other countries. Any of us travelling to the United States knows this.

Third. Police should have no control of those contact records.  

Cole noted that the officer who stopped him was alone driving a car with expensive equipment and weaponry. To do what? To enforce a non-existent smoking bylaw? That is a massive waste of public resources. And all of the funding for those resources could be better spent caring for people and communities. That is a point that abolitionists make. Policing drains public resources mightily while impeding efforts at social care and solidarity. Budgets are wrecked so cops can drive around harassing poor, working class people for doing little of consequence, and routinely inflicting brutal force against us and our communities.

Conclusion

On the whole, Desmond Cole took a very conversational approach. He wanted to hear personal experiences and reflections—about anything—from people in the room. There was no formal question and answer session.

In closing, he emphasized that the Mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, and others in power have an obligation, not to him, as they have tried to apologize, but to the Black communities in Vancouver—the people who live in Vancouver and will be here after he has returned to Toronto.

Cole announced that he has a book coming out in 2019, The Skin We’re In.” The focus of the book is on policy practices that disproportionately target Black people in Canada. It will be essential reading for anyone concerned with issues of justice in the Canadian state context.

Against Policing and the Politics of Fear: A Discussion About Moral Panic Over Crime in Surrey

Against Policing - talk by jeff shantz - nov 2018.jpg

Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey. November 8, 2018

 By Jeff Shantz

 Public discussion and debate on social services and public safety are overwhelmingly framed by fear politics and policing. On Thursday, November 8, 2018, I hosted and spoke at the panel, “Against Policing and the Politics of Fear: A Discussion About Moral Panic Over Crime in Surrey,” organized by Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS), a newly formed coalition mobilizing to challenge police dominance in Surrey and develop community-based alternatives to police.

I opened the event with a discussion of layered policing and the extension of police functions throughout the fabric of everyday life in Surrey. And noted that the crime panic in Surrey is ramping up even as crime rates, including for violent crime, are falling. Harleen Gill, a Kwantlen Polytechnic University criminology student spoke about her work in a campaign @EndSurreyGangs to offer community based alternatives to police in response to concerns about gangs in Surrey. Isabel Krupp of APPS followed this discussion up by addressing moral panic, racist anxieties, and the Surrey Gang Task Force. Dave Diewert of APPS focused on the Surrey Outreach Team and the criminalization of poverty with particular attention to policing of the 135A Strip in Surrey. Lenee Son offered insights into an issue of repression given little attention in Surrey, the new immigration detention center. Son discussed migrant justice in Surrey as a crucial part of social justice. Finally Eva Ureta of APPS provided a significant reflection on community-based alternatives to policing. This is the work that needs to be done—developing real world alternatives and resources for social solidarity.

The event was extremely well attended as the Birch 250 meeting room was completely filled. Even more, participants were actively engaged with the issue as there were many relevant questions and discussions about ways to oppose police dominance and, significantly, about organizing a community alternative to police in Surrey.

As a first public meeting of APPS, following an earlier protest against a Coffee with Cops copaganda event, this was a very encouraging start. Challenging police and their multifaceted presence in Surrey is pressing and necessary work. It is good to see so many who live and work in Surrey engage with how that work can be effectively done.

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Anti-Police Power Surrey Confronts “Coffee with Cops”

By Jeff Shantz 

Coffee with the Cops is a pure copaganda (police propaganda) exercise undertaken by police and the City of Surrey to put a friendly face on the RCMP and to provide cover for the violence that police inflict on our communities on an everyday basis. The aim is the further intrusion and infiltration by police into communities that are already heavily policed and criminalized, from poor bashing of homeless people to fear mongering over youth. The program involves host businesses treating police to snacks and coffee while they chat up and try to win over customers.

On October 19, 2018, Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS) organized an open opposition to Coffee with the Cops at Cafe Nelly in the Gateway SkyTrain station in Whalley, an area already subjected to high levels of policing. Anti-Police Power Surrey is a new coalition of people who live and work in Surrey organizing to oppose the domination of our communities by police, to support real social, rather than repressive, resources in Surrey, and to develop alternative forms of public safety. APPS opposes the policing of our communities, neighborhoods, schools, and the fear politics that businesses, politicians, and police use to expand policing in Surrey—in the interests of profit, property, and development rather than human need.

During the action against Coffee with the Cops at Cafe Nelly many conversations were held with people also concerned about the gross overfunding of police in Surrey and more than 100 leaflets were handed out. This was the first such action organized by APPS but will by no means be the last.

The message of APPS is that funding and resources need to be put into real community resources and services (housing, health, community spaces, education, child and elder care, etc.) not into police repression and violence and publicly paid for stunts like Coffee with the Cops. Notably, City of Surrey staff (also on work hours) were present throughout the event, enjoying treats from the business and chats with the cops. Public money not well spent.

There is a reason police, businesses, and governments need to rely on nonsense like Coffee with the Cops. People do not trust the police or view them as helpful community services for a reason. Coffee with the Cops needs to be called out for what it is and openly opposed. Along with the policing that dominates discussion of public safety in Surrey and which only contributes to further alienation, fear, and punishment—factors in social harm in the first place—without in fact keeping our communities safe.

Christine Boyle - One City

By Mike Ma, October 18, 2018

This week I bumped into Christine Boyle of OneCity on Commercial Drive as she was getting a bowl of Pho noodles. She is running for Vancouver City Council in the October 2018 municipal election. I liked talking to her and feel she would represent us well. Check out her short video statement. I encourage people to get out and vote on Saturday, October 20th, 2018.

National Prisoner Strike

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By Mike Ma

There has been lots circulating about the prison strikes in the USA. To know more please go to:

http://sawarimi.org/national-prison-strike

National Prison Strike

Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.

These are the NATIONAL DEMANDS of the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

Open Letter to Justin Trudeau by Rita Wong, annie ross, Steve Collis and Cecily Nicholson (COAST - Clear Our Air: Stop TransMountain)

By Rita Wong, annie ross, Steve Collis and Cecily Nicholson (COAST - Clear Our Air: Stop TransMountain) 

Dear Justin Trudeau,

BC has been burning this summer, and you would throw gasoline on the flames by tripling the size of the Trans Mountain pipeline. It appears that either you have not been properly schooled about climate justice, or that you have been bought out by corporate interests that are pulling your government’s strings.

In the spirit of generosity, in case we are in the first scenario, we have compiled a climate primer that we urge you to read and consider seriously in light of our shared responsibilities to care for the land, the water, and each other. These responsibilities are held deeply in Indigenous laws that are guided by natural laws, and deserve the respect and action of each and every person who lives on Turtle Island.

We do not trust a colonial legal system that grants Kinder Morgan sweeping injunctions in a matter of days, while First Nations like the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations must wait for half a year to merely get an injunction hearing against the Site C dam, while their sacred places are being clearcut and desecrated by BC Hydro. This colonial system shows a distressing bias where rich corporations are able to get injunctions more frequently than small First Nations that are trying to protect and enforce Indigenous and natural laws.

Humans can learn to adapt and respond to natural cycles and rhythms; this is why we have leap years. The calendar adjusts itself to the orbit of the earth around the sun by adding a day every four years, instead of ignoring the gap that widens over time between our calendar and the natural cycle. This is one example of how humans need mechanisms to plan for cycles that are much larger and more powerful than what we can individually perceive. This story of the leap year gives rise to the name of the Leap Manifesto, which we have included in our primer, along with a summary of the Tsleil Waututh Environmental Assessment of the TransMountain Pipeline and Tanker Expansion Proposal, a warning letter signed by more than 15,000 scientists, Pope Francis’s encyclical letter, and the Save the Fraser Declaration.

We pledge our allegiance to the Indigenous peoples who remind us that we are relatives with all life, plants and animals, and that water and land are sacred. These are crucial teachings for our times. A good relative doesn’t poison and threaten the home that we all depend on, the earth.

Sincerely,

Rita Wong, annie ross, Steve Collis and Cecily Nicholson

COAST: Clear Our Air: Stop TransMountain

For Abolition, For a Better World: Prison Justice Day 2018

By Jeff Shantz

August 10 marks Prison Justice Day (PJD), a day of solidarity among and with prisoners and a day to remember those who have died in prison. On PJD 2018 in Vancouver, about 50 or so people gathered at the Claire Culhane bench in Trout Lake Park. This is the 44th year of PJD. Speakers noted the context of growing authoritarianism, repression, austerity, and neo-colonialism (and extreme energy extraction) driving the prison industrial complex today.

Repressing Prison Justice Day, Repressing Prisoners

Several speakers spoke to the repression inside and the clampdown on PJD within the prisons. PJD organizer Meenakshi Mannoe told the crowd that people cannot fast or refuse to work in solidarity with PJD. One former prisoner, now with Elizabeth Fry, spoke to the repression of PJD by guards and attempts to stamp out any show of solidarity. The authorities recognize the strength in numbers and try to prevent it. Joanne Wendy Bariteau, a lifer who has been out for eight years, said that this is the first time she has been able to openly celebrate Prison Justice Day in eight years because the authorities would not let her celebrate in prison. She concluded by saying people “need to know how they treat us.” In her powerful words, she said that people suffer little deaths inside all the time.

People are also being targeted for work they have done outside to support prisoners. They now need the same security clearance level as arms manufacturers (which says plenty about “crime” and criminalization under capitalism). Reliability Status Screening is required to gain access. This also includes, incredibly, credit checks (so a class-based targeting) and information is given to the RCMP and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Services). Some have allowed their security clearance to lapse in protest of these regressive and repressive policies.

The Prison Industrial Complex and State Capitalism

Joint Effort, which grew from the BC Federation of Women, has been a force of continuity behind PJD. Speaker Cecily Nicholson reported that advocates have a real struggle to access prison now. Nicholson properly positioned the prison system as an outcrop of the genocidal policies of the capitalist state, including the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. This continues as Indigenous women are over-classified in maximum security placements, solitary, etc. There is a necessary disruption to flows of capital in opposing prisons and the systems that require them.

Omar from Sanctuary Health extended this analysis of colonialism and imperialism. The criminal justice system is intimately connected to border systems. There is the detention and deportation of people even after their prison sentence ahs been served. In discussing projects for sanctuary health Omar noted that the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) will call border services, CBSA, when people try to access services, leaving migrants over policed and under protected (not protected). Omar provided an example of a Latin American man accosted by VPD on Commercial Drive and referred to CBSA, on no grounds whatsoever. 

Lenee Son spoke on the policing aspects of the prison industrial complex, with specific reference to Surrey. Son noted that austerity times have meant cuts to all programming except policing. In Surrey, police are openly and heavily weaponized. Their presence is extensive, open violence against working class communities. This relates to the class crisis imposed by austerity policies. The Strip, self-housing in tents by homeless people on 135A Street, was an example of police violence as an instrument of class crisis. In addition the gang panic in Surrey plays on fears of racialized and migrant parents about the place of their children in society and their futures. Parents are anxious about their children’s opportunities in a time of declining living standards and downward mobility among the working class.

Eddie, with West Coast Prison Justice Society, a lifer who has been out since 1989, poignantly stated that he knew many of the people listed on the banner memorializing people who died inside. He spoke to the awful medical conditions inside. People are not given proper or needed services. Staff accuse people of doing drugs rather than being desperately ill. Prison deteriorates mental health but supports are not available for people. People are moved to segregation instead of being provided with help. Much of the violence inside is a result of the daily conditions inside. Eddie concluded by telling the assembly that people are still restricted when out. He needs to get a travel warrant from parole simply to travel to Surrey.

Conclusion

We must not be misled or confused. As Mannoe concluded, prisons are not being misused. They are doing what they are designed and implemented to do. The fight for abolition of the penal system, of cops and prisons, is the fight for an alternative social world.

And prisoners are taking a lead. August 21, 2018 is the start of the national Prison Strike in the US. PJD 2018 in Vancouver rightly concluded with a reading of the strikers’ ten demands. They are:

1.    Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2.   An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3.   The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4.    The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5.    An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6.    An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7.    No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8.    State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9.    Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10.    The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.

“There is No Natural Death in Prison”: Prison Justice Day Film Night. August 7, 2018. Spartacus Books. Vancouver

August 10, 2018

By Jeff Shantz

Prison Justice Day (PJD) is held every August 10. This year is the 44th year of PJD. On August 7, 2018 I attended the Prison Justice Day support event and showing of the film “Visions of Abolition: From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life” at Spartacus Books in Vancouver.

The film connects abolition of prisons with the abolition of slavery through the perspectives of Angela Y Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and others. Abolitionists are continuing the work that was not completed with the abolition of slavery. The movie documents the transformation of the slave relationship into the prison system in the United States. Racist violence has been central to the capitalist mode of production in the US.

The war on poverty and the war on drugs are both wars on poor people. Neoliberal dismantling of social welfare systems from the Reagan regime on has disorganized working class communities and created crises within the working class. This has ratcheted up despair, desperation, etc. The response has been increases in the repressive apparatus: police, courts, prisons.

For Abolition: A Discussion

Event organizer, Meenakshi Mannoe of the Vancouver Prison Justice Day Organizing Committee and Stark Raven radio, spoke to the gender violence that is part of the penal system. This includes enforced heterosexism and gender binary. There is a need also to recognize harms to trans women and Indigenous women in the Canadian context.

The prison system is also a continuation of colonization. One attendee who identified as a prisoner noted the four or five recorded deaths in prison of Indigenous women each year, which receive little public attention.  The late Peter Collins, a key Prison Justice Day organizer as a prisoner, stated: “There is no natural death in prison.”

One participant, a self described lifer who was inside for eight years and only got out this year, reported that a Survivor, Abuse, Trauma councillor was going to be cut as a pure cost cutting measure. Prisoners had to undertake a grievance to stop it.

Those who identified as prisoners noted that the system does not want people you to talk about the causes that led to your crime, your social history, abuse, violence, self defense against abusers, etc. They only want to hear why you committed the crime as if it was simply some type of personal choice.

It was suggested that many advocacy groups are coopted by the state and/or depend on the government for funding and status. Programming is carried out within the logic of the prison, even on the outside. So some groups do not advocate strongly because of funding concerns.

There was an important recognition of the fact that most prisoners in Canada are in for low level, less harmful, or even harmless activities (personal consumption practices, survival strategies, nuisances, administrative issues). It was suggested that there could be some convergence between efforts to decriminalize drugs and the push for equal health care for all (which prisoners do not have access to). People inside are denied proper harm reduction supplies.

It was also noted that health care in provincial institutions has been privatized (Century Health, for example). So there are aspects of privatization of prisons in Canada.

Speakers in attendance reported that Prison Justice Day is being restricted inside in a context of a wave of repression over the last few years. PJD shirts are not allowed and work stoppages, a key component of PJD, are punished. 

Conclusion

On the whole this was an enriching and important event. It raised a strong abolitionist perspective and offered real world examples of work being done to address the harms of prisons and to think about alternatives to statist punitive approaches.

Prison Justice Day activities in Vancouver take place August 10 from 6 to 8 PM at the Clare Culhane bench in Trout Lake Park near Commercial Drive. See: https://www.facebook.com/events/2697264043747638/

For one brief history of Prison Justice Day read: “Prisoner’s Justice Day: A Retrospective Montage”  by pj lilley. Freely available at: http://www.radicalcriminology.org/index.php/rc/article/view/68/html

 

 

“Addressing Crime in Surrey.” Beyond Police and Panics? Newton Library - July 22, 2018

 People First Surrey - Addressing Crime in Surrey

By Jeff Shantz

There is a raging gang panic in Surrey. This is being fuelled by media, business associations, and police as means to increase funding for policing (and to further gentrification and surveillance for developers and business). Public discourse suggests that shootings and gang killings are increasing in Surrey and that gangs run the city.

None of this is true. A look at actual numbers shows that shootings in Surrey have declined each of the last few years, and, despite this year’s panic, are on pace to decline again. In 2015 there were 88 shootings in Surrey. In 2016 there were 61 shootings. In 2017 there were 59 shootings. Surrey is on pace for 52 shootings in 2018. For perspective, of specifically gang-related shootings in British Columbia in 2017 there were 6 in Surrey. That is the same number as in Richmond, which is much smaller in population. It is fewer than the 7 in Abbotsford, which is also much smaller in population. For comparison there were 5 gang-related shootings in Langley and Vancouver; 4 in Kelowna; 3 in Prince George; 2 in Williams Lake; and 1 in Port Renfrew (with a population of 144).

Yet, the gang panic, and related calls for more police and surveillance and criminalization of youth, persists. Ahead of the 2018 municipal elections crime has once again been made top of minds for Surrey residents, as it was last election.

The “Addressing Crime in Surrey” Panel

On July 22, 2018, a panel discussion “Addressing Crime in Surrey” was hosted by People First Surrey, a party running candidates in the fall election. Participants included: Stuart Parker (Proudly Surrey); Dennis Watson (Green Justice); Lenee Son (Alliance Against Displacement); and Rajesh Jayaprakash (People First Surrey). Each speaker gave a three minute presentation followed by multiple rounds of questions from the moderator and audience members. The discussion ran the gamut from calls for law and order, “broken windows,” policing to abolition of police.

Three of the panelists pushed for various forms of criminalization and policing. Parker is pushing strongest for a local municipal force to replace the RCMP. He did point out that Ontario and Quebec have police armies because of their militarized provincial police forces (but did not acknowledge the military nature of the RCMP). Jayaprakash and People First Surrey are pushing a plan of mass surveillance through video cameras throughout Surrey, recording virtually everything all the time. They want to cut funding for the light rapid train in Surrey to fund a municipal force. Green Justice offers only a rehash of failed and discredited broken windows policing and more cops on organized crime (not corporate crime though) and regional units (but did launch into a strangely disconnected rant against...communism!?!).

Only Lenee Son of the Alliance Against Displacement put focus on the social and economic structures of inequality and violence that give rise to gangs. Son pointed out that it is not a debate about the RCMP or a municipal force, as is shaping up to be the election framing, but rather is about getting rid of cops (and their bloated budgets) entirely and addressing root causes of violence and social harm. We need to remove a key source of repression and alienation based on white supremacy, exploitation, racism, class stratification, and colonialism. Namely the police as an institution of structural violence and inequality.

Son points out that the Surrey Gang Task Force report is a failure. It identifies risk factors but does little to nothing to address the social causes of them. The outlined activities proposed do not address the material needs of young people to really deal with risk factors. Punishment and education do not address fears about poverty, material insecurity, declining living standards, and declining opportunities. Programs like Bar Watch, much touted in the task force report, concentrates decisions in the hands of police. There are no appeals for people negatively impacted. The result will simply be further exclusion and marginalization of racialized youth. It is a program of profiling.

One audience member pointed out that the RCMP regularly inflict violence on people and communities in Surrey. In addition to physical violence there is racial profiling of youth of color. Son reported that when she worked at the Newton Wave Pool she heard police openly call East African kids “pirates.” She called for answers on police accountability. None of the three party representatives could offer any.

Another audience member said that the AAD perspective resonated most with him. He was incarcerated before going on to do a doctorate in education at Simon Fraser University. He said that he senses the need to go further and deeper in assessments of justice but class and colonialism restrict us (we don not even properly identify police as agents of class inequality and colonial genocide in Canada).

A point was raised about drug decriminalization and the reduction of police funding and resources from drug criminalization. The panel (except for Watson) spoke of the need to end the war on drugs. It was noted that at the municipal level policing decisions could be made from the mayo’s office to lessen or end enforcement. It was also stressed that demand is not going to end if police take out a so-called kingpin, as some law and order advocates claim. That only creates a vacuum.

Lenee Son pointed out that it is a time of government austerity except for funding for cops as police budgets continue to grow even as crime rates decline. In 2015 Surrey got 100 new RCMP officers. In 2017 the city got another 12. RCMP already take up more than 20 percent of the City budget, more than any other single drain.

Getting to the Root of the Matter

What are the real sources of crime fears that allow panics to flourish? Concerns over stability, security, safety. The moral panic around gang violence in Surrey points to deeper anxieties. Parents are then blamed instead of being supported. We really need to address racism, poverty, alienation, economic decline, government austerity, and structural violence (including police). These are systemic issues. What is happening in Surrey is happening elsewhere.

A social order based on exploitation and profit requires structural violence and repression to maintain it. This increases social tensions and conflict. So too do tax cuts for the rich and government austerity against the working class and poor. Technocratic solutions like surveillance cannot address these issues. Surveillance is already intense on certain youth (racialized, migrant)—police do surveillance in community centers and schools. Police integrate themselves early on into youth spaces and communities. That only serves to intensify alienation and despair.

There is a real, pressing, need to defund police and restore or put funding into social programs. As one audience member pointed out, to conclude the meeting, crime is the breaking of laws—but laws are the rules of the rulers. Laws construct certain people and activities as punishable (even if they are less harmful than other activities, like corporate crime, for example). Criminalization, in the end, serves the interests of property and property owners.

Video of panel: https://www.facebook.com/PeopleFirstSurrey/videos/2009022039109048/UzpfSTU4NDkyODc5NDkzMzk5MjoxODQ3MjAzNzc1MzczMTQ4/

Healing and Resistance in a Police State: The Anti Police-Terror Project

July 1, 2018

By Jeff Shantz

There is a life and death necessity for exploited and oppressed people and communities to organize to stop police and to provide alternatives to state policing. One example of how this organizing work can be done effectively, as a starting point, is  the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP). APTP is a Black-led, multiracial, intergenerational coalition organizing to eradicate police terrorism in communities of color. In addition to supporting families of victims of police and organizing to stop police violence, they have created a first responders team to go to the scene of police killings to gather information, take pictures of the scene and, where needed, launch inquiries.

On June 29, 2018, organizers from APTP discussed their work in a session “Healing and Resistance in a Police State” at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre. Presenters included APTP members Asantewaa, Annie Banks, and James Burch.

Anti Police Terror Project

Asantewaa began by outlining the history of APTP. She was working with Black August when Oscar Grant was murdered. She notes that following police killings there is an initial response of anger but then over time there is less focus on the killing, partly because people are poor and have to work and cannot dedicate all of their time to killer cops. Organizers have recognized the need for more durable infrastructures to maintain opposition to killer cops. Asantewaa states that the support for families is the backbone of the work that APTP does.

From the start they realized that it had to be Black led and that white allies had to accept that. She says they also had to be explicit and state openly, “Fuck the Police”—without any apologies. APTP have been clear consistently in pointing out that the police are expressions of state violence, of state terror. APTP has organized to impact and end state terror, not only to react to it.

In discussing the structure of APTP Asantewaa says they needed to create an infrastructure where anyone can plug in and get right to work. General meetings are monthly and there are active committees on: Policy, Media, Legal, Security, and First Responders. Security defends direct actions but also works to support families since police direct acts of harassment against victims’ families. The legal team defends arrestees but also does support for families.

The First Responders compile information after acts of police violence and also do community investigations. They interview people in the community who saw the acts of police violence. Through their work they have gotten cops to recant untruthful statements and accounts.

Within 24 hours of an act of police violence APTP hold a vigil. They act with intent. It gets people out talking about what happened and shows the police that the community knows and cares about what happened.

Annie Banks, the Director of Fundraising for APTP, joined the team in 2015. She has studied archived media and discusses how the police narrative typically changes from the time of killing to later reports throughout the day. She stresses the importance of taking direct leadership from families.

James Burch, the Policy Coordinator, discussed the multiple forms of work in APTP. He reiterates that work for families is the core of the work they do. They help families navigate a path to justice according to their own needs and terms. The aftermath of a police killing is a disempowering context so they need to work to empower families. Burch stresses the need to organize no matter how many people show up at first. You have to be there for the families.

Defund and Dismantle the Cops

APTP note that police departments get 30 to 50 percent of general funds in cities (that is discretionary budget funds) in the US. This is true also in the Canadian context. The money for social and community services is all in the police budgets. So how can police budgets be accessed to fund real community resources (not police associated public services). APTP note that cities in the US are facing bankruptcy crises. There is a need to get them cutting police budgets.

When asked how to dismantle police, James Burch suggests defunding them as a step. Go after their contracts. Put pressure on councils to negotiate contracts for fewer cops as a start. Show where the money could be better spent on real, community based, social and community services.

APTP has put together a guide to spread the work. People can pick up a guide and run a campaign themselves anywhere. It is a way for APTP to share the work they are doing. The guide includes information about laws that protect police across the United States; about police association contracts; a guide to police commissions; and a guide to defunding police.

There is also the issue of developing community alternatives to police and building transformative justice practices. The Audre Lourde group builds tools for communities so people do not call the cops on their neighbors. They work to deal with neighborhood issues directly and supportively rather than calling the cops. APTP stress the need to create systems to keep people safe and are working to do this. Our communities need informal systems to protect each other.  

APTP also point out that folks with privilege need to harness and even weaponize their privilege and use it in spaces where less privileged people do not feel comfortable. Post-secondary faculty, especially criminologists, need to work to free their departments and campuses of cops.

APTP has had an impact such that cops in the East Bay now know that if they harm someone there will be consequences. There will be costs to the force, civil suits, etc. In San Francisco, where there is less such organizing, by comparison, cops kill with impunity. They have been conditioned to believe that they can kill with no response or cost of any kind. When police feel this , they expand their pressures socially and politically, to council, etc. They run the city.

A Local Need

In Surrey, the cops, the RCMP, run the city. The work that APTP are doing is work that is desperately needed in Surrey where the RCMP act like the occupying military force that they are. Where they extend their reach into all aspects of social life, creating a school to prison pipeline. Where they act, including people with impunity. Notably APTP organizers said that the policing situation in Surrey appeared worse than in Oakland. Work needs to be done to create a social context in which the RCMP cannot operate.

Take Home Naloxone Training with Erin Gibson - June 19, 2018

By Mike Ma

This week Erin Gibson, Fraser Health Authority, came to KPU (Surrey campus) to present Naloxone training. She gave an amazing presentation filled with clarity, gravitas, and humour. And she distributed many kits to students. Considering it was the summer term on campus we had a great turn out of more than 20 people. I think the highlight --for me-- was when we were trying out the "vanishing point" needles (i.e. they are spring loaded and the sharp tip retracts back into the syringe once the plunger is fully depressed), and I think some in attendance thought that that needle gets left in the body because the needle VANISHED! The overdose crisis is such a terrible situation, but the training had some levity to it I guess --for me. It is a strange disconnect. This training in the classroom vs. the reality of fentanyl poisoning.

 

The Peace Valley: A Necessary Lesson For Our Times

By Rita Wong

From a vantage point above the attempted destruction of the Peace River Valley for the Site C Dam, the trucks that move tons of dirt from one part of the river bank to another look like a huge waste of 12 billion dollars and counting. What a massive methane and mercury releasing disaster looks like in its early stages:

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Though the scale of destruction is distressing and incredibly wasteful of the rich alluvial soil that is BC’s best chance for northern food security, the land has other messages for us as well, if we listen carefully and learn. If this dirt is left alone and treated with respect, the land will take it back, and heal it for free.

Ken and Arlene Boon are farmers who steadfastly do their best to protect the Peace River Valley. Though their farm has been expropriated by BC Hydro, they remain on the land that Arlene’s family has farmed for generations. They are deeply grounded in the land’s resilience as well as witnesses to the horror of what happens when people do not fulfill their responsibilities to care for the land. Their farm sits near Cache Creek, which flows into the Peace River. Cache Creek’s fertile banks and watershed were clearcut and wastefully mulched by BC Hydro last year. However, the land is already healing itself, as we noticed horsetail and mushrooms reclaiming what had once been incredibly rich forest before Hydro wrecked it:

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Not everyone looks down and notices the humble life reasserting itself. For those who are less observant, though, even they cannot miss how the “dead” tree stumps left by Hydro are already growing back three feet of leafy exuberance. Here is Arlene standing by the vivid regrowth near Cache Creek in the Peace River Valley:

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The new growth is even higher in some places, as Arlene and Shilo demonstrate here:

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I found it heart-wrenching visiting the Peace Valley and seeing the signs marking how high the water would rise if the dam is allowed to break Treaty 8 and flood this sacred valley:

It’s distressing that BC is throwing away its best chance for food security by prioritizing a corrupt mega project that we don’t need over a sustainable economy based in food and respect for the land. Perfectly good farmland is being left to erode instead of being seeded because Hydro discourages farming – here is Arlene standing in a huge erosion ditch on expropriated farmland that BC Hydro is not looking after despite repeated complaints by its former owners:

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The Boons are the kind of people you want around in case of emergency – calm under pressure, smart, quick, and very capable. They told me the story of people rallying to help in a fire that had happened at their farm – neighbours and family members put their differences and arguments aside to come together to help. This, in a small scale, is what we need to happen on a large scale, with the emergency that global warming presents us. We need to learn to live in balance with the land, not destroy its resilience by removing the biodiversity and complex systems that already exist, that have evolved over millennia with a wisdom we urgently need to learn from. We need to honour and respect Indigenous people’s knowledges and histories with the land, not arrogantly displace them and erase that knowledge by imposing a bankrupt narrative of 20th century progress that has led us to the climate destabilization we now face as a species. Instead, Hydro is sending archeological excavators to dig up the Boons’ farm and “preserve” bits of history that they would make meaningless through removal from the land that gives them context.

The Boons are future thinking; they have solar panels on their farm, for instance:

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When monstrous monocultural industrialization falls apart because it is a brittle, unsustainable system, it is the self-sufficiency and on-the-ground knowledges of people like the Boons that will be our life support system. Thankfully, their practical and necessary approaches to respecting and working with the earth can be found quietly throughout the Peace Valley region. Although the loud noise and scale of oil, fracking and big extractive industries gets all the money and temporary attention, the future we need is also in the process of quietly building itself.

Hudson’s Hope, for instance, is the municipality with the highest amount of solar energy per capita in BC (https://www.energeticcity.ca/2018/05/hudsons-hope-hosting-ribbon-cutting-ceremony-for-municipal-solar-project-this-weekend/). The newly installed solar wave outside their swimming pool is a beautiful testament to the power of the people:

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And Hip Peace Produce continues to farm this year, growing the four sisters – corn, squash, beans, sunflowers – and  providing delicious local produce to people up north, though its future remains endangered by the dam:

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The land speaks. The question is whether people have the capacity to listen and learn.

As the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations go to court on July 23 to seek an injunction on the Site C dam so that their case on treaty rights can be properly heard, it is more urgent than ever that everyone in BC listens to the land, the river, and the future they make possible. It is our responsibility to steward this future and not permit it to be foreclosed by the greed and corporate short-sightedness that is currently driving both Hydro and the provincial government that is running on business-as-usual assumptions instead of carefully assessing what we need to build the communities of the future on the ground.

To get updates about the First Nations efforts to seek an injunction to protect the sacred Peace River Valley from the Site C dam, please sign up at https://witnessforthepeace.ca/speak-out/