Jeff Shantz and Eva Ureta
On Sunday, April 7, 2019, Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS) hosted a community discussion on community organizing against policing in Surrey and possibilities for developing alternatives to police. APPS is a group of people living and working in Surrey who oppose the domination of police, police violence and repression, and the wasteful, and wildly disproportionate, expenditure of public resources on policing in Surrey. APPS calls for social resources for communities not cops, for people not police and aims for the development of non-repressive social supports and care.
The meeting began with an overview of police dominance in Surrey by APPS. It was noted that there is a push by politicians, businesses, business associations, and the Board of Trade, for more police in the city despite Surrey already having the country’s largest RCMP detachment. It was stressed that much of “crime” that is focused on is about concerns of businesses and property owners, not matters of safety and protection. This includes the targeting of poor and homeless people and the punishing of people for survival strategies.
Those forty or so present at the meeting included people who have been harassed, abused, and arrested by police, including several who were subjected to police violence while (and for) living on “the Strip” on 135A Street in Whalley. They spoke poignantly about the violence that police have done to them. Indeed, most present at the meeting have had negative experiences with police—often extreme violence.
The broader discussion started with a go around of concerns about police, with everyone speaking. There were issues of ongoing harassment raised. Cops swear at people and degrade them for being poor. One participant said she has been called “a waste of skin” by cops, being told “you should never have been born.” One person reported that an arresting officer kept driving by a homeless person they had previously arrested as a form of implied threat.
Several people reported that police regularly straight up rob them. Cops ask them to empty the contents of their pockets and then take the contents—including money (even if there are no “illicit” or criminalized objects present). These are often significant amounts of money for people who do not have much money.
There was a discussion about how the “war on drugs” gives cops carte blanche to steal from people who are cast as “constant criminals” no matter what they have done or are doing. This allows the police to contain and control people—on behalf of the interests of property owners, landlords, and businesses that want to target poor people for removal.
It was pointed out that much harassment comes from bylaw officers too. Bylaw threaten to take and destroy the belongings of homeless people.
One person noted that shelter programs are beyond the landlord and tenant act. Threats are made against residents around losing housing.
Concerns were raised about private security guards and their growing role in policing communities. They overlap multiple private contracts (malls, plazas, city venues, business districts, etc.) and police overlapping private and public spaces. And they do so with minimal regulation or oversight.
What Might Be Done?
The main part of the discussion focused on what we need to do to build an effective movement to counter police power. Many ideas were raised.
Many in our communities do not know what their rights are. They are unsure what they can and cannot do during interactions with police. We need to teach people their rights and the limits on police interactions.
Popular Education and awareness raising.
Pointing out the existing police budgets and how much of public resources they consume. Defund the police!
Networks to observe police.
Take care of each other so that people are not in positions where they feel they have to call the cops.
Develop practices of transformative justice.
Peers defending peers who are targeted by police.
These are some of the things that can be done and that are being done in other communities where people are struggling to oppose police domination in their lives. And there was, happily, some discussion by Vancouver folks of starting an Anti-Police Power Vancouver!
It was acknowledged that policing is a structure of violence. It is about maintaining relations of exploitation, oppression, and inequality. It is not about a specific force or particular officers. The discussion was an important starting point for building community strength to counter policing narratives, oppose police power in Surrey, and work toward campaigns that contribute to alternatives to policing.