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‘Find other ways of helping people’: Winnipeg lawyer discusses defunding police

Click to play video: 'Rallying cry to “defund the police” resonates with some in Winnipeg'
Rallying cry to “defund the police” resonates with some in Winnipeg
In the wake of the high-profile police killing of George Floyd - a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as an officer held him down with a knee against his neck - and subsequent global protests, demonstrators' calls to "defund the police" have caught on in Canadian cities as well. Global's Brittany Greenslade reports – Jun 8, 2020

If you attended Friday’s #Justice4BlackLives rally at the Manitoba legislature, among the many chants and signs, you would have likely heard calls to defund the police.

It’s something the protest’s organizers also called for in their petition, which included a number of demands directed at the city and province to prevent racial discrimination by law enforcement.

Winnipeg lawyer Zilla Jones told 680 CJOB the concept of defunding the police isn’t necessarily a case of eliminating police, but rather shifting funding priorities.

“We know that the police budgets are usually the biggest part of a city’s expenses,” said Jones. “We’ve seen Winnipeg cutting back on things like libraries and community programs, so defunding the police would allow money to maintain those other services and increase them while putting less into the police budget.”

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Jones said the goal is to reduce violent incidents and confrontations by funding the organizations that can tackle certain issues at their root.

“The goal of defunding police is… to find other ways of helping people.

“For example, we would invest more in addiction services or housing or mental health supports for people, rather than asking the police to do those things,” said Jones.

“Generally, what people are talking about when they talk about defunding police is investing less in the police and investing more in social services that can actually help people and can actually reduce crime and therefore make the community safer.”

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Click to play video: 'Markus Chambers, Winnipeg’s deputy mayor, during the Justice 4 Black Lives rally'
Markus Chambers, Winnipeg’s deputy mayor, during the Justice 4 Black Lives rally

Only a few hours south of Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Minn., is looking at a radical move — dismantling its police department — after the majority of councillors voted in favour of a sweeping overhaul.

A majority of the members of Minneapolis city council said Sunday they support disbanding the city’s police department, an aggressive stance that comes just as the state has launched a civil rights investigation after George Floyd’s death.

Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Four officers have been charged in his killing. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin faces second-degree murder charges and three other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — have also been fired and are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

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Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth will be going before the city’s police board Monday to discuss a number of topics, including the service’s “bias-free policing and professional standards” report, as well as 2019’s use-of-force numbers, which are already under public scrutiny due to the worldwide protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism.

According to the report, Winnipeg police used force on 857 occasions last year — although “force” is an umbrella term that can include a range of actions, from putting handcuffs on a suspect to using pepper spray, a Taser, a baton or a firearm.

Click to play video: 'Devon Clunis, former Winnipeg police chief, during the Justice 4 Black Lives rally'
Devon Clunis, former Winnipeg police chief, during the Justice 4 Black Lives rally

Community activist Ay De’Senator told 680 CJOB the organizers of the rally should be commended for such a successful event that brought these issues to the forefront in Winnipeg.

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De’Senator said “a new shift” was made in Winnipeg on Friday in terms of the community taking racism seriously.

“We need to face the reality that racism is in the land, it’s in the system. We need to face the systemic racism with a systemic solution,” he said.

“All of this culminated because the system is not OK. This whole thing needs to be addressed… we need to teach ourselves, our kids, that we’re just one human race.”

Click to play video: 'Kelly Butler, former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, during the Justice 4 Black Lives rally'
Kelly Butler, former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, during the Justice 4 Black Lives rally

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