The letters, listed on the agenda of the next meeting, call for elected officials to never again vote to increase the police budget, to cut at least $43 million from the SPS this year to make up for the projected shortfall caused by the COVID-19 lockdown and to prioritize community-led health and safety initiatives over future investment in police services.
All of the letters closely follow a template posted on the Facebook event page for the ‘Disarm, Defund and abolish the police’ rally and march, which took place last Sunday.
The Saskatoon Coordinating Committee Against Police Violence organized the march and spokesperson Eileen Bear said the police funding, nearly 21 per cent of the City of Saskatoon’s 2020 budget, should go to mental health programs instead.
“The police are killing Black people — you’ve seen what’s going on. They’re killing Indigenous people,” she said, referencing the recent deaths of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Chantel Moore, all of whom died in police incidents.
Demonstrators around the world have called for police reform and abolishment ever since Floyd, a 46-year-old U.S. Black man, died while a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes on May 25 in Minneapolis.
The calls can mean different things, as Saskatoon city councillor Darren Hill noted while speaking to Global News Morning Saskatoon host Jacqueline Wilson.
“The majority of people are not suggesting we remove all of the resources from police and their operation,” he said.
“Defunding means looking at the partnerships between all the groups and making sure the right people are responding to the right calls. Should a sworn officer with a handgun be going to a homeless person’s call in downtown Saskatoon or should that be a social service agency?”
Bear clarified she believes the police should be completely abolished, though the process should take time and begin with defunding and disarmament.
“It’s going to take work and it’s going to take time and, but what else do we have?” she told Global News.
“What alternatives do we have? I have a son and a grandson and I don’t want them killed.”
The letter template said the money, approximately $110 million, should be redirected towards things like education, family violence prevention and free transit, among other proposals.
“Increased police presence does not keep us safe, rather it directly threatens the lives of our most vulnerable community members,” it said.
Bear said she expects to have more letters shortly, and that she’ll be demonstrating outside of the police commissioners’ meeting.