As Edmonton city councillors hear calls for police reform, one local business is sharing an alternative it says it has seen success.
The second day of a public hearing on policing saw a dozen people speak on the subject.
One of those voices was Glenda Williams, who says she was stopped and harassed by police following a concert several years ago.
“After that encounter, I was just furious. I was 15, Black, ‘I’m going to write a letter to the city and complain.’ And then I remembered: ‘You’re 15, you’re Black and nobody is going to listen to you,'” Williams told council.
Councillors are considering a motion that could see Edmonton Police Service funding frozen at 2020 levels with money going instead to community organizations.
That could include REACH Edmonton, which collaborates with community groups to make Edmonton a safer space.
On Tuesday, REACH Executive Director Jan Fox told the public hearing the organization is at capacity but could help with more resources.
“REACH is listening and learning.
“We hear the call for change in our city coming from Edmonton’s Black community and from others impacted by systemic racism including our Indigenous partners and LGBTQ Two Spirited,” said Fox.
The idea is that groups like REACH could respond to calls police typically go to. That could include calls for mental health, homelessness or addiction.
Edmonton’s chief of police has said about 30 per cent of service calls are for social work in the city.
Rebecca Blakey believes that’s part of the reason why change is necessary.
Blakey and her partner own The QUILTBAG on Calgary Trail at 76 Avenue.
As a Queer-owned business, Blakey says community has always been the focus and that’s why they believe in a community intervention approach instead of a police intervention approach.
“All kinds of just like extremely easy just responses to showing the level of care in the world that I hope to be shown if I was ever in trouble,” Blakey explained.
Tenants in the building work together on everything from shoveling snow in the winter to collecting mail for one another.
With the store being in a high traffic area and close to a bottle depot, they notice bottle collectors frequent their street.
They often leave bottles outside and allow people to use their washroom, which is equipped with a Naloxone kit and personal hygiene products.
In the winter, people can warm up or rest in the building stairwell.
Blakey also recalls helping a neighbour who had a bad experience with drugs.
“Usually all that that involved is kind of calling in a couple other tenants who have had longer-term relationships with him than we have and just saying like, ‘Here, we’ll give you a cup of water, let’s sit outside and as soon as you feel better you can go upstairs and have a nap in your own bed and we’ll check on you in a couple of hours.'”
It’s a situation in which other business owners would likely phone 911 but Blakey believes those calls are based on fear rather than a real threat.
“That, to me, is such an integral example of the extremely concrete steps that individuals can do when you’re a business owner or a property owner who maybe sees someone on your own house’s front step who is potentially having a hard time.”
For Blakey, the current motion being debated by city councillors does not go far enough. She wants to see the police service completely abolished.
She also supports supervised consumption sites as a safe space for drug users to go instead of them having to deal with police.
Blakey believes council needs to respond to police violence with the same decisive action it has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I call on them to just behave with more creative leadership and look to people who have already been doing the work in this area and just hand over the resources to them.”
As of Tuesday, about 100 people had registered to speak at the public hearing.
It was expected to last all day Wednesday and into next week.
Anyone who wants to participate has until Wednesday at noon to sign up.