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Thousands sign petition as Durham activists aim to dismantle anti-Black racism in policing

Click to play video 'Petition calls to defund DRPS' Petition calls to defund DRPS
A group of Black residents in Durham have put together a petition to address systemic anti-Black racism in the region.

A group of Black residents in Durham have put together a petition to address systemic anti-Black racism in the region through defunding the police and allocating funds to community resources.

The Durham Black Accountability Coalition is calling on the government to cut the DRPS’s annual budget of $214 million by at least 10 per cent.

“The bottom line is that you don’t want someone who’s trained to handle something, handling this issue,” said the group’s co-organizer and community activist Shailene Panylo.

“We’ve seen it mishandled. We’ve seen it go left numerous times.”

Read more: Calls to defund Toronto police amplified by demonstrators Saturday

Among the group’s other demands: an investment in Black- and community-centric alternatives to policing, the immediate assembly of certified mental health and crisis intervention practitioner teams hired by the region and mandatory annual anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism training for employees who work for region-funded services.

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“The idea is that you benefit both sides,” Panylo said. “You benefit the community when they’re in crisis and need crisis intervention and proper professionals to help and support.”

“And you benefit first responders and officers who are otherwise thrown into these situations largely unsupported without the proper tools.”

In recent weeks, there have been growing calls to defund police in Durham and in other communities across North America.

Greg Brown, a sociology professor at Carleton University and former detective sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service, calls the recent discourse between communities and police “healthy.”

Read more: Toronto council votes against defunding police budget, approves various reforms

“Many chiefs of police I’m in contact with across the country are actually embracing this new dialogue. Maybe this is something we should engage in with our major socio-political institutions,” he said.

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In response to the petition, which as of Tuesday has garnered more than 15,000 signatures, police services board chair Kevin Ashe says defunding the police is not the right solution.

“I respect what social justice (activists) are asking for and demanding but I just don’t think defunding the police is the appropriate mechanism for it.”

The petition also brings to light police altercations with Black communities that have made headlines in the Greater Toronto Area, including the cases of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, D’Andre Campbell¬†and Dafonte Miller.

In addition, it mentions a 2019 altercation where video captured two police officers punching a Black teenager, a racist photo posted to a Facebook group with retired DRPS officers and racist posters plastered on mailboxes in Whitby.

Read more: Durham police respond to criticism over use of force in arrest of Whitby teen

“A lot of us have moved past the point perhaps of being sad, and instead being angry, frustrated and ready to just get moving and get some action done,” Panylo said.