Durham and Peel police are facing scrutiny from some members of the public for their Black History Month-themed cruisers.
Images of the vehicles emblazoned with the faces of prominent Black leaders have been circulating over social media.
Doctors for Defunding Police is among those on Twitter calling the act “performative,” saying it “does nothing to address decades of abuse” by police officers.
“It symbolizes almost a slap in the face to the Black community members, who are over-policed,” said anti-Black racism educator Janelle Brady.
“Especially after all of the global uprisings around racial justice that we saw in the summer of 2020.”
Durham police say the cruisers have been with the force since 2017, while Peel police say “the vehicle wrap was first utilized in 2020.”
Both services say there were consultations with Black community leaders prior to launching the projects.
Meanwhile, anti-Black racism advocates in Durham say while there has been talk from local law enforcement of rebuilding relations with racialized communities, little action has been taken.
Last July, thousands signed a petition to defund DRPS by distributing funds to community resources.
“Have we seen a sincere intention to engage the Black community, to engage Black organizers, engage the folks who are calling for and actually have substantial frameworks that can act as alternatives?” Cristal Hines with Durham’s Black Accountability Coalition asked rhetorically.
“No, we haven’t seen that.”
“We’re not going to always have solutions to the problems but we are trying our best and I can tell you we do take it very seriously” said DRPS Const. George Tudos.
Since calls to defund the police, Tudos adds the force, in collaboration with its Diversity Advisory Committee, has endorsed multiple initiatives to address anti-Black racism within the service and community, including collecting “race-based data in all police and public interactions.”
While Durham and Peel police say they are aware of the ongoing concerns from the community, they have not said whether they will be removing the images from their cruisers.
“It is also important to note that despite the critique of some, we have also received support and appreciation for this initiative from not only members of the Black community here in Peel, but also from our own employees here at Peel Regional Police,” said Cst. Akhil Mooken.
Meanwhile, victims of police brutality say it’s hard to escape the traumatic memories that arise from seeing the vehicles.
In 2019, Tony McIntosh’s grandson was captured on video apparently being thrown to the ground and hit by officers.
“(Police) haven’t even said ‘sorry,’ a simple ‘sorry,'” said McIntosh.
“Yet, (they’re) using this Black History Month as a stepping stone for (their) own agenda.”
McIntosh says while there is no band-aid that can cover the depth of this collective wound, officers can start by apologizing, launching an investigation and sincerely engaging with the community.