Many of Canada’s police chiefs have condemned the violent beating death of a Black man by officers during a traffic stop in the United States. But some Canadians feel that’s not enough.
Tyre Nichols died three days after a Jan. 7 confrontation with five police officers in Memphis, Tenn. Video footage now released shows police officers brutally beating the 29-year-old for three minutes.
On Friday, following news that the officers involved are facing murder and other charges, multiple police heads across Canada released statements calling for more accountability.
While many of them offered words of condolences to Nichols’ family, some reassured Canadians that their departments would protect Black people in their communities.
Natalie Delia Deckard, director of the Black Studies Institute at the University of Windsor, said that although she appreciates the police’s “intentionality” to offer their thoughts and prayers, statements are not enough to bring about changes.
“Are statements sufficient to affect change? I would argue that they do not,” Deckard told Global News. “And I don’t make that argument from a position of my opinions or my beliefs, but rather from my research and from what is known to be empirical evidence.”
She said Nichols’ death resulted from systemic violence against Black people that is “not new,” just like the death of George Floyd in 2020.
“Without leadership change and change on the ground, without organizational commitment at every level to do better— and to ensure the dignity of every Canadian regardless of any racial identity — we will be back in Canada in the same position as we have been, and there will be tragedies at the levels of city, province, nations,” Deckard said.
According to Tari Ajadi, an assistant professor at McGill University who specializes in Black social movements in Canada, such statements give Canadians the illusion that this “brutalizing violence isn’t an everyday occurrence.”
“Police forces across the country echo the same kinds of ideas, the same kinds of statements, the same kinds of discourses (that) help them to preserve the status quo,” Ajadi said.
Ajadi told Global News that police brutality against Black, Indigenous and racialized people is still very prevalent in Canada.
In 2022, police shot 87 people in Canada between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30. Of those shootings, 46 were fatal — a nearly 25 per cent increase from 2021, a tally compiled by The Canadian Press found.
Last year, Toronto police also released their first race-based data, which found that police are more likely to use force in an incident involving Black people than white people.
In addition, the report found that compared with white people, Black people were 1.5 times more likely to have an officer point a gun at them and police were 1.6 times more likely to point firearms at East Asian or Southeast Asian people.
Robyn Maynard, an assistant professor in the department of historical and cultural studies at the University of Toronto, said Black communities in Canada don’t need “platitudes or deepest sympathies from the police,” rather, they need an end to police killings.
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Maynard said their “empty platitudes are not being met with the same actual commitment to systemic change and overhaul.”
The idea that policing doesn’t offer equal protection to marginalized groups comes from an increasing consensus from social movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Indigenous-led No More Silence, Maynard added.
Maynard also called for more community backing and “work towards futures that provide meaningful investments in community supports.”
Ajadi said that it’s time the governments started to reinvest in community services, which have been decimated over decades by waves of cuts, while police budgets have increased.
“If we reverse that trend, if we fund community services, if we give people the capacity to decide for themselves what their communities ought to be like, if you allow people who do not have a roof over their head to have a roof over their head, you will keep them safe,” Ajadi said.
— with files from Global’s Joe Scarpelli, the Canadian Press and the Associated Press