Op-ed: In Defunding The Police, We Cannot Forget Black Womxn
Despite Driving Social Movements, Black Womxn Are Forgotten By Policy Makers
June 22, 2020
Source: AJ Korkidakis / Ricochet Media.
#BlackLivesMatter was started in 2013 by three Black womxn: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi. The Black Lives Matter Toronto chapter was also led by Black womxn, so too are many other movements worldwide. Black womxn are the blueprint. They are creators and organizers, they influence culture, develop theories and launch movements. Yet, when it comes to policy-making, legislative change and law reform, Black womxn’s lives are seldom considered or prioritized and are often forgotten. This is misogynoir. This is policy violence.
On June 5, former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes tweeted: “It seems like the hashtag Black Lives Matter has been used by just about everybody [...] Before there was that handle, there was some powerful Black women who were standing up and calling out injustices [...] and they were dismissed. Often by those same influential people who are taking a knee today.” Across Canada, we have witnessed elected officials take a knee while nickel and dime-ing funding initiatives that support Black womxn specifically. Across Canada we have also seen organizations scramble to put out diversity statements (likely written by Black womxn) without proper acknowledgement or compensation. We have heard of Town Halls being put on by organizations about “anti-Black racism” in which Black womxn are being made to share and relive their traumatic experiences, despite fear of losing their job or facing other disciplinary actions for speaking their truth.
The reality is that Black womxn continue to (and have always) put their lives on the line for change. They are working front-line jobs, sustaining their communities, and leading movements while also being policed via criminalizing legislation and criminalized by well-funded institutions that terrorize them on a daily basis.
On May 30, Gisselle Rodriguez and other Black womxn from #NotAnotherBlackLife led a Toronto rally and march for Regis Korchinski-Paquet, whose mother claims Toronto police are responsible for her daughter’s death. Thousands of people showed up for Regis, Black womxn, and Black lives. Our hope as Black womxn, is that this movement goes beyond this moment. That allies do not show up for us only when we are hashtags and for photo ops, but when we are alive too. Our hope is that those responding today, like elected officials who have taken a knee, organizations that put out statements, organized town halls, and hired Black consultants to do Equity, Diversity and Inclusion training, and others, continue to do so past this pandemic and past next week.
The word “defund” has been getting a lot of global attention as of late, specifically in the context of defunding the police. According to Merriam-Webster, searches for “defund” are up 4300 per cent. Defunding the police literally means removing funds from the police. With respect to how to approach it, Broadbent Institute has pulled together a number of resources, most of which illustrating that money spent on police is better spent on services that meet community needs.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has responded to the call to defund the police by announcing new policing reforms which includes shifting funding from the NYPD to Youth and Social Services. In Minnesota, the Minneapolis City Council members have announced their intent to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and invest in community-led public safety. We must thank protestors and organizers for this. Most importantly, we must thank the Black womxn who are often starting these conversations, leading the charge and leading change.
City councillors across Canada must take calls to defund the police seriously. Notwithstanding countless reports, community consultations and lives lost, our tax dollars continue to fund policing, a practice that disproportionately targets and kills Black womxn and disproportionately takes Black and Indigenous lives. When money is defunded from the police and invested in Black womxn, you are supporting their Black communities. When alternatives to policing are supported and put into practice, you’re not only listening to Black womxn, you are valuing Black lives.
Black Lives Matter Toronto is calling for a 50 per cent reduction to the Toronto police budget, but the most being considered by some Toronto city councillors is 10 per cent, which would go towards social services. This is not enough. Mayor John Tory says he won’t support what he calls “arbitrary” cuts to the police budget regardless of reports proving that Black people are more likely to be injured and killed by Toronto police.
In the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism, Mayor John Tory stated, “Eradicating anti-Black racism – although difficult – must be our goal in Toronto, because it stands as an obstacle to building a truly fair and just city.” Tory also acknowledged the importance of recognizing the impact that anti-Black racism has on mental health. In his Black Mental Health Day Proclamation he stated “The City of Toronto is at the forefront of efforts to eliminate anti-Black racism and all forms of discrimination.” Yet, keeping 90% of the police budget in policing dismisses the evidence of countless reports and deputations that Black folx have participated in. It ignores the decade-long calls by Black womxn on the front-lines to give them more than crumbs from a hefty $1.22 billion police budget.
When imagining what allocating money to services that directly support Black womxn would look like, Yusra Khogali - a Toronto based community organizer, educator and artist - says that Black liberation movements that are pushing for changes in our communities and in our society are a “pattern repeating itself.” To change this, she notes that we must recognize that there is misogynoir in organizing and that Black womxn experience the brunt of violence. The unfortunate result of this is that Black womxn end up being spoken for, their demands get “white washed, liberalized and made palatable,” and then money often gets funneled into “perfect victim” organizations. To interrupt the way in which power impacts Black womxn then, is to ensure that Black womxn at the margins are being centered and included. Khogali explains that who gets funding should not be chosen by people who have political interests, as to do so actually inflicts more harm on Black womxn. Instead, grassroots folx must be at the negotiating stage to ensure that resources are funneled to them.
There are so many Black womxn and queer led organizations doing incredible work that actually support Black womxn in very meaningful ways - organizations that do not perpetuate and replicate systems of harm, oppression and misogynoir. Black Women in Motion, The Most Nurtured, and Hill Studio, to name a few.
This call to action is nothing new. It has been said time and time again by Black womxn in Toronto including the Black Women’s Collective. The African American Policy Forum has mapped #SayHerName, revealing a sad reality of police violence inflicted on Black womxn. Here in Canada, Robyn Maynard has also revealed a long legacy of “egregious violence” against Black womxn in Canada. We must say their names and ensure that no more Black womxn’s lives are lost at the hands of police. Defunding is just one step toward true liberation. In the words of J Mase III, “there is no Black liberation without Black women & Femmes.”
Samantha Peters graduated from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law with specializations in public law and dispute resolution & professionalism. She most often engages in work at the intersection of law, education and policy ranging from law reform to legal education to legislative research.
Danait Mehreteab is an Equity Educator with a background in Health and Peace Studies from McMaster University and International Development from Humber College. She has an extensive background working with youth and is passionate about mental health and wellness.
The opinions in this piece are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.