Montrealers are outraged by a violent beating by the SPVM that took place April 10 in Jeanne-Mance Park.
The assault involved a person of colour biking through the park, who can be seen in the video being held to the ground by a group of seven SPVM officers in broad daylight and being punched and held by the neck. It is a horrible and upsetting video to watch.
That same weekend in Jeanne-Mance Park, five women of colour reported being surrounded by police and being given $1,500 fines, despite the fact that hundreds of others were gathering and breaking the rules. South of the border, on April 11, Daunte Wright was shot to death at a traffic stop in Minnesota. The police violence that caused hundreds of thousands of people to march in the streets last June has not gone anywhere.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante commented on the assault in Jeanne-Mance, saying, “This is why I’m for body cams.” Throughout this past year, during which police brutality has been in the spotlight, “body cameras!” has been Plante’s go-to response in the face of racist, and often deadly, attacks by police.
But the events are already being filmed. Suggesting that the assault in Jeanne-Mance this weekend needed even more footage is a despicable excuse for a solution. Plante suggested the incident needed more context, but in what context would be it acceptable for an unarmed biker to be choked by a group of police officers?
Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, put it best this past summer: “I don’t want to see more of us dying, I want the police to stop killing us.” To prevent police violence, we need to remove its actual cause: the police.
Studies have long indicated that body cameras have no effect on police violence, nor do they increase the chance that police will be held accountable for their actions. Not only are they ineffective, but they are expensive, and therefore used to justify massive budget increases for the police.
Plante’s choice to advocate for body cameras flies in the face of data, logic and basic humanity, and also ignores the fact that 73 per cent of Montrealers responded to her survey in support of defunding the police. But Plante continues to show her complicity with the police, both by failing to denounce actions that would result in immediate condemnation for any other group and by continuing to support the allocation of extra tools, powers and funding that further entrench the place of policing in Montreal.
Plante is taking the cowardly way out by calling for body cameras; it is a reform that makes it seem like she is doing something without actually changing anything about the way police operate. Montrealers have long shown courage and creativity in the face of difficulty. During the pandemic, community members have stepped up to keep each other safe — from Meals for Milton Parc to Resilience Montreal’s Raphaël André Warming Tent. It would be nice to see just an ounce of that same courage and accountability in our leadership.
It is time to start asking better questions, rather than keep pretending that tired and tried reforms will help. After all, the calls to defund the SPVM are also asking for a reinvestment of the money currently going to policing. What programs already exist that help keep us safe? What other services are lacking? How can we demilitarize our police force? How can we reduce interactions between people and police?
There are many great places to start, if only Mayor Plante was willing to begin.
Julianna Duholke is a law student at McGill University and an organizer with the Coalition to Defund the SPVM.