Many of us have been hearing the news of a Waterloo Region church openly defying provincial lockdown rules. And, appropriately, many of us are infuriated by both the actions of those choosing to attend and also the lack of enforcement by police. I am one of those people angered by this situation.
However, I am also left uncertain about the best course of action in this situation. My first reaction is to call for heavier police enforcement (which may very well be the most appropriate and needed action here). However, as someone who supports calls to reallocate police funding, I am left with a sense of unease about the whole situation.
You see, one of the many reasons that I support reallocation is that I have heard many stories about communities that are over-surveilled and over-policed. I don't think anyone is surprised to know that those communities tend to be racialized, and experience higher rates of poverty and homelessness. Therefore, I think there's value in reducing police funding for these activities.
Of course, what we have in this case of the local church, seems to be the exact opposite of that. We have a majority (all?) white church population openly (and proudly) defying lockdown rules. Rules that are meant to keep us all safe. And we know that (again) the populations most impacted by COVID are those living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, and/or are racialized. And yet, where is the enforcement in this situation?
Those clear discrepancies in responses is one of the main reasons I am supportive of calls to reallocate funding from policing to more upstream services. Expecting police to be the first and only ones to respond to any and all issues in the community, while giving them both powers of arrest and use of force, while also providing them with 'discretion' to use these tools as they see fit, is clearly problematic, and too often harmful.
While I am not positive of the best course of action in this particular situation, I think it does highlight the problems of one group (police) holding so much power and discretion when we know that systemic racism impacts those decisions. We need to do better and I think reallocation is a strong tool to help us improve.
Yesterday, amid calls to reallocate police funding to upstream services, Regional Council finalized its 2021 budget, which resulted in an ~$5 million increase to the police budget.
As one of those people in support of Reallocate WR's calls to action, including a 0% increase for the police budget and redirecting those funds to upstream community services, I was disappointed in council's decision. It's frustrating to see so many people rally around this issue, only to see limited change.
But as I reflect on that last statement, I think there is reason to still be hopeful. As someone who watches local politics closely, I think it's fair to say that there tends not to be a high level of engagement with council decisions and actions. There have been few issues where I have seen the community come together to advocate like they have in support of Reallocate WR.
There were 11 delegations who spoke at the most recent public input session on the budget. A meeting, I remind you, that was not originally scheduled and only came into place because of residents advocating for its inclusion.
Add to those 11 delegations, the many other delegations who called for a reduction to the police budget at the first public meeting last month. And then, add to that, the over 40 pages of written correspondence that council received. 40+ pages! And all of it was in support of Reallocate WR's calls to action. That is something to be proud of!
Having watched local council over the past few years, I have seen many decisions made, some I have absolutely agreed with and others adamantly opposed (and many fell somewhere in between). But most of the changes have come far too slowly for me, someone who wants to see all of those good decisions turned into action...well, yesterday! No doubt many of you feel the same.
While many of us are disappointed about yesterday's council decision to increase the police budget, I think there is still a lot to be proud of. The original draft budget included an ~$8 million increase but that ended up being reduced by $3 million; there were 2 motions not only put on the floor, but approved, relating to making some changes to policing and upstream services; and lastly, we have created momentum for real change. I see a community who has engaged deeply with this issue and is committed to taking the action needed to change the status quo. That excites me! And at a time when we feel the disappointment of yesterday's decision, it is that community committed to change that gives me the energy to keep pushing for change. So thank you!