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Reflecting on the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Canadians need to confront the threats to Black and Indigenous lives that exist within our own society – and must resist capitalism in order to intercept a deeply intertwined structure of police violence, discrimination, and inequality.
On May 25th, a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after a cashier at a local grocery store claimed Floyd had attempted to make a purchase with a fake twenty-dollar bill. The disturbing footage of Floyd’s murder spread across social media, triggering a wave of protest on an international scale that has further brought to light not only the practices of racist policing, but the fundamental issues of our justice system, the immoral organization of resources within capitalist society, and the discrimination inseparable from the very roots of western liberalism. The current climate necessitates an examination of Canada’s culpability in a global and domestic political situation dominated much by the interests of white capital.
The ensuing response regarding the death of George Floyd has been unlike any seen in the twenty-first century, and has reached a scale far beyond previous Black Lives Matter protests; with hundreds of thousands of participants organizing in over sixty countries across six continents. This influx of civil unrest has manifested through broad and diverse forms of demonstration and political pressure, including countless occupations, petitions, marches, and the forced removal of a number of statues honoring colonial symbols of slavery, oppression, and genocide. The counteraction against such progressive forces has been predictably severe. Protests in the United States have been met with threats of military action by Trump, while even many of the most peaceful demonstrations continue to be combated with brutality, mass assault, and hostility from authorities. Cities have implemented curfews to maintain control, with centrist leaders offering inept and facetious declarations that they suddenly “stand in unity” with the protestors, or, like claims made by Andrew Cuomo, that further protesting is unnecessary thanks to a relatively minor reform package. In Canada, conservative commentators and politicians such as Doug Ford have gone so far as to waive any concerns of the country’s own systemic racial inequalities. State reactions have involved thousands of arrests, and countless incidents of violence against protestors, press teams, and medical responders.
One can’t help but be reminded of the abusive treatment of Wet’suwet’en pipeline protestors at the hands of RCMP officers just a number of months ago, another movement on behalf of people of color demanding representation and dignity in the face of immoral capitalist practices. Observing this trend, we are confronted with the truths of what happens when we vouch for structural change in ways that can’t simply be ignored. The use of rubber bullets and tear gas against Black Lives Matter protesters has resulted in life threatening injuries and death, escalating the situation further and tearing apart even more lives in defense of the current hierarchy. This same violence has continued overseas, in cities including Hamburg and Rio De Janeiro.
Media sources from across the political spectrum have disparaged or de-fanged the protests, with even liberal sources such as The New York Times undermining the autonomy of Black radicals through claims that “white Anarchists” were in fact the perpetrators of protesting tactics deemed too disruptive. This is not to mention the repeated undercutting of anti-capitalism within the sphere of “progressive” discussion; including the applause for corporate responses, ranging from Nike and Adidas to personal addresses from the likes of Jeff Bezos, all generally consisting of lip service from groups whose economic interests and political habits are a threat to the security of Black lives. Regardless, communities supporting the cause have remained strong in the face of opposition, with the development of occupations like the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, the leveraging of labor power (such as bus drivers’ refusal to transport arrested protestors) and work from activists, educators, and volunteers – with many of those participating being cities’ own gang members.
It would be naive to isolate this issue to individual officers or training programs. Considered in context, the murder of George Floyd reveals itself as part of an inhumane and backwards pattern that reaches beyond national boundaries and exposes a fundamental injustice in the way we manage power, resources, and accountability in a global capitalist economy. Alongside the United States, the policing of Canadian society, at its core, functions as an unjust exercise in oppressive authority; “cleaning up” the consequences of capitalism and managing its dominance through the use of force and coercion.
We can examine the shape of our own justice system to view the relationship between capitalism and authoritarian practices. A great number of those incarcerated in Canada have committed relatively harmless, non-violent offences, such as possession of marijuana or psilocybin. It goes without saying that an undue criminal record can threaten an individual’s material security by way of employment and housing restrictions. Such charges can also mean prison time, which unlike Scandinavian countries, does not involve the provision of education, training, or proper mental health care required to adequately equip prisoners for future success. Furthermore, analysis of surrounding statistics reveals a disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous people imprisoned both in the United States and Canada for victimless crimes, while on average having much longer sentences than white prisoners who had committed the same offences. This once again indicates the fundamental psychology of racism dominant throughout our social structure. When examining such an issue, we must not ignore Canada’s commitment to Nixon’s blatantly racist “war on drugs”, which maintains a legal philosophy that has forgone any improvements of underlying conditions and has instead functioned to incarcerate people of color and impoverished Canadians at an alarming rate. During his time as prime minister, Trudeau has reaffirmed his support of this discriminatory endeavour – much to the dismay of public health experts – and is continuing a program estimated to have caused significantly more overdose deaths than it prevents.
Furthermore, when a crime is in fact committed, the connection between our approach to resource distribution and the presence of said criminality cannot be understated. Research has shown that even when a crime (of the variety that the police most commonly respond to) does occur, there is generally a correlation to unmedicated or untreated mental health issues, lack of community support, untreated drug addiction, or material desperation. In other words, a lack of systemic security. Under a different structure, such issues could be addressed thoroughly without compromising human well-being for the exclusive privilege of the minority. Furthermore, we must confront the fact that this is not simply for the sake of societal organization or statistical success; the individuals who we deem “criminals” are often victims of various socioeconomic forces and personal struggles, and their given experiences must be taken seriously. To create the opportunities for better lives, we must democratically distribute the resources needed for a collaborative society, without being at the behest of corporate domination over labor and resources.
Capitalism’s dedication to atomism and isolated responsibility (especially when it comes to poverty and criminality) proves irrational when you take into account that all of these issues are, to a great extent, the result of broad capitalist interests and the way such interests inform the organization of resources – and vice versa. These conditions of insufficient support and fabricated desperation disproportionately affect people of color in both Canada and the United States, due to obvious historical factors such as redlining of communities, mass incarceration, denial of jobs, society’s internalized racism, generational trauma at the hands of colonial forces, and other forms of systemic abuse that have repeatedly threatened people of color. Furthermore, the presence of irrational biases are largely ignored in officers’ training and the fundamental structure of policing. Eighty percent of American officers responding to a Pew Research Center survey claimed that “no systemic changes were needed to assure equal rights”. In modern policing, this inept attitude and ignorance to social injustice is paired with excessive power over the average citizen. These claims are not unlike those made by Doug Ford. In reality, these issues are still front and center in the lives of many Canadian citizens, for whom violence and discrimination from authorities are all too common.
The frequent murder of indigenous and Black Canadians and the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s findings that Black Toronto residents are twenty times more likely to be shot dead by police are some of the most obvious examples of this injustice taking place domestically. Even at its best, the most compassionate forms of policing in Canada and the United States are fundamentally about the prevention of crimes created primarily by the systems of hierarchy that the police are subordinate to. This creates something of a class cannibalism within the police-citizen relationship, considering the working class wage of an average officer. Despite the commitments and sacrifices of many individuals belonging to the police force, their fundamental role as a political entity is the protection of a broken system and the perpetuation of violence on behalf of our corrupt, white-dominated, structure of oppression, in which those who have created the most wealth (generally through exploitation of a working class or the toil of exported labor) hold the greatest influence. Resources controlled in such a fashion feed into their own interests in a self-perpetuating cycle (in which even media and politics are themselves bought and sold as commodities) and are antithetical to the necessary conditions for creating a truly just and equal Canada that moves beyond its history of white supremacy. This is not to mention the country’s use of dehumanizing imported labor from people of color around the world, and our culpability in the murder of civilians in the context of our military involvement in the Middle East; let alone the last two hundred years of residential schools, Black slavery, and Japanese internment camps. We must continue to confront the underlying interests that perpetuate these issues and apply pressure accordingly.
In relation to the NDP, we can turn to professor of Black Studies and popular academic Kehinde Andrews for insight, who emphasizes that centrist parties under Blair, Obama, and domestically Trudeau, have historically been the “polite” and superficially progressive options that have in fact continued to harm Black and Indigenous people in policy and practice. Such governments do little to combat the great inequalities within their given nations, and have in fact protected the most corrupt elements of western capitalism; preventing the possibility of meaningful political and economic progress, on which racial equality and the sustainability of civilization at large are dependent. Seventy-one percent of carbon emissions come from one hundred corporations, and it is well known that the immediately foreseeable manifestations of climate change will affect disenfranchised communities, primarily people of color, most prominently. The aforementioned parties’ commitment to the whims of capitalism have repeatedly stifled responses to such issues, and may in fact cause the destruction of human civilization as we know it. The “center-left” of the Neo-liberal era has been dominated by corporate interests that Canadians must resist. In line with the caucus’ manifesto, the NDP ought to move in an increasingly progressive direction and oppose such complacent centrism while presenting a viable alternative that can combat racism through a restructuring of community support, redistribution of wealth, and a responsible and humane system of aid and justice.
The protests have spread into many Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Victoria. Yet again, protestors are decrying these structures of oppression, grieving another painful tragedy at the hands of a broken system responsible for so much loss; both of life and livelihood. In great numbers, people demanding a more just society are taking it upon themselves to make a difference. Their demands deserve to be heard. Beyond police reform, we must address all systemic injustices against people of color without impediment of corporate interests. Starting in Canada, we must push for political representation that can finally begin to address these issues adequately.