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For Black people calling the police can be dangerous. It’s time we had another option

For Black people calling the police can be dangerous. It’s time we had another option
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Twenty years ago, comedian Dave Chappelle made a joke in a stand up special about Did he call the police? A hard no. “It ain’t a real nice house, but they’d never believe I lived in it,” he said. “He’s still here!” Chappelle said, flipping into a police officer’s voice and smacking the mic stand as if it was the culprit.

I was a teenager when my older brother introduced me to the special and I laughed at the satire — after all, the best comedy is based in truth you can relate to. Since my brother got his driver’s licence and bought his first car at 17, he’d come to me with stories about the times he’d get pulled over by police; and the comments that would ensue about our addresses when the officer checked his and his passengers’ IDs.

We’d eyeroll and joke. But we’re past the point of laughter.

In the U.S. and Canada encountering the police, much less calling the police, has been a real fear for Black people for as long as the service has been around. It’s 2020 and little has changed.

In Minneapolis, George Floyd, was killed by now former officer Derek Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while he was pinned to the ground. Floyd pleaded for air until he lost consciousness. Three other officers stood by. The video went viral and has now led to days of unrest by those seeking justice.

All four officers were fired and Chauvin was eventually charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Both the medical examiner and an independent autopsy conducted by the family found that

But even when police officers don’t appear to be exacting cruel and undue force, the outcome can still be just as deadly for Black people.

In Toronto, Claudette Korchinski-Beals called the police to take her 29-year-old daughter Regis Korchinski-Paquet to CAMH to seek mental health assistance. Regis, who has epilepsy, was in distress over a family conflict, her mother said.

We may not know what happened inside the apartment when several officers arrived — Regis and the officers were the only ones in the apartment, while her mother and brother were in the building hallway, according to the family’s lawyer — but what we do know is that she wound up falling 24 floors to her death, rather than getting the mental health help she needed.

In April, a somewhat similar story played out when a Black man, who also dealt with mental health issues, was shot by police and died.

After a massive wave of rebuttals on social media, reporters followed up the next day with a piece based on community members’ accounts of , rather than the solution.

And yet, it’s still an entity that has long been considered essential by white people and the mainstream.

When you follow the line of blue shields back to their origin, one of the first forms of police in the American south were slave patrols.

And Canada is not too far off. The Mounties as the country colonized westward and the organization was based on the force the British used to control the Irish.

The way Indigenous and Black people are treated by the police has been and still is damningly similar. Three Indigenous people were shot and killed by police in Winnipeg over a 10-day period in April.

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Somewhere along the line, the police became synonymous with safety, but for people of colour, and people experiencing mental distress, there are scrolls of names that are examples of the contrary.

Andrew Loku. Jermaine Carby. Sammy Yatim. All of them wound up dead in encounters with the police in Toronto and the GTA.

And why is that? Is it not enough de-escalation training? Is it a lack of mental health training? Is it implicit bias that makes Black people skew more threatening in their minds? Is it the racism that has been embedded in police forces since their start in Canada and the U. S.?

We’re constantly looking for answers to improve the police rather than considering other options for first responders.

Sandy Hudson, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto and co-host of the podcast shared a thread on Twitter about a preinterview she gave regarding George Floyd’s homicide. One of the ideas she put forth was to “develop an alternative, nonpolice, front-line service for emergency mental health support.”

This shouldn’t be an idea left buried on a Twitter timeline, or perhaps forgotten after it does make its way on air, or is written about.

Hudson also suggested cutting Toronto’s police budget, which in 2019 made up — more than any other service including fire services, libraries and community housing which combined still amount to less. The second biggest divvy was the TTC at about 17 per cent.

It’s a discrepancy others have been pointing out on social media recently , including BuzzFeed editor Elamin Abdelmahmoud.

Both here and in the U.S. there have been and a question of what that would tangibly look like.

Perhaps the city could consider taking some of that money and putting it toward another first responder option. There are distress lines, yes, but what if we had something that people could recall as easily as 911? Something more tailored toward de-escalation and mental health calls?

The police do not inherently make everyone feel safe. It’s time Black and Indigenous people, people of colour, people in mental distress, had someone to call who does.
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