Wilfred Sam-King, a leader in Winnipeg’s Black community, says he’s hopeful for a safer future for the Black youth he mentors in his Rising Stars Foundation as he reflects on the year since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the following trial for the now ex-police officer who killed him.
“We need to be mindful that situations like this are still occurring, and we need to make sure that this doesn’t reoccur,” said Sam-King.
“That’s my only sentiment, is more prevention.”
But he’s still worried and says the focus moving forward needs to be on protecting Black lives and preventing fatal encounters with police.
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s killing by Derek Chauvin — at the time a Minneapolis police officer, who pressed his knees on Floyd’s neck and back for more than nine minutes as two other officers held the man face-down on the pavement.
Floyd’s death sparked global Black Lives Matter protests. Chauvin, now convicted of manslaughter and murder, will be sentenced on June 25.
Winnipeg is not immune to deadly encounters between Black people and police.
Machuar Madut, a South Sudanese father who neighbours and relatives say lived with mental illness, was shot dead by a Winnipeg police officer on Feb. 23, 2019.
His shooting drew condemnation from Winnipeg’s South Sudanese community and sparked protest in Winnipeg, but no charges were laid in his death.
“The facts are that First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Black, racialized and religious minorities in this city face much more harm and are at greater risk from police than others,” said Gololcha Boru, a volunteer with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, or IRCOM.
“I think … a lot of other Winnipeggers don’t see the harm that can cause.”
‘Racially profiled at an alarming rate’
BIPOC — Black, Indigenous and people of colour — communities have complained for years about men in those groups being racially profiled repeatedly by Winnipeg police.
A September 2020 document released by the Police Accountability Coalition — a coalition of more than 90 community-based organizations in Winnipeg that came together to express support for the Black Lives Matter Movement — called for reallocation of 10 per cent of policing funds to community organizations working in social services.
Sam-King thinks that defunding is the right direction.
At a meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board last September, members of the Police Accountability Coalition laid out accusations of racial profiling by the Winnipeg Police Service, random checkstops and carding of members from visual minority communities.
Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth denied and dismissed those claims.
“I don’t agree with their views. We are part of the community,” he told reporters after the police board meeting. “We’ve been part of the community from the inception. We are partners in the community.”
But IRCOM’s Boru said a young person told him about being profiled by police just last weekend.
“We are systemically pulled over, stopped, racially profiled at an alarming rate,” said Boru.
“And I think that creates a sense of fear and a sense of distrust and over-polic[ing], and that affects a lot of us in our mental health.”
The City of Winnipeg did not provide a response about the coalition’s call for reallocating money in the police budget, but said it is working on implementing anti-racism initiatives for city staff.
‘Need to unlearn the racism that they have learned’
Anita Ayame, the women’s representative with the University of Manitoba’s Black Students Union, says she’s been profiled so many times she’s lost count.
“They need to unlearn the racism that they have learned. They need to learn not to socially profile someone just because they’re Black. Or use brute force because they’re a person of colour or they’re Indigenous,” said Ayame.
She said she was encouraged to see so many diverse people coming together to show support at Winnipeg’s Justice 4 Black Lives protest last summer.
But she says she was also racially profiled by police in 2020 and stopped for no valid reason while driving, and asked inappropriate personal questions.
The latest profiling incident she experienced was two weeks ago while getting some groceries at a local chain store.
“There was … a lot of people who used the self-checkout before me, and they were not people of colour and they were never stopped by the police at that store. But when I had to leave the store I was stopped and checked,” said Ayame.
Ayame said that retraining of the entire Winnipeg police force in anti-racism would help her feel safe in the city while driving and living her daily life.
Accountability for promises important: Sam-King
Sam-King says there were many organizations and individuals that made bold statements in 2020 about making changes by tearing down institutional racism. Black communities have noted that some companies are actively working on this. Others are not, he says.
“I think it’s important on this anniversary to start and engage in those conversations with those folks and companies and organizations that did say they will make change and have not, and are maybe pausing,” said Sam-King.
Both Boru and Sam-King said Black communities need to be listened to concerning their needs for equal access to opportunities to succeed, including needs for affordable housing and educational and professional opportunities.
“We need equitable access to all things in our city,” said Boru.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.