How are Winnipeg police responding to calls for change one year after murder of George Floyd?

A year after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked cries for change, a Winnipeg police inspector says the city’s service is working hard to repair relationships with marginalized communities, in part by bolstering anti-racism training and outreach. 

Yet some advocates say there is still a great deal of mistrust of police among BIPOC communities. 

They says that’s because they’re hearing a lot of talk, but not seeing any actual change in their interactions with police. 

Insp. Bonnie Emerson, who leads the Winnipeg police community support division, says since last year, the service has been trying to deepen its training of officers, to give them a greater understanding of how racism impacts the communities they police.

That has included having members from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) communities speak with recruits to share their experiences of police interactions.

Winnipeg police Insp. Bonnie Emerson leads the service’s community support division. (CBC)

“Training is one tangible component where we … involve our community partners and organizations with lived experience when we do our diversity and Indigenous training for our cadets and recruits,” Emerson said. 

“We also utilize police officers with lived experience, specifically from marginalized and racialized communities, to come and speak personally from the police perspective and share their experiences with our cadets.”

Part of that training has also involved discussions about Canada’s colonial past, and how that impacts people to this day, said Emerson.

“We are not shying away from addressing really hard, uncomfortable topics, owning it and engaging all layers of the police service in those conversations with the community, with the people that it affects.”

Her division has also expanded the amount of outreach it does, asking community organizations what they’d like to see. 

LISTEN | Winnipeg police Insp. Bonnie Emerson speaks with Information Radio guest host Faith Fundal: 

Information Radio – MB10:45Winnipeg Police Inspector Bonnie Emerson is with the Winnipeg Police Service’s Community Support Division, and is in charge of the Diversity Unit, Crime Prevention, School engagement and Indigenous Partnership Section.

She speaks with Guest Host Faith Fundal what has and has not changed in Winnipeg since the Justice for Black Lives movement demanded real change in policing in our community. 10:45

Less talk, more action 

Though engagement is good, what people impacted by racism really want to see is action, says Mandela Kuet, a community advocate who works with newcomer and refugee youth in Winnipeg. 

He says he feels like he’s heard a lot of talk over the last year, but hasn’t seen a lot of change in experiences with police officers.

“I feel like that’s one of the challenges, is because the community doesn’t see those changes,” he said. 

“Publicly, they [police] acknowledge that there’s challenges between communities and police. But … in terms of actions that are being taken, that’s something that we have to see.”

Community advocate Mandela Kuet says he has yet to see much in the way of concrete change when it comes to policing in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Mandela Kuet)

A meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board last September heard from members of the Police Accountability Coalition — a group of more than 90 Manitoba community-based organizations that came together to express support for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

They laid out accusations of racial profiling by the city’s police service, random checkstops and carding of members from visual minority communities.

At that meeting, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth denied and dismissed those claims.

Louise Simbandumwe, executive Director of SEED Winnipeg — an anti-poverty non-profit and one of the coalition’s member organizations — also said she’s seen very little in terms of tangible change in the last year. 

“I absolutely agree that engagement is really important, but … one year on, when we look at the record, very little has been done,” she told Information Radio guest host Faith Fundal. 

Louise Simbandumwe of SEED Winnipeg is one of the members of the Police Accountability Coalition. (Submitted by Louise Simbandumwe)

She questions how effective anti-racism training for Winnipeg police is, considering there is still a significant level of mistrust of police among some BIPOC community members. 

“I think there is a long, long road ahead. You can’t change what you do not acknowledge,” she said. 

“And so we’re still at the point where we are looking for the police service to acknowledge the specifics of what is happening so that we can work together with them, to actually put in place substantive change so that all community members in Winnipeg feel equally protected by the police.”

LISTEN | Louise Simbandumwe on what has and hasn’t changed since the death of George Floyd: 

Information Radio – MB10:03This week the world remembers and reflects on the death of George Floyd by a former Minnesota police officer. The protests demanding change, that started in the U.S., were soon happening in Canada, including in Winnipeg.

So what has changed one year later in Winnipeg? Guest Host Faith Fundal put that question to Louise Simbandumwe, Executive Director of SEED Winnipeg. and Jessica DaSliva, Director of the Youth Agency Alliance – both members of the Police Accountability Coalition. 10:03

The Winnipeg Police Service’s Insp. Emerson said she acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done, but believes having conversations is a big part of that. 

“But we can’t just keep it at talk, and I don’t believe that we have and [we] are proceeding in engaging and putting into action, I think, some pretty important initiatives.”

In an email, a spokesperson for the province’s Justice Department said the Manitoba government is working to implement the 70 recommendations coming out of a review of The Police Services Act that was completed last fall. 

“Manitoba Justice is committed to ongoing outreach and consultations, and a meeting with the Police Accountability Coalition is scheduled for June,” the spokesperson wrote. 

8:47One year after George Floyd’s murder, what anti-racism action has been taken in Manitoba?

One year ago today George Floyd was murdered. His death sparked protests, riots, and a wider discussion about what it means to be black in North America. And what it means to be black here in Manitoba. Mandela Kuet, a community advocate who works with newcomer and refugee youth, share with Emily Brass their thoughts on what has changed and what has not. 8:47