A grassroots group in Winnipeg is calling for less policing after a violent, deadly few weeks in the city.
The group of residents and community workers gathered at the Bell Tower on Selkirk Avenue Thursday to voice their call to action.
“We’re really worried that this moment is going to be used for an opportunity to call for more policing and more jailing,” said Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, University of Winnipeg criminal justice assistant professor.
“We’re here to say that that’s not the answer and we’ve been going that direction for decades in Manitoba, and it’s actually part of the reason that we’ve gotten to this place.
“We’ve been putting more officers on the ground for the past 20 years and yet here we are, with very high rates of violence and what has been called a ‘crisis moment.’”
Instead of more investing in police and jailing, the group is calling for the restriction instead of expansion of police powers, cutting police spending, selling the police helicopter, “demilitarizing” the force, and stopping the policing of drug users, sex workers, and behaviours associated with poverty.
“There have been decades of investment in policing, investment in jailing, investment in justice and divestment from our communities and the divestment from solutions that communities have been demanding to help them survive, to help them live, to help them be healthy,” Dobchuk-Land said.
“We’re here to say that what’s needed is a drastic change of course.”
Dobchuk-Land says the policing funds should be redirected to public housing, employment and income assistance, tenant protections, 24-hour safe spaces, prevention programs, free and reliable public transit, and safe sites for drug consumption.
“We know that increasing policing does not actually decrease violence or crime rates in communities. It never has,” said Manitoba Harm Reduction Network executive director Shohan Illsley.
“What we do know is if we increase support and funding and capacity for communities to take care of their own business, that itself will decrease violence.”
This comes days after Mayor Brian Bowman called for a meeting with Premier Brian Pallister and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to address public safety in Winnipeg, and on the same day Mayor Bowman announced an initiative to reduce police demand in the city, in partnership with Harvard University.
The mayor says he continues to support increases to the Winnipeg Police Service budget.
“We need to continue to support the increases that we have been providing [to WPS],” Bowman said.
“That being said, I really appreciate the input from so many grassroots organizers in our community that are stepping up to have the dialogue in our community about how we can be smarter with our allocation of our resources.
“While I continue to support increases to the Winnipeg Police Service budget, we have to recognize that, and I believe the intent of what they’re calling for, is really recognizing that public safety can’t all fall on the shoulders of the Winnipeg Police Service. We have to do a better job as a community.”
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