London police respond to Black Lives Matter demands
LONDON, ONT. -- Saturday’s Black Lives Matter protest in London has generated discussions about defunding police services in the Forest City.
The spokesperson for Black Lives Matter London, Alexandra Kane, said the anti-racism rally with over 10,000 participants, including members from London police, was a huge success but adds there is still work to be done.
“The major point of our demands is to defund the police and reallocate those funds to education, to social workers, to social programs that help build the community.”
Mayor Ed Holder did not attend the rally in person due to COVID-19, but offered words of support and followed the protest online.
In response to demands from members of Black Lives Matter London to defund London police, Holder says, “What I am looking for is a ‘Made in London’ solution. I think we all recognize we have to do better. What that entails, I don’t think we take a presumptive approach. I think we take a listen approach.”
Chief Steve Williams of the London Police Service said he was at the rally as a police officer but more importantly, “a human being and participant.”
“I’m aware of the conversations going on in relation with racism in policing and police brutality. There is no room for either of those in policing and certainly not in this police service,” said Williams
Executive director of the London Police Association, Rick Robson, was also in attendance at the rally as a supporter of Black Lives Matter.
Robson said defunding the police service and allocating funds is a complex process that may do more harm than good.
“The suggestion you can simply take money from the police and that somehow that can be handed off to another agency that will somehow negate the need for police is unproven and frankly dangerous,” said Robson.
Some of the ideas highlighted at the Black Lives Matter rally included defunding police and reallocating the funds “to mandatory food security programs in schools, increased funding for mental health programs and housing for marginalized communities,” said Kane in a press release.
Robson said he thinks the underlying message is to create better support for everyone “in a unified voice.”
“This is not simply a matter of taking X amount of dollars from the police budget, putting it somewhere else and having a measurable result. Yes we know we need to do more as it relates to a lot of issues, like health, homelessness…living wage.”
Robson added that all of this requires coordination from multiple levels of government.
“If you take the money out of the hands of the police, what guarantees do you have at all that it will go back into these issues,” asked Robson. “Instead of these groups and organizations, including police, arguing with each other…and being on the opposite side of issues, we need to be unified.”
Kane also requested in the press release that the City of London purchase body cameras for officers.
During a virtual press conference Monday Holder said, “From my standpoint I look at this and say nothing that we have had suggested to this point or even considered should be off the table. I think it’s important that we review what is in the best interest and safety of Londoners. And we will review that as we go.”
Williams added, “I am open to body cams, we are open to any kind of oversight and I have been quite clear about this. But body cams are not the solution to all problems and they have a high price tag. You really need to develop the trust first…Without that trust we can’t police effectively.’
Williams said that body cameras are not currently in the works, but the board and administration does consultations with the community every three years that ultimately drive the budget.
“The budget represents the needs of community, maybe we need to do a better job consulting upfront, but we do have a good history with working with people,” said Williams.
Kane has also highlighted the need for funding to be directed to mental health programs as well as implementing more education on systemic racism in schools and police services.
“We must put an end to systemic racism. We need to allocate all levels of government funding appropriately to the marginalized and vulnerable communities,” said Kane.
Williams said that the protest has sparked a response from London police and he is motivated to build a stronger foundation of trust with those in marginalized communities.
“There is no room in policing for racism or police brutality and this police service is committed to addressing it…we need to do better to gain the trust of the community and as the chief of the London police, that’s my mission.”