Police violence is brutally entrenched in various systems of many proclaimed democratic nations. It mostly rears its ugly head in the brutalization of BIPOC and marginalized bodies due to its dark underbelly of systemic racism and discrimination.
One area where police violence occurs extensively and arguably contributes to its depravity is the prison system. Prisons worldwide are often ignored and overlooked due to their gruesome nature and the deliberate political and media strategies that manipulate people’s understanding and perception of prisons’ inner workings and role in society.
The legacy of police violence in Canada is as horrific as its prison systems and deeply rooted in society, yet it is often ignored and dismissed by many Canadians. This legacy is illustrated here:
“Despite common perception to the contrary, the Canadian prison population is disproportionately large relative to other comparable societies — with the seventeenth highest incarceration rate of thirty-four OECD nations, higher than most European nations…”
Shockingly, this statistic is glossed over due to how deeply embedded prisons are in society; one finds it hard to imagine a life without them.
The harsh reality unknown to most Canadians not in the prison system is that “short of major wars; mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time.” The police are one of the primary contributors to increased mass incarceration due to their sworn duty to arrest people suspected of breaking the law and the cracks of a broken justice system that let prejudices, discrimination and racism slip through. Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that the prison system, promoted by “tough on crime” initiatives, is deeply racialized by perpetuating extreme levels of police violence that target marginalized communities and ingrained in society to the extent of its destruction or reform seems unthinkable.
In Canada, among other democratic countries, governments and political parties have adopted “tough on crime” initiatives designed to eradicate levels of violence, crime, and other illicit activities in society. However, an alarming number of studies and statistics show that “tough on crime” laws do the opposite of what they plan to. Instead, they majorly contribute to police violence and the overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in prison populations. Furthermore, a loop is produced when these “crime-busting” strategies are in place: by sending the police to “crackdown” on crime without addressing the racist and oppressive history of the systems they are built upon, increased police violence, racial profiling, and mass incarceration rates occur. This loop produces a chain reaction of racialized violence and extends police brutality to BIPOC.
Why are these laws, strategies, and initiatives still put in place, campaigned for, and promoted despite opposing results and statistics? Well, through the inherently violent and racist practices of tough on crime laws, the state maintains order and supports the perpetuation of racialized violence in its intrinsically linked system, prisons. Racial profiling is then perpetuated by the police targeting BIPOC, such as “stop and frisk” policies, arguably a product of “tough on crime” initiatives strengthened by a racist judicial system and state. Moreover, prisons and carceral expansion are entrenched in Neoliberal and Neocolonial systems. Therefore, it is inevitable that the entrenchment of such structures enables police officers to often see their use of force against BIPOC as legitimate, and for people, upon seeing evidence of racialized police brutality, to respond, “they should have obeyed the police.”
The overrepresentation of BIPOC in the prison population is evidence and a product of the chain reaction of racialized violence. Overrepresentation, often defined as the higher representation/proportion than average of something, is used as a critical term when discussing the vast number of BIPOC in the prison population.
Specifically, the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the prison population is an extension of this systemic racial violence. In Canada, the police target Indigenous people through systemic discrimination and neocolonialism methods. The Canadian Police are notorious for their inhumane treatment of Indigenous people and other BIPOC in and out of police custody.
With the scrutiny of racialized police violence enacted by tough on crime laws and its connection to the judicial and prison systems embedded in society comes the search for solutions and alternatives. Therefore, it is essential to consider talks on Abolition, Police Reform, Defunding the Police, Decarceration, terms suddenly brought in front of the average person’s view due to the Black Lives Matter movement (involving protests against police brutality and systemic racism against Black people in the United States). All forms of resolving racialized police violence and addressing the historical and oppressive systems that perpetuate them require an end to the loop that occurs when “crime-busting” strategies are in place.
By putting an end to the chain reaction of racialized violence, which extends police brutality to BIPOC, in and out of prison systems, the overrepresentation of marginalized groups in prison populations will be impracticable. When that happens, the cascading effects of racist and oppressive policies such as tough on crime laws will be exposed, dismantled, and bring society out of a stagnant loop to a linear growth for everyone; BIPOC benefited this time.
So what can YOU do to advocate for change to such a complex issue? Here are four simple steps:
- Educate. Continue learning about the historical and ongoing racist policies, laws, and systems that disadvantage BIPOC and share your knowledge with others. Adopt anti-colonial and anti-racist mindsets & practices. Be a good Ally.
- Support Restorative Justice. The friendship centres across Canada run culturally-based restorative justice programs in many locations across Canada. Find your local friendship centre. Ask if they have any volunteer opportunities; if they do, help them out.
- Advocate. Organizations such as the Elizabeth Fry Society and the John Howard Society have branches across Canada that advocate within the prison system. Get involved.
- Donate. You can donate money to crowd-funding campaigns such as Free Her, which pays off unpaid fines for Indigenous women facing prison.
Priscilla Ojomu is a Nigerian-Canadian 3rd-Year BA student majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology at UAlberta. Priscilla's work at WEW is fuelled by her passion for promoting awareness of the experiences of marginalized communities through accessible information and resources.
Literature, tea, podcasts, Studio Ghibli movies (Fun fact: she has 100+ collectible postcards of the feature films from 1984 - 2014), art, volunteering and advocating for equity keep her busy.