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Police brutality is most often seen in Black communities in the United States and southern Canada, but here in northern Canada it predominantly occurs towards Indigenous peoples and is often excused or written off the record. There is no justifiable reason for applying unnecessary force during encounters with people of color, innocent or not. The police often spare no mercy on marginalized populations, male or female, young or old. 

People like Karen Lander, an Inuvialuit woman, who was shot down in Yellowknife by police in her front yard. I worked as a home care visitor with Karen and her children and knew her personally. She struggled daily but was a good mother. She left behind her two young children who are now being brought up in foster care. Most police killings in Canada are directly related to calls for mental health assistance. There’s been over 500 police related deaths in Canada in the last 20 years, that’s an average of 25 police killings per year, some of them being tragic misunderstandings through communication breakdown, others purely inexcusable and race based.

There is a deeply embedded distrust with the police in BIPOC communities. For Indigenous peoples, this distrust goes back to the time of residential schools when the catholic church and the RCMP worked together to forcefully remove children from their homes. The RCMP were the enforcers, beating parents with batons if they tried to fight, even shooting entire dog teams dead so that parents couldn’t follow where the priests and nuns were taking the children. Today, the so-called justice system is still trying to take our children away, they have just found new tactics. 

Protesters around the world have not minced their words. BIPOC are holding police accountable.

What happened to George Floyd is disgustingly preposterous. It is a turning point in history, an event so ludicrous yet sadly so close to home to many people in the BIPOC community. 

The world has witnessed a man’s last breath, his life cut short too soon at the hands of a murderer who is paid to protect. I am rendered nearly speechless but now is not the time to be silent. I will do my best to use my education as a tool to help improve the justice system in whatever way I can. 

I wrote a poem a few years ago after an incident where one of my sons’ friends was profiled by the police in our home. They barged into our house in the middle of the night and arrested him in his sleep because a white man said he stole something that belonged to him. 

 

They had no proof. 

They had no right. 

I often wonder what could have happened if my son and his friends tried to fight that night.

My neighbour down the street

Too rushed to put shoes on his feet

Stands at the ready outside my front door 

His once white socks are submersed in a puddle from a thunderstorm that swept through the trailer park the night before

He’s an uninvited guest at my doorstep knocking loudly, frantic

He’s looking for a culprit and drove straight to my house in a mad panic

He tells me I’m harbouring and protecting an armed and dangerous bandit

A row of parked cars has just been ransacked

For some petty change and a jerry can full of gas

He says the neighbours told him they saw who did it 

He wants to search my premises to find where the thief of mine put it

I wonder how he fits as I glance at his small idling car

He’s got to be seven feet tall, his belly large

My neighbour, whom I’m supposed to love

Wants to lay a licken’ on my only son

He says to bring the criminal outside

“Get off my property” I cry

Instead he waits outside holding his head up high in his white privileged pride

He calls the police, knowing without a doubt they will be on his side

I sit in my dark living room now sipping hot tea

Looking out at the dim glow of the streetlight beaming down on his idling junk heap

He can’t bully me

I too call the police

I tell the dispatch 

I’m being harassed

She scornfully says “calm down, an officer is already on the way” 

So I wait while the man surrounds my house stalking his prey

I can’t even trust 

Authority to protect us

This is no mistake

Once again my son is blamed for something he didn’t take

They want nothing more than to lock young men like him away

The police knock on the door five minutes later 

Backed by my finger pointing neighbour

With no warrant they search my yard with their flashlights in the dark 

Looking for stolen goods taken from unlocked cars

They find nothing but still they push themselves into our home

I tell them their so-called criminal has been here all along

The officer blatantly tells me he does not like our family name

That we all operate the same

With a mother’s alibi and no proof, he releases the innocent suspect back into his room 

Where he sleeps in peace until the next time he gets in trouble for something he didn’t do

 

Correction: Please note that last week’s article “Living Every Day as Indigenous Peoples Day” requires correction. My Kookum was in fact Tlicho, her uncle was Chief Monfwi, the man that signed the Tlicho Treaty with the well known words “As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the waters flow”).

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  1. First of all, I would like to thank you for writing this and including Karen & part of her story. I found this article on a whim, since sometimes when I’m sad I’ll google Karen’s name and read the articles that were written about her years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve found something so recent. It means a lot to see her name being carried on in these important discussions & to see her be remembered. My mother truly did struggle daily, but I know that she gave it her all. My name is Emily Lander, and I am one of Karen’s seven children that she brought into this world.
    We as Canadians too often look towards our southern neighbor and think to ourselves “thank god we’re not that bad” when a lot of times we’re too blind to see what’s actually going on here at home. Police brutality is real in Canada. Racism is real in Canada. We can do better and we NEED to.

  2. Great article. Canadians need to hear more of these traumatic stories that First Nations and Black peoples experienced and continue to experience, at the hands of Police. Even though many will never understand, due to white privilege and really not caring as it does not effect them. In order to cause change, these painful stories must be told. The RCMP needs to be better, they need policies to hold officers accountable for misconduct, better recruiting aimed at First Nations and Black peoples and empathy. Empathy in that, Police officers need to be aware of and consider the generational trauma and history between First Nations, Black peoples and the Police. The Police have been used as a weapon against First Nations and Black peoples for over 500 years and many have said were created to keep First Nations and Black peoples in line. Which can easily be proven by the Polices participation in residential school abductions and retrieval of run away slaves. These events have occurred as recent as the 1900s, which saw residential schools, segregation/ jim crow era, hangings, beatings for peacefully protesting for equal rights, etc. They must be aware of this in every encounter with First Nations and Black peoples