Wednesday, February 23rd 2022
I wrote a statement in May 2020 (see Appendix) after witnessing the now infamous videos of Black people being murdered by systems that devalue their lives. The videos were an impetus for 3 Black law students out of ~260 to do something more. While working and attending law school (no easy feat already), we put every extra ounce of effort we had into making some positive changes in our city. In the last almost 2 years we’ve made a lot of progress. We welcomed 3 other Black law students to our team and continued the pressure and progress. And this year we welcomed 13 more and attended the National Conference with an unprecedented number of students. All this work was done in an effort to show Black people how beautiful, powerful, and valued they are; and to increase representation in a profession that has the ability to affect tangible change. This weekend we celebrated community, excellence, and the success of one of our own members on the national stage. And then guilt. Pure guilt. We come home to the fatal police shooting of a Black man experiencing a mental health crisis. His family left with the same absence and pain as so many families before them. So much change, so much progress, with a similar tragic ending, and much closer to home.
In 2018, @calgarypolice officers shot and killed five people which was more than any other city in Canada and proportionally more than NYC or Chicago, cities with the 2 largest police departments in the US. For context, Calgary’s 2018 population was 1.26 million with 18 reported homicides while NYC’s was 8.4 million with 295 reported homicides (@abovethelawdoc). Furthermore, Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in use-of-force fatalities as compared to their share of the overall population in Canada. According to the Deadly Force database, annualized data shows that Indigenous people form 16% of deaths but only ~4% of the population, and Black people form almost 9% of deaths and only ~3% of the population. Mental health and substance abuse issues were present in the majority of cases (Deadly Force Database).
It is clear that this is not a singular incident in Calgary and throughout Canada. Crisis intervention experts have repeatedly expressed the need for alternative measures rather than police enforcement of mental health crises. In fact, the results of research on de-escalation training have demonstrated statistically significant reductions in use-of-force incidents, citizen injuries, and officer injuries after training completion (Engel et al. in Criminology and Public Policy). Resorting to lethal force is a societal failing, a societal failing in how we address and respond to mental health crises. As anti-racism educator @larissa_speaks notes, “the perpetrators of harm are acting on attitudes, bias, and beliefs – these are systemically taught and tolerated […] within an institutional context.” If our police can deescalate situations with armed militia, they most certainly can deescalate scenarios with a lone man.
The use of lethal force against any person, including Black and mentally divergent people, has an impact on us as a collective. Witnessing this, regardless of the circumstance beforehand, makes marginalized community members feel unsafe, unprotected, and unvalued. It is not always about whether or not perpetrators are blatantly racist, but we should always consider how racism and sanism (in regard to mental health) perpetuate harmful police culture and reinforce systemic issues.
While we are not monolithic, we are a collective experiencing the pain of: racist, derogatory comments (“don’t like Canada, go back to Africa”); dehumanizing stances (video titled “Looks like a good shot from CPS” or “I hope the dogs is ok” with no reference to the deceased or his family); and unchanging and disproportionately oppressive systems (de-escalation does not involve weaponized enclosure and canine units). As I said all that time ago: “The feeling is hard to explain. It’s exhausting. It’s emotional. Its conflicted. I often question whether I have a platform to say anything at all. […] It makes you question why your life is expendable in some people’s eyes even though it wasn’t you in the situation.” Black and mentally divergent people should never be expendable.
How devastating to have to repeat my words again, but this rings true today: “The most important thing to take away from this is that each of us has a platform to speak out against racism and injustice, and it is never too late or too little to spread awareness and fight for change. We are all human and can connect to these things on some level. If it hurts you, you have a voice. No one person needs to take all the guilt” but we do have the responsibility to change the things that can be changed. “We need to do better and doing better means that we take the time to un-center ourselves and understand each other. My upbringing gave me some power and privilege, and ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Those of us with a voice therefore have a responsibility to educate ourselves, speak out against injustice, and be role models for the children of our future so that this world might be a better place for all of us.”
Do not forget the power you hold, especially those in the legal profession. We all have a responsibility to demand better from institutions.
Even after the CPS' statement, questions and a need for improvement remains. The Police Chief describes Latjor Tuel as "arrestable" as if experiencing a mental health crisis and committing an offense are mutually exclusive. They are not. Strategies can be adjusted and having resources on-hand to inform these situations has the potential to save lives. Reference to an antiracism committee and African advisory committee to whom the organization is not willing to defer and without reference to any instructing policies does not demonstrate tangible change. In an ideal society, a mental health crisis would not end in unmitigatable tragedy. We welcome further questions as we are at a crossroads—how could this situation have been better mitigated, from societal resources to police response planning? How can mental health crises be better responded to and de-escalated rather than escalated?
UCBLSA members send their sincerest condolences to Latjor Tuel’s family, friends, and community in this difficult time. Nothing said can bring him back and it should never take such tragedy to generate change. We must do better. Please consider donating to his family for necessary expenses: https://gofund.me/145faeb0. @actiondignity has made a public demand for transparency, asking why PACT was not involved and why aggressive tactics were used; and accountability, asking why life-saving and dignifying measures were not used after the shooting. We encourage you to support this demand.
- Keshia Holloman-Dawson & the UCalgary BLSA Executive Team (2021-2022)
Thursday, May 28th 2020
First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the black community in all of this. The videos that have been circulating the past couple of weeks are overwhelming and painful. No one should have to watch people die in such horrific ways, but it especially takes a toll on people that connect and understand it first-hand. If you needed to disengage, that’s okay. If you needed to vent, it’s okay.
Second, I will not be pandering to this attention deficit we have where we read one line and scroll along unaffected. I have something to say and I’m going to say it. If you care, read it until the end. It might open your mind to an unknown perspective.
So here we go.
As a woman I feel the need to take a stand against threats to feminism: equal opportunity for men and women alike. Issues dealing with body positivity, employment differentials, and rape culture to name only a few. But the truth is the issues I face and the fear I experience as a woman is far overshadowed by the feelings of unworthiness and hopelessness that I experience as a person of colour.
A young black man was hunted down in the streets while jogging. A black woman who had been working as a EMT at two different hospitals was gunned down by police in her home as a result of an incompetent investigation. Her black boyfriend was charged for defending her when they raided the wrong house (luckily these charges were dismissed with national pressure). And most recently the unjustified excessive force of police officer resulted in the death of an already subdued black man.
I feel for these people’s families and friends. I mean, a mother lost her son receiving a modicum of justice on Mother’s Day only after the video of his murder was passed around the internet as a way of forcing people to recognize that racism still exists. It should not take violence and death to educate people! And it happens more often than any of us would like to acknowledge. A black person is murdered, we see the video, we’re outraged momentarily, the feeling dissipates, and we move on with our lives and wait for the next person to die. But the families and friends of these people do not. They live with this every day and likely see these videos for years to come knowing that their loved one’s last moments were spent in fear or begging their oppressor to give them freedom.
If that doesn’t rock you to the core, what will? Imagine that was your child jogging down the street, your sister in the house, your father under that knee. The only fuel for the violence being something we cannot (and should not want to) change – the colour of our skin.
The feeling is hard to explain. It’s exhausting. It’s emotional. Its conflicted. I often question whether I have a platform to say anything at all. I was raised by the white side of my family. I was a happy child with lots of blessings. But I experience racism. My white friends have witnessed it and even in that moment of clarity they could still never understand how hopeless and unworthy we feel when we are hated for anything less than our merit. It makes you question why your life is expendable in some people’s eyes even though it wasn’t you in the situation.
Then the conflicted feeling is partnered with the exhaustion. I’m enraged by the injustice and so am motivated to fight against it, but then the next thing happens, and I’m hurt and want to give up. Simply defeated because nothing I could ever do will take away all the racism and hatred in this world. Maybe I should just bury my head in the sand? It’s an American problem, right? All these things happened in the States and I’m protected in here in Canada, right? Wrong. Every picture and video are evidence that people of colour are expendable. Then people justify murder by discrediting the victim and we see it. It takes a toll. It stifles what we think we can do in this world. It gives more power to the oppressor. We, as a society, disregard the lives of others and undervalue each person’s light in this world for convenience. Silence ourselves for convenience. Racism exists and being silent about it is not enough to dismantle it.
Racism is a Canadian problem too. Racism is a human condition that we must address. Ignoring the glaring statistics about missing and murdered Indigenous women compared to white women looks like racism to me. Telling mistruths about refugees coming from war-torn areas in search of a better life for their families while remaining silent when it comes to English immigrants looks like racism to me. Incarcerating Indigenous men and women and ridiculing addictions without regard for generational trauma and its impact on mental health looks like racism to me. Blaming Asian Canadians for this virus and justifying their abuse looks like racism to me.
The most important thing to take away from this is that each of us has a platform to speak out against racism and injustice, and it is never too late or too little to spread awareness and fight for change. We are all human and can connect to these things on some level. If it hurts you, you have a voice. No one person needs to take all the guilt for bad apples and ruthless behaviour. And yes, it’s hard to explain but it’s so necessary to understand each perspective so that all of us can contribute to this world in positive ways. We need to do better and doing better means that we take the time to uncenter ourselves and understand each other. My upbringing gave me some power and privilege, and “with great power comes great responsibility”. Those of us with a voice therefore have a responsibility to educate ourselves, speak out against injustice, and be role models for the children of our future so that this world might be a better place for all of us.
Here are some good starting points:
"How Studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion" - A TED Talk by Peggy McIntosh
“Anti-Racism Resources” – Document compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein
“Racism and Anti-Racism in Canada” – Book edited by David Este, Liza Lorenzetti, and Christa Sato
“Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022” – Canadian Action Plan
Rest in peace and love Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Sending love and light to their friends and families. May their hearts heal quickly and loss not be in vain.