How I am Overcoming My Own Bias, And How I Feel About Defunding the Police
Years ago, in what feels like another life, I had a lot of different opinions than I do now. Some of those changes came from blunt and difficult conversations that offered a new perspective on racial inequalities, cyclic trauma, poverty, abuse and addiction. Some of those came from first hand experiences working in populations that face those barriers every single day.
I used to have this idea in my head that everyone was capable of working hard enough to change their lives. I thought that every single person has obstacles to overcome and that perseverance was the key to setting yourself up for a good life. I believed that addiction was a choice made by weak people. That folks should be able to get over their shit and move on. In my opinion, everyone was capable but some were too lazy to do the work.
It wasn’t out of malice, it was out of ignorance that a level playing field actually existed.
Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t.
I was viewing the problems of ( in this case) Indigenous people through the rose coloured glasses of a person who had good work ethic, drive, and determination, and most importantly a safety net. Failing at anything didn’t have any real consequences because in reality, my parents would have supported me through anything. There was a knowledge there that I always had a soft landing, financial support in an emergency, a safe place to go and someone to call. I had two devoted parents. I never worried about being hungry. I took music lessons and was a competitive swimmer.
As a young adult, I ignorantly equated my first world problems of being called fat (that’s a whole other post), or having my clothes made fun of, or arguments about rules or getting grounded for back talking to those of generational poverty and discrimination.
So, what changed for me?
As mentioned above, it began with some really difficult conversations that threatened my entire belief system. Those were hard. It created some moments of real tension between myself and a lot of my friends. I didn’t think that my perspective was racist or inappropriate in any way. In my mind, we wanted the same thing- but the difference was that they wanted to abolish the cyclical poverty and mistreatment of Indigenous people because they were human beings in pain, and I wanted to *fix*their problems to protect myself and my perceived *rights*.
Looking back, I now have started to understand the biases that had been ingrained in me since childhood. My parents instilled a belief system in me that I was capable of anything, and I foolishly thought that it applied to everyone. I didn’t understand that while it could for a white girl of privilege from the suburbs who had two parents, my basic needs taken care of, access to any resources I desired and a life where as a child I didn’t have to face adult problems, it wasn’t the same for everyone. In reality, while everyone has the capability to help themselves, in order to access the same opportunities there are a multitude of barriers that need removing in order for it to be attainable for everyone.
In the past few years, I began working directly with children in some of Canada’s most impoverished neighbourhoods. Developing relationships with my students took work, empathy, patience, and the ability to swallow my long ingrained opinions to really listen to them and learn. I was able to see how much my families loved their children and how much they wanted for them despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their way for living a life that not only they deserved, but that was stolen from them. I heard about and saw the chaos and trauma these kids faced on a daily basis, and my perspective about what the solutions were started to slowly change.
What I ultimately saw was that so much of the crime and turmoil that goes on in where I live is a direct casualty of the poverty and trauma cycles that we continue to try and either band-aid or police out of existence, and it is simply not working. Is it possible that we are so busy punishing people for the unpleasant outcomes of their circumstance when what we should be doing is addressing the causes of those circumstances?
So when we now hear the cries of “Defund the Police”, what if we understood the message behind that to be that instead of policing the social issues that disproportionately affect people of colour, we learned about them, and helped to solve them?
What if, every police officer was required to have a 4 year degree that gave them the tools necessary to deal with the social issues we are asking them to face basically “unarmed’ at the moment. We are asking them to be social workers, provide medical care, deal with addiction, homelessness, domestic issues, sexual crimes, poverty issues etc etc, and the primary tools they are given are tasers and a gun? Wouldn’t it be better if we either used some funding to help the officers feel better prepared to help with those issues rather than policing them and treating everything as a crime? Or would it be better if more funding was allocated to bring in counsellors, addiction workers and social workers to deal with the obvious amount of social issues that come along with poverty, addiction, discrimination or the aftermath of cultural genocide?
What I believe I’ve learned from my recent experiences, exposure and willingness to listen is that we will never ever EVER solve the crime problem and hence the need for more patrolling of crime until we address the severe and cyclical issues of poverty and trauma that cause them. Until we find and address the source of the bleeding, it doesn’t matter how many band-aids we apply, the blood will keep coming and affect more and more parts of our body.
For me, “Defund the Police” is less about abolishing the police because we’re angry at them, it’s about gradually needing their presence less and less by creating an equal and reasonable world that helps all humans overcome the barriers they face to having good lives, rather than continually punishing them for having to face them.