The Hamilton Spectator
Police budget hike is unconscionable
The Hamilton Police Service’s proposed budget increase has reignited calls to defund the police. Last Monday, a demonstration was held in front of city hall where nearly 100 speakers and community members gathered to denounce the proposed budget and to call for defunding the police.
For many, it is unconscionable that the city is considering increasing the budget by $12 million, nearly double the two per cent cap increase for boards and services, as inflation and rising costs of living push many to the edge of their means. Despite this reality, much of the commentary around the protest has focused on the disruption to city council and the catchiness of the “defund” slogan, rather than the impact on low-income and racialized groups.
While the term “defund” might seem inflammatory and outdated to some, it sums up a phenomenon we have already observed in social services. A well documented feature of neo-liberalism has been dismantling of the welfare state, including a reduction of funding for social services, and an over reliance on policing to maintain public order. Hamilton has been hard hit by these practices. In 2021, when shelters were overflowing and as encampments continued to grow, advocates called for the police surplus budget to be reallocated to shelters and other community services. Coun. Nrinder Nann’s motion, to allocate the surplus budget to a Community Resilience Reserve Account, was unanimously struck down at the time. Also, vital community services like Wesley Urban Ministries Day Centre have had to shut down both their Ferguson Avenue North and Catherine Street North locations in the past few years. Community infrastructure that many of lower income people rely upon has also been on the cutting block. Between 2018 and 2022, inflation has increased the cost of living by 13.5 per cent, while ODSP and OW recipients have seen stagnant wages for over 30 years.
When times are tough, poverty is criminalized, mental distress is criminalized, need itself is criminalized. This was observed during the encampment evictions when police were called to forcibly remove unhoused populations and city workers discarded of their belongings, in the name of public safety. Public safety has been the rationale for HPS to increase its personnel annually and to maintain its “cop to pop” ratio. However, researchers and advocates have framed public safety differently. Addressing social determinants of health like poverty and housing could do far more to keep communities safe. And for racialized groups, especially Black and Indigenous peoples, an increase in police presence ignores how over policing and police brutality continues to make these communities feel unsafe.
Of all the media pieces and takes on what happened at city hall with respect to police budgets and protest, few have even mentioned the crowd gathered outside. A rally, where Black, racialized, Indigenous, disabled, speakers approached a microphone in turn and shared their stories and analysis of the ways in which matters of police, of budgets, of poverty, of housing need, of mental health, the need for support and care. These issues are not now, nor were they ever, attended to in ways that appreciate the complexities of inequity and injustice inside of historical contexts of colonialism, conquest, genocide, eugenics and projects fashioned specifically for eradication. This is not about rights or democracy or contracts, it is about what needs to be heard and the unjust ways that some are forced to interject on the project of their own eradication while knowing the risks of carceral violence when doing so.
There are generations of analyses of alternatives to police that begin by appreciating that any ask for more police is a policy failure and a leadership failure. To omit these analyses because one thinks they are “too radical” is to reinvest and advance disrespect as our only entry point. We can begin from another place where the respect we want in the world must be made to confront the disrespect of omission.