February 2012

Our society defines justice for crimes by having someone put behind bars. We see this idea represented in television, movies, and other cultural media. According to our neoliberal conservative police state, we have somehow drawn a connection between incarceration and closure.

This is an extremely problematic way to view a criminal justice system.

An alternative would be the kind of preventative mea- sures that involve accessibility to education, keeping kids off the street so that they don’t grow up to be petty criminals and more importantly, rehabilitation. If you stick a child in the corner and don’t tell them why, will that keep them from making the same mistake twice? This is how our current system works, and this is why we have repeat offenders.

What if you take away those consequences and have no punishment at all? No rehabilitation, no prison sentence. You are neither satisfying the demand of the right wing justice system or its possible alternatives.

What you have instead is the system in place for officers of the law. You have no accountability, and no chance for reform because there are no efforts made to reform criminal offenders wearing a badge.

The majority of police-related incidents either go without investigation, or when they are investigated, leave the offending officer cleared of all charges, if any were laid.

Sylvia Klibingaitis was shot on her front lawn in October of this year because she threatened police officers with a large knife. The Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) recently concluded, “There are no reasonable grounds to believe an officer with the Toronto Police Service committed a criminal offence in this case.”

In 2003, 67-year-old Mei Han Lee was struck and killed when a Toronto police constable suddenly accelerated into an illegal right turn. Constable Juan Quijada-Mancia, now a sergeant, was fined $500.

Enter the SIU, the organization that “conducts investi- gations of incidents involving the police that have resulted in death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault.”

It is the unit that it supposed to do for the police what the police do for civilians. While the SIU may most certainly be in- vestigating police incidents, very few officers face the same consequences a civilian would face, having committed the same crime.

When we see crimes like these, we demand justice. But what does that mean if the criminal is supposed to be on “our side”? What does that say to the victims and families of victims involved in incidences of physical, verbal and sexual assault and even death caused by the police, if those perpetrators are not crimi- nally charged and do not go to jail? It says that the system does not apply to criminals in uniform.

I do not believe its ineffective investigations are serving our police forces either. How can we have faith in people who suffer no accountability for their actions? How can those officers function effectively when they face no consequences?

Who is to blame? Not the police. I do not believe we should blame every person in uniform for the actions of the whole organization. I think that would be doing the same thing that the SIU does, but in reverse. We would just be as- suming guilt instead of assuming innocence.

No, instead we should look at each individual and their actions. Take them outside of the context of their badge and gun but keep them within the context of socio-political and socioeconomic power relations. Judge their words and actions as citizens, not just as cops, because I do not believe these roles should be mutually exclusive.

If a police officer rapes someone, or beats up a homeless person, it speaks to a greater societal condition, and the of- ficer’s actions should be considered as a product of that condition. That officer should then be subjected to the same system that prosecutes violence done by its citizens.

Now, what if “an OPP constable wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a baton and pepper spray shoots and kills an intellectually challenged 59-year-old man holding a small pocket knife,” or “a Peel Region police officer sucker-punches a handcuffed prisoner and breaks his jaw in two places,” or if “two teens chatting on the grass in a public park are run over by a Durham Region squad car,” (all examples of reported incidents) and all of the officers are cleared by the SIU?

At that point you are looking at unnecessary violence that goes unchecked.

You are very simply seeing a message that Ontario officers of the law are above the law.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, February 2012