Opinion

'We refuse to accept fatal outcomes in police encounters as inevitable'

An open letter from Black women leading community supports and services

Regis Korchinski-Paquet was 29 when she died. Her family called 911 for help; instead, Regis joined a long list of Black people who called the police for help and died in the encounter. For Black people in mental health distress, police interactions overwhelmingly end fatally.  Our communities know that anti-Black racism and policing are a deadly combination for Black people. We should all be troubled by the repetition of this story time after time.

To be Black is to live in and resist systems and structures that treat Black lives as expendable. In speaking Regis’s name, we also speak the names of others who have died in fatal encounters with police called to provide wellness checks. In early May, Caleb Tubila Njoko fell from his balcony while police were present and later died in a hospital in London. D’Andre Campbell was shot and killed by Peel police in April 2020. A police officer has been charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the fatal arrest of Abdirahman Abdi in July 2016. Andrew Loku, a refugee from South Sudan was shot and killed by police in July 2015. Michael Eligon was killed by police in 2012; Reyal Jardine-Douglas was shot on a TTC bus by police in 2010; Lester Donaldson was shot in the hallway of his rooming house by police in 1998; and we still remember the 1979 killing of Albert Johnson, a Jamaican immigrant killed by police in his home. There are many others. Indigenous communities are making similar calls. On June 4, 2020, Chantel Moore of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation was shot and killed by police in New Brunswick who were called for a wellness check.

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Black people everywhere are keenly aware that for us, calling for help often means risking death from those sanctioned by the state to “serve and protect.” Regis’s death is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit, an entity established after Albert Johnson was killed by police officers and Black people boldly protested police handling of the case. As we call for justice for Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the wicked irony of the SIU’s involvement in this case is not lost on us. 

We are angry and traumatized by these ongoing deaths. As we call for transparency and accountability in the death of Regis, we push back on systems and structures that too often make invisible the deaths of Black women, Trans people and gender non-conforming people. We cannot turn away from the misogynoir (misogyny directed toward Black women where both race and gender play a part) that has characterized reporting about Regis’s death and the silences it creates. This week, we feel the pain and the rage of anti-Black racism and misogynoir afresh. It’s a wound that keeps opening and it takes a psychic toll.

We draw on the words of feminist poet Audre Lorde who wrote that “Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change.” She spoke to anger as one of the tools Black women and racialized women have had to learn to use in order to challenge human rights abuses and spark change. Today we use our anger as libation for our fallen sisters; Black women and Trans people harmed through state-sanctioned violence. 

We are already living through a trying time. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black people. Conditions created by generations of systemic and structural inequality mean that Black people are at greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. The pandemic has intensified these dynamics and created a deadly storm. Emergency orders issued during the pandemic have expanded policing. We must be clear: increased policing hurts Black people. 

As we enter the fourth month of the pandemic and the world around us begins talking about creating a new post-pandemic normal, Black people are left asking what this means. Life before the pandemic was marred by inequality for Black people and the pandemic has disproportionately harmed Black people. Escalated policing will only hurt more Black people. 

Regis’s death and the effects of the ongoing pandemic on Black people everywhere make one thing clear, a radical change is needed in the underlying structures and systems that govern our lives.

We refuse to accept as inevitable fatal outcomes in police encounters. 

We refuse to make invisible the ways policing harms Black women, Black Trans and non-binary people. 

We refuse to accept as unchangeable systemic inequalities that make health care inaccessible and mean that too many Black people only access mental health care when they are in deep distress. 

We refuse to accept as normal systemic anti-Black racism that means Black people are more likely to live in poverty, face housing insecurity, face barriers in accessing education and are overly criminalized.

We refuse to accept as normal a world where our calls for justice are routinely dismissed and ignored. 

The 39 recommendations of the 2017 Andrew Loku coroner’s inquest, which address race and policing with a focus on anti-Black racism, must be implemented by this government. There must be police accountability to the Black communities for this repeated pattern of the killing and death of our community members in their most vulnerable moments. The collection and reporting on the differential impact of the pandemic on Black lives must be implemented. The precarious employment conditions that make Black lives vulnerable to COVID exposure and economic recovery impossible must change.  

Without justice, our struggle and resistance continue. 

In Solidarity,

Angela Robertson, Executive Director, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre

Cheryl Prescod, Executive Director, Black Creek Community Health Centre

Dada Gasirabo, Executive Director, Oasis Centre des femmes

Debbie Douglas, Executive Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Diane Walter, Executive Director, Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Service

Ekua Asabea Blair, Chief Executive Officer, Massey Centre

Esther Enyolu, Executive Director, Women’s Multicultural Resource and Counselling Centre of Durham Region

Florence Ngenzebuhoro, Executive Director, Centre francophone du Grand Toronto

Hazelle Palmer, Chief Executive Officer, Sherbourne Health

Lori-Ann Green-Walker, Executive Director, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre

Keddone Dias, Executive Director, LAMP Community Health Centre

Kemi Jacobs, Executive Director, Delta Family Resource Centre

Nneka MacGregor, Executive Director, Women At The Centre

Paulette Senior, President & Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women’s Foundation

Ruth Goba, Executive Director, Black Legal Action Centre

Safia Ahmed, Executive Director, Rexdale Community Health Centre

Simone Atungo, Chief Executive Officer, Vibrant Healthcare Alliance

Surranna Sandy, Chief Executive Officer, Skills for Change