Combatting racism in Kingston

Anti-racism means implementing systemic changes—to the police and our institutions

Smriti Shyam.
Smriti Shyam.
Credit: 
Photo supplied by Smriti Shyam

Queen’s University’s mission statement highlights three values it deems to be of great importance: people, professional excellence, and communication. The Queen’s community prides itself on treating others with honesty, fairness, and understanding. 

These respectable values appear to embody an academic community built on inclusivity, however Queen’s—and Kingston as a whole—does not uphold this standard. The Kingston Police department has a long unaddressed history of racial profiling against locals and students. True adherence to these values requires justice in the form of top-down systemic changes. 

Data supports the presence of heavy racial profiling in Kingston. One published study found that Black people are more likely to be stopped by Kingston police. This was in 2005, but another study from 2017 examined police stops in Kingston and still found astronomical racial disparities: the stop rate for Black people was 284.7 per 1,000 people, compared to 114.2 per 1,000 white people. 

This data suggests police stops might be a means to surveil marginalized groups rather than a method of crime prevention. This racially-skewed data also contradicts arecent statement by the Kingston Chief of Police about how the department is committed to being part of “this culture of change.” They cannot “stand united in solidarity” without the implementation of tangible changes. 

In response to the horrific murder of George Floyd—and the courageous acts of support for the Black Lives Matter Movement—a survey was created in conjunction with Nick Lorraway, co-president of the Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) club. This survey allowed BIPOC students at Queen’s to anonymously share their experiences with Kingston police while offering suggestions for improvements to policing. 

These proposed solutions, paired with conducted research, will become the foundations of an information booklet linked to a future QBACC advocacy campaign. The goal is to distance police from campus while forcing the city of Kingston to recognize and rectify the institutionalized racism saturating its criminal justice system. 

Queen’s has a role to play in developing a solution, as well as in the city-wide implementation of meaningful systemic changes. Queen’s has a responsibility to put its values into action. This means providing all students with the necessary resources to stay informed while supporting its marginalized students both on and off campus. The burden cannot fall entirely on the students to correct systemic injustices within high-level institutions like universities. 

Responses to QBACC’s anonymous survey produced consistent suggestions for how policing can be improved. Police should undergo specialized non-violent conflict resolution training and, preferably, have an academic background in law. Body cameras should be mandatory for all police officers—and punishments severe for any who may turn them off. Data collection needs to become more transparent and accurate regarding racial arrests. 

The police should no longer have the power to interfere in situations beyond their area of expertise.  During a mental health crisis, trained social workers are better equipped to handle the situation. Their academic background specializes in treatment of mental health, unlike the police. 

These changes should be implemented across Kingston. At Queen’s specifically, QBACC “is aiming to uphold the integrity of Queen’s University campus clubs missions while reflecting the need to combat oppressiveness,” according to Lorraway. 

In demanding accountability and justice, Lorraway also said QBACC plans to lobby on campus to limit contracted services of Kingston Police for campus-run events and require the presence of always-on body cameras. To ensure safety for all students, police presence on campus and Queen’s events must be limited—if not outright eliminated—in favour of student constables who lack the authority to discipline through legal citations, arrest, or handle weapons.

Racial education must also be part of the solution. The implementation of equity-informed training on sensitivity and awareness should become mandatory
for the entire student body, and be completed prior to undergraduate graduation. According to Lorraway, QBACC will undergo this certification themselves and encourage others to follow its lead. 

Queen’s students represent the school’s values. They are the faces behind “People,” the voices behind “Communication,” and the strength behind “Professional Excellence.” The embodiment of these involves being authentic and maintaining integrity. 

Step one is recognizing the cracks in the system. Next, we must unite in solidarity to fix society for those after us. All Queen’s students should implement QBACC’s efforts into their daily lives and in their push towards becoming better allies. 

Becoming anti-racist means demanding better from our institutions.

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