‘This is an opportunity for us to be critical’: Policing beyond homecoming

Students reflect on the role of Kingston law enforcement

Five students speak to the relationship between Queen’s and Kingston Police.

This article includes descriptions of violence and may be triggering for some readers. The Peer Support Centre offers drop-in services and empathetic peer-based support and is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Online services can be accessed here.

During the weekends of Oct. 16 and 23, interactions between Queen’s students and the Kingston police were intensely charged

Many Queen’s students were shocked by the “over-policing” on both weekends, coupled with the University’s $350,000 payment to the City of Kingston to cover costs of pandemic enforcement. This has grounded advocacy efforts to redistribute the contribution to other social services.  

On the flip side, Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely described the behaviour of Queen’s students over Homecoming as “completely unacceptable” and “aggressive, volatile, and disrespectful” in a statement released on Oct 19. 

Officers from Durham, Gananoque, the Greater Toronto Area, and the Ontario Provincial Police joined Kingston officers under the Mayor’s emergency order in response to gatherings. 

Though COVID-19 restrictions made gatherings more complex, students’ frustration with policing during homecoming was not an isolated event. 

Tensions between Queen’s students and the Kingston police have been historically charged—in many ways, the increased policing in October was part of an already fraught relationship. 

‘Dehumanizing’ experiences on homecoming

Emily* and her boyfriend Jacob* were detained by the police for six and nine hours respectively, on the weekend of Oct. 23.  

“The experience was psychologically traumatizing,” said Jacob in an interview with The Journal. “It was dehumanizing.” 

On Aberdeen, an altercation between one of Emily’s friends and a police officer led to her detainment. After watching officers grab her friend and push him up against a police vehicle, Emily took out her phone to take pictures of the interaction. 

“I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures, and I guess they didn’t like that,” Emily said. 

“A police officer told me I needed to stop but I didn’t, and he grabbed me and put my hands behind my back against the police vehicle.” 

At that point, Emily said the officers demanded she disclose her name, address, and contact information while she was held against the SUV. 

“I was really scared,” Emily stated. “I started crying. I told them I didn’t understand why this was happening, and they told me because I didn’t cooperate, I was going to jail.” 

Officers put Emily in handcuffs, replaced the handcuffs with twist ties, and put her in a detainment truck where she sat for an hour as the Police picked up other students. 

Once at the Kingston Police station, Emily asked to call her parents and was denied. She was held at the police station in a cell for six hours. The only reason Emily was released, she alleged, was because of a connection with one of the police officers. 

“The only reason I was let out is because I have a friend who knows a cop at the station, and she asked for me to get let out,” Emily said. 

“Without the connection, I know they would have held me for longer.”

Emily’s boyfriend, Jacob, didn’t have the same privilege of being connected to an officer. After being placed in handcuffs on Aberdeen  for being allegedly involved in an aggravated nuisance party, Jacob was injured by an officer. 

“They threw me in cuffs and threw me in the back of a van,” Jacob said. “They slammed the door and it hit my head—I had a pretty bad cut on my ear that was bleeding and a bruise on my cheek.” 

Jacob was placed in a cell with nine other individuals, where he experienced “disgusting” behaviour from law enforcement. Though students in the cell needed medical attention, Jacob said officers didn’t respond to any requests for information or support. 

“There was a guy with bruises all over his chest who looked like he needed to be in the hospital, and another one who was throwing up for hours,” Jacob said. 

“I was banging on the doors for hours and no one came—it seemed like the officers were punishing us for things other people had done.”  

Throughout the experience, Jacob said he felt as if the officers were attempting to prove a point by punishing students. 

“I felt like they were playing mind games with us,” Jacob said. “It felt like they were getting satisfaction from our pain—like it was enjoyable for them.” 

Jacob was released after nine hours in custody at 1 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 24. 

Impacts of increased policing on marginalized students

Samara Lijiam, ArtSci ’23, has been spearheading advocacy against the University’s $350,000 payment to the City of Kingston through her work as AMS Social Issues Commissioner.

During Homecoming celebrations, the Social Issues Commission (SIC) posted resources on Instagram to inform students of their rights when dealing with the police. 

“From the start, I was worried about over-policing during [Homecoming], and the rest of the AMS was as well,” Lijiam said. 

“The increased police presence is something that marginalized students feel deeply, but students in general are mistreated by the police, regardless of race.”

Lijiam agreed that homecoming celebrations presented a widespread safety issue for both students and the Kingston community, but said the police response was ineffective in protecting vulnerable students. 

“Using the police as the primary response to [Homecoming] endangered marginalized students,” Lijiam said. 

“I think harm reduction measures like food trucks and water stations, along with campus security and student constables would have been best.”

Lijiam said the violent history of policing people of colour is important to consider when having conversations about how best to protect vulnerable students. 

“Any time we’re inviting a larger police presence in the university district, we’re putting marginalized students at risk,” Lijiam said. 

Responses from student leaders after the announcement of the $350,000 payment have focused on the lack of funding for social services at Queen’s compared to potential contributions in the Kingston police force. 

“There are so many resources that are underfunded at Queen’s—especially equity and mental health resources,” Lijiam said. 

“We still have no Black counsellor for Queen’s students totalk to, and our sexual violence resources are pretty slim and not varied or diverse. This is money that could go towards [Sexual Assault Centre Kingston] or to lowering international students’ tuition—the Kingston police is the last place I feel needs the money.”

SIC is currently gathering support for a petition to “tell Kingston to use Queen’s funds for harm reduction measures instead of law enforcement,” which has now received over 1,500 signatures. 

On the petition page, Lijiam points out that the police budget makes up almost 11 per cent of the Kingston city budget, compared to the 4.3 per cent allocated to housing and social services. 

The SIC also launched an anonymous survey for students to discuss their experiences with the police. 

“Advocacy around [homecoming] from students and residents happens once a year—we don’t want this to not be talked about until St. Patrick’s Day,” Lijiam stated. 

“We want to be able to have this data to further advocate for students and to cement that this happened.”

Policing in everyday student life

The police presence in the student ghetto isn’t isolated tobig events like Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day. Many students grapple with negative police interactions in their everyday lives. 

“I had two major interactions with the Kingston Police in September this year,” Juan* wrote in a statement to The Journal. 

“In both instances I was walking back from a party alone to go home. On both occasions I was randomly stopped on Earl Street and was asked where I was going and was asked to provide ID,” Juan said. 

Though Juan explained to the police he was going home, the officers continued to question him until he asked if he was being detained. 

“The officers did not believe I was going home and insisted I tell them where I was going. I asked if I was being detained—they responded with ‘no’ and I walked away.”

When discussing the relationship between students and police, Juan said Law enforcement treats Queen’s student differently than the general Kingston community. 

“The police are significantly more rude, aggressive, and at times intimidating to students,” Juan said. “I think most students would agree that the student area in Kingston is extremely over-policed.”

Juan contrasted these interactions with the lack of response from the police when it comes to major security issues.

“To put this into perspective, there was a known sex offender roaming the student area for hours and was only caught when a student had to call police because they were in danger,” Juan said. 

Sophie DeFreitas, ArtSci ’22, had another perspective on the relationship between students and police.  

“The majority of Queen’s students are only in Kingston for four years,” DeFreitas said. “One of the reasons the police are able to escape criticism is because of the turnover of students”

“From first year, it’s drilled into you that the police are a threatening figure who will constantly watch you. We don’t talk about them as a protective force from being roofied, and at no point is the relationship ever formatted as mutual.”

DeFreitas said the turnover of Queen’s students creates a lack of accountability from both actors. 

“One of the reasons the police are able to escape criticism is because of the turnover of students,” DeFreitas said. “They’re able to use it to their advantage because they know in a few years, it’s going to be an entirely new crop of people who won’t know how to handle them.” 

In addition to the turnover, DeFreitas noted a lack of communication and knowledge between the police and Queen’s students. 

“The Kingston police are a huge mystery to me as a Queen’s student,” DeFreitas said. 

“There’s a disconnect between us, and I have no idea how  they operate or allocate resources. I do not feel comfortable enough to talk to them, and that’s not even considering theimplication of how marginalized students feel.” 

Mending a splintered relationship

When it comes to mending the splintered relationship between students and the police, Jacob argues the first step is promoting accountability from both actors.  

“The issue is with the culture as a whole,” said Jacob. “There are problems on both sides and a need for accountability from students and police officers. I feel like the cops used the bad actions of students to justify their own bad actions, which is a huge problem with policing in general.”

Ben Jeffries, ArtSci’ 23, feels Queen’s students are open to building a working relationship with law enforcement. 

“Students are open to having a relationship with the police that works, but there’s no communication whatsoever,” Jeffries said. 

“We have no idea how the University and the police communicate either.”

He offered that more open dialogue between Kingston Police and students may result in a less antagonistic relationship. 

“Police presence is definitely necessary, but not to the extent that it was this year,” Jeffries said. “I feel like the police weren’t at [Homecoming] for the right reasons.”

DeFreitas said we must critique the current policing system in order to move forward. 

“Antagonism towards the police is at an all-time high and right now it’s really culturally relevant,” DeFreitas said. 

“The police chose this year to put on the biggest display of force possible, and I think we need to critique that.” 

Lijiam had emphasized the importance of reflecting, critiquing, and crafting nuanced measures to best protect vulnerable students. 

“This is an opportunity for us to be critical about which social services work,” Lijiam said. “Let’s look at the way we solve problems and how these solutions can best protect students.”

The Journal reached out to Kingston Police for a statement but didn’t receive a response in time for publication.

*Name changed for anonymity due to safety reasons.

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