‘Dont patronize us’ Anti-Racism Leader Tells Fordy

The founder of the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association has responded with a seering critique of the Deputy Chief Bill Fordy open letter on racism and police.

Erika Smith penned her open response after Niagara Police’s Deputy Chief Bill Fordy posted his open letter last week. It was his effort to add his voice to the global conversation about racism and police, which was sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black Amercian who suffocated to death as he was arrested by Minneapolis Police.

Here is here complete response in an open letter responding to Fordy.

July 10, 2020

Deputy Chief Bill Fordy,

I have read your statement to the public but have never seen your face. Based on your words alone, I can tell that you are a white man of privilege. Words in and of themselves do not have a race but they do have an impact and they can be used to give life to experiences. Your words made clear to me that not only have you lived a life of privilege but that for the first time you are experiencing the unjust persecution of an entire group of people and you are not willing to tolerate it, in fact you want to put an end to it immediately.

In the past few months it would seem that you have had a new, difficult, and disheartening experience of being stereotyped based on the colour of your shirt. What a relief it must be that in these trying times you can go home, take off that shirt and no longer be stereotyped based on your appearance. As BIPOC people, we do not have that luxury.

We cannot go home and change the colour of our skin (nor would we want to) for the sake of escaping the discrimination, hate, and police brutality that we experience daily. We have been subjected to stereotyping and much worse at the hands of the NRPS since its establishment in 1971 and it continues to this day. You claim to be listening to the “public”, does that include the BIPOC individuals as well? It does not appear that you are listening to learn but listening to respond and your response is not productive “In the spirit of transparency.” You list no specific examples of the “tragedies” you are referencing, nor do you acknowledge the specific reasons as to why those “tragedies” have happened. Furthermore the “tragedies” that you speak of have not been happening for months, they have been happening for decades.  They have not been happening only in the US but just as brutally here in Canada. You have expressed your dislike towards the disrespect of police officers across the country but not why the disrespect exists. 

We cannot go home and change the colour of our skin

I hate to say that I was not shocked to see that you dedicated only one brief sentence to racism in the entirety of your statement to the public, “Racism is wrong and must stop.” (Is that really all? I would hope that the public knows that already) It would appear that the effort you put into writing that sentence mirrors the actual efforts you are putting into eradicating racism within the NRPS. As the Deputy Chief of the NRPS you state “Make no mistake, I, like other police officers and leaders, want accountability for any police officer that takes their responsibility for granted and works outside the boundaries of the law.” This is the equivalent of sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of police brutality and it simply is not enough.  You speak of accountability but nowhere in your statement do you acknowledge that you and all other police officers represent an institution that has historically played a role in the brutalization and murdering of BIPOC. You then go on to say, “Having said that, we should respect the process for coming to that determination.” A process that has produced what results? Let’s face it, if that “process” were working I would not be writing this letter and you would not be stereotyped or begging the public to praise you and the NRPS because “despite the current pressures, [you] have remained dedicated to duty; keeping our communities safe”, as if that was not your literal job description.

On CKTB 610AM radio yesterday you sanctimoniously said policing should be based on evidence not emotion, yet your extra foot patrols in downtown St Catharines are based purely on the perceptions of class and white fragility. Both your Chief and the mayor admit downtown is already safe and extra patrols would not have stopped the recent shootings, but you went ahead with the patrols anyway to satisfy the emotions of a few at the expense of the real safety of racialized and marginalized people who suffer disproportionately from actual police brutality.

When asked if there was a systemic racism problem in the NRPS, you stated that there is no data to suggest that…

In your radio interview, when asked if there was a systemic racism problem in the NRPS, you stated that there is no data to suggest that, therefore there is no evidence of systemic racism in the NRPS. I would like to point out that a lack of data regarding systemic racism in the NRPS does not equate to there not being a systemic racism problem within the institution. The power of systemic racism and its resiliency stems from how ingrained it is in our social institutions. For those who are not affected by it, like yourself, it is easy for you to be dismissive of its existence. In fact, it is easier for you to be dismissive of systemic racism because acknowledging it would necessitate change. If you look at something as surface level as the racial composition of the NRPS, do we have equal representation? Should this not count as evidence of systemic racism?

In your statement, you state that “yes, there are certainly things that we can do better and we, the police, should be looking inward to focus on how we can continue to work towards abolishing the presence of racism and mitigating biases and prejudices.” Your use of the word “should” is suggestive and not action oriented. We do not have the luxury of time, our people are being killed and brutalized by police every day. What the public needs and what we demand is a clearly outlined plan for how the NRPS will move forward in its quest to eradicate racism, biases, and prejudices from within.

The City of St. Catharines Anti-Racism Committee recently recommended to City Council several evidence-based reforms to forward to the Region and NRPS, will you implement these?

  1. Body cameras: though they are not a solution on their own they are one tool among many for accountability.
  2. Your Crisis Intervention Training offered twice a year cannot possibly cover all officers, double it to 4 times a year and add cross-cultural mental health training which is in the original “Memphis” model your training is based on but is not in your curriculum. Add anti-implicit bias and anti-racism training lead by experts from equity seeking groups.
  3. End all street checks because despite the new rules this is still open to racism and discrimination.
  4. Demilitarize by selling the armored vehicle, which is rarely needed but endangers those of us who are at risk of disproportionate police violence, and ban pepper spray and tear gas from being used against protesters.
  5. Reduce your budget by shifting welfare check, mental health, and suicide threat calls to a civilian service, and end foot patrols that are only for the perception of a few and are not needed e.g. in downtown St Catharines as admitted safe by your chief and the mayor.
  6. Hire a purely civilian (no ex-police) Ombudsperson with full access to all data and records.
  7. Publish online incident details for each hate crime (what, where, when, which protected group), race data for each use of force incident collected under the Anti-Racism Act, and extend this to collecting and publishing race data for each traffic stop and its outcome.
  8. Increase diversity hire targets from 10% to 15% to try to catch up to representing the community you are supposed to serve, a clue about the presence of systemic racism if there ever was one.
  9. Per the 8cantwait campaign charge officers with the duty to intervene against other officers and ban shooting at moving vehicles
  10. Ensure complaints about use of force and discrimination are part of annual performance reviews

You conclude your statement with “Decisions must be evidence-based, not coming from a place of emotion.” I cannot help but see parallels in this statement and that of the stereotype of ‘the angry Black female’ whose message is dismissed or claimed to be clouded by their passionate emotions. You are right, the BLM movement has been exceptionally emotional. Please, do not patronize us for being emotional and do not dismiss the importance of police brutality being confronted head on. After all, “[We], the people [you] serve, deserve nothing less.”

Erika Smith,
St. Catharines, Ontario
Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association