Police brutality and misconduct are common experiences for many people in Winnipeg, including verbal, sexual, and physical abuse, racial profiling, privacy violations, false arrest, harassment, and intimidation. As an institution, police favour some people and discriminate against others when they decide what is considered a crime and who is considered a criminal. Certain individuals and communities are far more likely to experience police violence based on their identities or social standing, such as their perceived race, class, or sexuality. For many others, police brutality remains invisible. Fears and stereotypes about inner-city and North End neighbourhoods contribute to a city-wide tolerance of police violence.
Winnipeg Copwatch believes that police brutality and misconduct are rights violations that no one should experience or tolerate. Formed in August 2006, Winnipeg Copwatch is an independent collective of volunteers working to end police brutality and misconduct in Winnipeg. We regularly patrol Winnipeg’s streets by car, bike, and on foot, observing and videotaping police interactions with the public without interfering with the police. Our goal on patrols is to deter rather than document police violence. Winnipeg Copwatch organizes Know Your Rights workshops to inform people of their rights when interacting with police. We host and participate in public events, and publish press releases and articles to encourage critical thinking about systemic discrimination and the role of police in society. We facilitate sharing circles to create safer spaces in which to tell stories and listen to people’s experiences of police abuse.
Winnipeg Copwatch believes crime and policing should be understood and addressed within contexts of oppression, including colonialism, the history of the reserve system, local, regional, or international displacement, and exclusion and disparity created by capitalism. We promote principles of restorative justice, alternatives to policing, and self-determination for individuals and communities whose rights have been violated or denied by police. We believe that people are capable of resolving problems within their communities, yet we do not condemn anyone who chooses to call the police. Our work is informed by cooperative, decolonizing, anti-racist, LGBTTQ-positive, and feminist values. We work alongside other community efforts to resist police brutality and encourage and support people in establishing Copwatch groups in their own neighbourhoods.
- Please see the Racialized Communities and Police Services (RCAPS) project report, by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, 2007, or some examples,
- Please see the The Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry‘s section on shortcomings of the Law Enforcement Review Agency as an accountability body. The entire report is worth reading, though only parts of it are specific to policing.
- Also this recent report (“An Effective System for Investigating Complaints Against Police”) from Australia which says of LERA (pp. 94-5) that
- “as complainants are rarely if ever represented, the process does not adequately protect their interests. On the other hand, police in these proceedings are represented by some of the most experienced counsel in Winnipeg – paid for by their union. These one-sided contests are stacked up against the complainant. In many cases, complainants don’t show. In contrast Washington DC’s Office of Police Complaints provides lawyers to complainants for free.”
- The Challenge for Change: Realizing the Legacy of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry Report
- Gillian Balfour and Elizabeth Comack, The Power to Criminalize: Violence, Inequality and Law, Fernwood Publishing, 2004.