FIMS Statement on Police Violence and Racism

June 8, 2020

A Statement from the Faculty of Information & Media Studies

Downtown London was filled with chants of Black Lives Matter this Saturday, June 6, as marchers gathered in the city by the thousands to protest against anti-black racism and racist police violence. Were it not for COVID19, Western would also have been hosting the Congress of the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences this weekend, welcoming scholars, activists and community members to our beautiful campus. Over 80 academic fields would have been represented in research discussions, exhibits, and performances. Congress’ theme this year was Bridging Divides: Confronting Colonialism and Anti-Black Racism, a revision of the original theme of decolonization, following an anti-Black racist incident at the 2019 meetings in Vancouver. Instead of addressing this urgent issue at the conference, it was confronted on the streets by protesters with signs, chants, and raised voices.

In London, marchers chanted through COVID19 face masks: Black Lives Matter. They joined millions of people in North America and around the world who, triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25, are pushing back against anti-black racism, especially enacted by urban police departments throughout the United States, Canada, and other Western democracies. Police officers are responsible for the deaths of Black men and women under arrest or recently jailed (Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, George Floyd), protesting unarmed (Michael Brown) or peacefully acknowledging the legal possession of a weapon (Philando Castile), sleeping (Breonna Taylor), jogging (Ahmaud Arbery), and in some cases no more than 11 years old (Tamir Rice). To name just a few. Seventeen-year old Trayvon Martin was killed by a self-appointed neighbourhood watch captain who was later acquitted.

The deaths of these black men, women and children at the hands of police do not reflect “bad apples” in otherwise peaceful forces but the outcomes of historically linked racist hierarchy and the abuse of police power.

At FIMS we acknowledge our scholarly accountability to social justice, and stand with protestors, activists, marchers, and all young people seeking a new world free from racism and violence. We recognize that racist police violence is not something that happens only in the US. Canada is reckoning with its own history of police violence against black and Indigenous people. A CBC News investigation found that from 2000-2017, black people made up 36.5% of fatalities involving Toronto police, despite accounting for just 8.3% of the city’s population. We must consider the May 27 death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29 year-old Afro-Indigenous woman who fell from her 24th floor balcony in Toronto in the company of police during a mental health call, in light of those numbers. So must we consider the death of Chantel Moore—a 26-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht woman from British Columbia—shot by a police officer in New Brunswick on June 5 during a “wellness check.”

In Canada, Ontario and London, we are not free of the repeated police violence we witness elsewhere. London Free Press investigative journalist Randy Richmond, who has taught and lectured at FIMS, published an award-winning report in Fall 2019 titled “We Are the Cops” (https://lfpress.com/tag/we-are-the-cops/). It is a work of painstaking investigation of an officer’s violence against a prone (white) woman in custody in a London precinct, the Police Services coverup and barriers in the court system that followed. The officer responsible is still on the job. This was not an isolated incident of abuse at the hands of the police. Richmond points us to problems with the system and with the culture of policing.

At FIMS, we teach undergraduate students to explore sources and think critically about news and other official frameworks for understanding the world, including the world of policing, police violence, and institutional racism. We know that media and information count as we respond to injustice. (“How Many Deaths Weren’t Filmed?” asked marchers’ picket signs on Saturday.) We stand with Black people, with Indigenous people, and with people of all ages and races who protest racist violence. We will keep social justice and the real possibility for social change at the core of our curriculum.

Black Lives Matter.

Lisa Henderson
Professor and Dean

Federation Statement on Anti-Black Racism by Wesley Crichlow, Board Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. 

Comment from South African comedian and Daily Show host Trevor Noah.  

In the coming days and weeks, FIMS will post a reading and viewing list of on-line resources for everyone in the FIMS community.