|Victoria Mayor & Council,
Alliance Against Displacement is an organization working alongside low-income, working class, and Indigenous communities in Victoria, Maple Ridge, Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver. We are writing to strongly oppose the proposed VicPD budget increase of almost $2.5 million, much of which will be dedicated to criminalizing low-income, Indigenous, and racialized people. Of particular concern to our communities:
Poverty and homelessness have increased drastically as a result of extreme austerity measures put in place by the federal and provincial governments over the last 30 years. Never before have there been so many people living on our streets without access to the housing, income, health care, and supports needed to survive. Police have come under public attack for enacting further harm against the same populations already devastated by austerity measures — including people with mental health concerns, people who use substances (especially with regard tooverdose calls), and racialized communities. At the same time, crime rates across BC are decreasing, undermining the justification for ever-growing police budgets. Facing a loss of relevance and critiques of their role as violent agents of the neoliberal state, police are attempting to rebrand themselves as experts in the fields of health care and social services.
This request to increase the VicPD budget is part of a broader police strategy to move beyond the realm of traditional law enforcement, and into healthcare and welfare systems, where they will subject vulnerable populations to increased surveillance and criminalization.
Criminalization is a method of social regulation by which poor, Indigenous, homeless, drug-using, sex working, racialized, or undocumented people are disproportionately targeted by police and overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Populations that do not conform or are not able to participate within the confines of consumer capitalism are treated as threats: their poverty is moralized and survival methods punished.
People who are forced to carry out survival activities in the public eye, such as sleeping outside and using drugs and alcohol visibly, become targets for police intervention and violence, bylaws that criminalize visible poverty, and displacement efforts that hide but do not solve homelessness (e.g., temporary shelters).
The protection and safety that middle and upper-class property owners – classes of people that are disproportionately white — feel when they see the police is the exact opposite of the feelings that the police evoke in our communities. We know we are more likely to experience violence and even death at the hands of the police than protection or safety. Yet, police increasingly carve out a role for themselves in the ‘health care’ of people who are most harmed by the criminalization of poverty.
Over the last three years, multiple organizations and individuals most affected by police violence have spoken out in opposition to VicPD budget increases for health and social services, or refused to collaborate with the police to provide support for their project. A strong message has been sent and it’s time to hear us. Increasing police budgets is a failed response to poverty, homelessness, mental health, and the drug poisoning crisis, and will only result in more harm and more death.