While the coronavirus pandemic is making major headlines, another issue that is not receving attention is the issue of officer-involved shootings in Winnipeg. Previously, these shootings happened once every few years. Last year was pretty bad for that. There were 8 officer-involved shootings, seven of them fatal. Not even one third of the way into this calendar year, police have shot 4 people, all of them fatally. In reverse chronological order:
This after a year which set a record for homicides in the city, along with the high number of police shootings that happened as well. I don't know what the numbers are like for this year, but it looks like the pandemic is unfortunately not having an impact on taking down serious violent crime numbers in Winnipeg. It's not just a Winnipeg issue either. Last year, Brandon recorded 3 homicides, whereas usually they record one homicide every 2-3 years.
We can't let the pandemic distract us from the fact that there is a public safety crisis happening in our province. We desparately need to invest in our communities to stop this kind of thing from happening. Incarceration is no longer a viable solution, as jails are looking to release as many people as they can to prevent the spread of coronavirus within the institutions. Things are getting very bad. As activist Michael Champagne says:
"It's been many years since I've seen tensions this high between the community and the Winnipeg police," said Michael Champagne, a youth mentor and community organizer.
Champagne said Winnipeg's Indigenous community is polarized and people are angry. He wants police to improve communication and is calling for more investments in crime prevention.
"If the police are able to articulate to the community when they show up in a situation that someone has a weapon we have to respond in this way ... then that will better help people in community deal with the police," he said.
"I know that even for myself when I see a police car going by my heart starts beating a little faster."
Champagne believes crime will continue to grow until root causes of poverty and trauma are addressed.
"We have to talk about how we prevent these types of situations from happening before the police are even called, before the police have to give these lethal force situations."
He said in his opinion the relationship between police and the Indigenous community was best between 2013 and 2015, citing the attendance of officers at Meet Me at the Bell Tower events in the North End as an example of how former police chief Devon Clunis led community-based prevention strategies. He said since the chief retired in 2016 it's been harder to get police involved.
"Without those partners supporting community resources to prevent families from falling apart and falling into poverty people not having the education people not having the jobs is going to result in people doing the crime and doing the drugs."