We are witness to systemic violence committed against Black individuals and the Black community, in places both far from and near to our own communities.
In Minnesota, the USA and Canada, communities are expressing their outrage in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of a white police officer. The death of George Floyd is not simply about one police officer and one incident of violence. It marks one of many deaths of Black men by white police officers in America. This death marks an incident of systemic racism that devalues, negatively appraises and routinely harms Black individuals and communities. It is systemic because it keeps happening over and over again; and because little is done to hold those that harm accountable. The systemic nature of this incident is also made clear in protests, building all across North America: many are expressing their distress that yet again, an interaction with police meant the loss of life to a member of the Black community.
We are also well aware that this violent death occurs in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: a pandemic that is differentially and disproportionately impacting people of color in North America, both in incident and death rates. This reality too is connected to systemic realities of racism — systemic inequities that inform where we live, how we live, and the conditions of our employment, work-spaces and affordable housing.
Closer to home, here in Ontario we mourn the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Korchinski-Paquet was a 29-year-old woman who died after falling from a 24th floor balcony after police were called to her apartment. Her family and the community are asking for answers, and her sudden death has led to greater concerns on wider issues of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. Many in Canada have joined to express their dismay that an interaction with police resulted in this loss of life. Many more names of Black and Indigenous folks could be added here.
We are well aware that social inequalities can and do inform incidences of loss and violence in our communities. For example:
- Systemic violence includes acts of violence against racialized people
- Systemic violence includes failed system responses that result in harm to racialized people
- The impacts of systemic discrimination and racism can affect how a community feels about, fears, resists, or interact with institutions and systems, including police
- Solutions must acknowledge the impact of the past, as well as ongoing impacts that are happening right here and now.
If you are directly affected by systemic violence, racism or the recent incidents occurring in our communities, please know that we care about you and what you are dealing with. We stand in support of you.
We also demand a full, public, and independent investigation into Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death. This is the time for allies such as white people and non-Black people of colour to stand in support of the Black and Indigenous communities.
If you are a white ally to people and communities of color, there are things you can do. You can:
- Learn about the history of anti-Black and Indigenous racism in Canada
- Reflect on the biases this has created in you and in others
- Remain as a witness or bystander in situations where someone may be affected by racial stereotyping, stigma or systemic violence
- If you see person of color being questioned or detained, ask if they need support
- Understand that there are alternative, non-punitive ways of dealing with crisis or conflict that do not always involve law enforcement.
If you are a community leader or person with political leadership, there are things you can do. You can:
- Learn about the history of anti-Black and Indigenous racism in Canada
- Actively reflect on the biases this has created in you and others, and in the systems we live with today
- If you work in these systems, commit to creating new ways to work with people and communities so to not recreate harmful patterns and processes
- Make space for Black and Indigenous community members to re-shape these systems: Communities bring expertise about the strengths of the community. They are also aware of failed system responses, including the ways that systems harm Black and Indigenous folks. These communities are best-positioned to identify better ways of doing things, ways to work together, and solutions that will work best for the community.
- Ask for a full, public, and independent investigation into Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death, and join with others in this request. Push to see this investigation happen quickly, and with input from the Black and Indigenous community.
We believe that violence cannot be separated from a broader context – one in which those that are harmed, those that cause harm, and the violation itself exist in a larger system of social norms and inequities.
For example, gender and race has concrete impacts on one’s experience of sexual violence. Canadian studies note that young women from marginalized racial, sexual and socioeconomic groups are more vulnerable to being targeted for sexual harassment and sexual assault.
This vulnerability extends to Black women’s experiences of navigating criminal justice systems; systems’ framing of victim and offender responsibility; and systems’ capacity to ally with the stories of racialized women who disclose sexual violence.
In this, we are also aware that many of the frontline workers that address racialized sexual violence are also of the communities most at risk of experiencing this form of violence.
Much as OCRCC’s understandings of sexual violence is rooted in a systemic analysis of violence, broader acts of violence that affect certain communities, people, or identities must also be understood this way. Addressing racism is a part of this work.
We stand in solidarity with the community, and with our allies who support diversity and working together.
Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence and offering prevention education since 1977: services include counselling to survivors of recent and historical sexual violence, accompaniment to hospital, police and court, advocacy and crisis support. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to sexualassaultsupport.ca/support.
 Wolfe and Chioda, as quoted in Safe Schools Action Team Report on Gender-based Violence, Homophobia, Sexual Harassment & Inappropriate Sexual Behavior in Schools. 2008. Shaping a Culture of respect in our Schools: Promoting Safe and Healthy Relationships: 3.
 See: Cossins, Anne. “Saints, Sluts and Sexual Assault: Rethinking the Relationship Between Sex, Race and Gender.” Social and Legal Studies 12 (1)(2003): 77-103; Pietsch, N. “‘Doing Something’ About ‘Coming Together’: The Surfacing of Intersections of Race, Sex, and Sexual Violence in Victim-Blaming and in the SlutWalk Movement.” This Is What a Feminist Slut Looks Like: Perspectives on the SlutWalk Movement, edited by Alyssa Teekah et al., Demeter Press, Bradford, ON, 2015, pp. 77–91. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1rrd96j.11. Accessed 1 June 2020.