It has the feel of a system and not, say, a series of accidents
WAYNE K. SPEAR | JUNE 16, 2020 • National Post
HEN ALBERTA’S Indigenous Affairs Minister said it was tough to watch his friend Chief Adam being brutalized in a March 10 Fort McMurray video, we knew what he meant. But he might well have said more, and been nearer the point, if he’d known to use brutalize in an earlier and now-obsolete sense: the action or process of lowering oneself to the level of the brutes. We’ve abandoned that usage, to our loss, and with it the insight that to use, abuse or degrade a fellow human being is to make of oneself a beast. Used this way the term reminds us that (for examples) the institution of slavery diminishes and perverts the slaveholder, and that the subjugation of colonized peoples debases the colonizer.
The RCMP officer who charged into the frame of a dashboard camera, to beat Chief Allan Adam, behaved brutally. And while my leap from colonization to policing will be as narrow or as wide as your leanings allow, it’s objectively the case that the North-West Mounted Police was established to put down resistance to settlement and the opening of land for private ownership and profit, at the expense of Indigenous people. This history is well-known within First Nations and its legacy is keenly felt. The 1870s was a time of westward expansion by settlers, the Trans-Canada railroad, the numbered treaties, and the Métis Scrip system—a convergence that is no work of happenstance. The RCMP, as the North-West Mounted Police would later be known, played their part by invigilating Indigenous people and enforcing provisions of the Indian Act, so much so that the Mounted Police could fairly be described as an adjunct of Indian Affairs and a handmaid of dispossession.
It all has the feel of a system and not, say, a series of accidents, with the focus upon people considered by officialdom as a race. (More specific, “a weird and waning race,” as Duncan Campbell Scott, former Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs, wrote in a poem titled The Onondaga Madonna.) But apparently it’s a matter of scandal and of controversy to fadge the terms system and race, in a country that to this day administers Indians through an Indian Act underpinned by a bureaucratic schema of blood quantum. The flaw of a bad apples theory of policing has been exposed by the ever-increasing scrutiny into a system that attracts, recruits, and retains some number of goons and that thereby produces a steady stream of headlines concerning the deaths of Indigenous and black people in the custody of police.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has affirmed that the problems within the RCMP are bigger than “a single individual or the actions of one person.“ We had fresh evidence of this when the RCMP initially refused to release the video, said the officers’ actions were reasonable, and denied the need for an investigation. Only outside involvement and evidence of public displeasure seem to have brought the RCMP bosses round to the idea that an expired license plate sticker might not be an occasion for beatings.
We’ve had the bad apples because we’ve had a system that is bad-apple friendly. The problem is bigger than individuals, but the individuals who are big problems debase the entire system. One might even say that they brutalize it. ⌾