Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on persistent issues of systemic racism within RCMP in CBC News article

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in a CBC News article titled RCMP’s diversity hiring remains stagnant, new figures show by Catharine Tunney. The article opens with an overview of the lack of diversity in RCMP hiring practices over the last decade. In reference to the statistics provided by the RCMP, Professor Owusu-Bempah criticized their use of “visible minority” to collapse all non-white, non-Indigenous Mounties into one category. He explained that this racist practice makes tracking how representative the RCMP is of the communities they serve impossible.

Professor Owusu-Bempah also noted that while making the RCMP representative of the populace is important for changing attitudes and behaviors within the ranks over time, the issues around systemic racism in policing institutions cannot be resolved by simply making the ranks less white. One such issue mentioned in the article by Professor Owusu-Bempah was that of ongoing harassment and discrimination of RCMP members by other Mounties, and he argued that this problem could only be resolved by holding the individuals responsible at every level of the institution.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the U of T Mississauga campus. He frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets on topics related to his research focus: the intersection of race, policing and justice.

We’ve included an excerpt to the article below. Read the full article at CBC News here.

RCMP’s diversity hiring remains stagnant, new figures show

Updated statistics come as the national police force grapples with systemic racism

The head of the RCMP has promised to “double down” on efforts to boost diversity among its officers — but newly available statistics show those efforts haven’t borne fruit over the past decade.

The recently released diversity statistics come as the national police force grapples with a fierce debate over systemic racism in the ranks and claims that it polices racialized Canadians differently.

As of April 1, 2020, just under 12 per cent of the RCMP’s 20,000 rank-and-file members identify as visible minority, according to figures posted online late last week. That figure hasn’t changed dramatically over the past few years and remained lower than the general rate in the workforce nationwide.

The percentage of regular RCMP members who self-identified as Indigenous remains higher than the Indigenous share of the wider workforce, but that number has decreased slightly over the past nine years.

This year, 7.2 per cent of regular members identified as Indigenous — down from 7.8 per cent in 2011 — according to the new figures published on the RCMP’s website.

The force said it doesn’t track detailed employment equity data, which means it’s not clear how many officers listed as “visible minority” also identify as Black or South Asian, for example.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto who studies race and policing, said that’s a problem.

Read the full article here

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently featured in multiple news articles about anti-Black racism in Canada

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah’s research on anti-Black racism was recently featured in multiple news sources including U of T News, CTV News, CBC News, and CityNews. 

On U of T and CTV News, Professor Owusu-Bempah shares his finding that young Black men in Ontario are not only “starkly overrepresented” in the prison system, but also spend a lengthier amount of time in jail compared to white men. He states that this overrepresentation is occurring because society treats young Black men unequally and “criminalizes them before they’ve engaged in any kind of criminal activity”. Professor Owusu-Bempah concludes that despite the common notion of Canada faring better in race relations compared to the US, we are not much different in our treatment towards racialized populations.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. His research examines the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice, with a focus on policing.

We’ve included an excerpt from the article titled “Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on the legacy of George Floyd and anti-Black racism in Canada” by U of T News. You can read the full article here.

“I think there’s still more that needs to be done to raise awareness. We need to have a more fulsome understanding, especially in the Canadian context, of the ways in which the history of this country has led to experiences in the present. We can’t fully understand why it is that Black people and Indigenous Peoples have the contemporary experiences that we do, and experience the marginalization they do, without a fulsome understanding of the historical processes that got us here.

We’re increasingly recognizing that in the Indigenous context. Truth and reconciliation has done a decent job of increasing awareness, but we haven’t had the same in the context of Black Canadians – so the realities of slavery, segregation and the legacy that they’ve left are not fully acknowledged. One of the key things is that when we look at this in a historical context, we like to think that colonialism, slavery and segregation are features of the distant past. It’s important to recognize that segregation existed on the books until the 1960s in Ontario. The last segregated school in Nova Scotia closed in the 1980s. The last residential school closed in the 1990s. This is all within our lifetimes. The historical reality of deep-seated structural racism in our society is much closer to the present day than many people like to acknowledge.”

Below are links to the other articles mentioned in this story.

“‘Striking, shocking and saddening’: Study finds Black men overrepresented in Ontario jails” by CTV News. Read the full article here.

“Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s family hires private investigator after SIU clears police” by CBC News. Read the full article here.

“Family ‘still fighting’ for answers a year after Korchinski-Paquet’s death” by CityNews. Read the full article here.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in an article about Black overrepresentation in Ontario’s jails

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in an article titled “New data provides a rare glimpse at ‘substantial’ Black overrepresentation in Ontario’s jails” in the Toronto Star. 

Although Black overrepresentation in jails is primarily associated with the US, Professor Owusu-Bempah explains in this article that it is a prevalent issue in Canada as well. In Ontario, “nearly one out of every 15 young Black men in Ontario experienced jail time, compared to one out of about every 70 young white men”. Young Black men who are incarcerated are also more likely to come from low-income neighbourhoods that are heavily policed. Professor Owusu-Bempah says that this is a troubling issue as incarceration can have detrimental effects on one’s future.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. His research examines the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice, with a focus on policing.

We’ve included an excerpt of the article below. You can read the full article here.

“At the root of the higher rates are “historical and contemporary social circumstances of Black people in Canada,” note the researchers. These include 200-plus years of slavery and anti-Black racism, and disparities in many systems, including education, employment, child protection and justice.

Black people experience higher rates of child apprehensions and school suspensions and expulsions, and are more heavily policed, the authors said in highlighting disparities found in numerous studies, and also groundbreaking reporting done by the Star around Toronto police arrest and charging patterns and carding, when police stop, question and document citizens in non-criminal encounters.”

Congratulations to Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, recipient of a President’s Impact Award

Congratulations to Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah who was recently honoured with a University of Toronto President’s Impact Award. The President’s Impact Awards are given to faculty members “for demonstrable, sustained research impacts” that go beyond academia. The award acknowledges Professor Owusu-Bempah’s research and advocacy work regarding inequality in the criminal justice system.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus. We have included an excerpt of the award announcement. Read the full story here.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recognized with President’s Impact Award

March 31, 2021
For his research and work to raise awareness and understanding of issues related to inequality and the criminal justice system, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah has received the President’s Impact Award.

An assistant professor in the department of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Owusu-Bempah’s findings have informed public policy around such important issues as race, policing and drug laws.

“My work aims to identify and ameliorate various forms of inequality in our criminal justice system and beyond,” says Owusu-Bempah. “I’m both humbled and heartened to have received the President’s Impact Award for my efforts in this area.”

Read more

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah discusses the role of police on CBC Radio One

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently discussed the role of police on CBC Radio One.  Professor Owuwu-Bempah believes that Canadians need to rethink the role of police and would like to see a detasking of police duties.  There needs to be a full understanding of what Toronto police do on a daily basis and the resources required to do these tasks. From this better understanding of the current role of police it can then be determined what tasks should be removed or adjusted.  In many instances, some of police duties are better suited for other agencies that have the appropriate training.  Professor Owusu-Bempah suggests first responders as an example of a more appropriate role to adequately deal with mental health crisis as the primary role and police would provide a secondary role as support in those instances.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

You can listen to the full CBC Radio One discussion here.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah speaks with Vassy Kapelos on Canada National Power & Politics – CBC News

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah spoke with Vassy Kapelos on Canada National Power & Politics – CBC News about the Federal governments new legislation to relax penalties for drug offences. Professor Owusu-Bempah believes a full repeal of the controlled drugs and substances act would have been preferred to avoid criminalizing people for possession because the marginalized and racialized are disproportionally targeted with these types of charges.  However, the new legislation is a step in the right direction and the mandatory minimums is the government signaling that it is doing something to curb drug possession charges.

Professor Owusu-Bempah would like to see an evaluation of the impact of this bill on the marginalized groups that are suppose to benefit from them.  These groups include people suffering from drug addiction as well as racialized Canadians.  Canada does not have good raced based data on the court system which makes it difficult to see if black and indigenous people are being treated fairly.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

You can watch the CBC panel interview here.

Congratulations Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah! – Recipient of 2020 African Scholars Award

Akwasi Owusu-BempahCongratulations to Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah who is the recipient of a 2020 African Scholars Award! Professor Owusu-Bempah was recognized for his consistent engagement with both Canadian and international media outlets to share his research and insights on the intersections of race, crime, and criminal justice. The African Scholars Awards were created by the African Alumni Association founder and U of T alumnus Henry Ssali, and this year recognized 16 outstanding individuals for their contributions towards academic achievement, social innovation, community development, and volunteering. Professor Owusu-Bempah was awarded the Influencer’s Award, one of 7 different awards granted during the 2020 African Scholars Awards ceremony.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We’ve included a short excerpt from the article below. To read more about the recipients of the awards, click here.

‘Exceptional role models’: African Scholars Awards recognize contributions to university and society

As a child growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Michel Chikwanine endured unspeakable horrors of war. He witnessed the torture of his father – a human rights lawyer who was eventually murdered due to his political beliefs – and the rape of his mother. He was forced to become a child soldier at age five and a refugee at age 11.

Yet, Chikwanine retains hope for the future and a belief in positive change. He’s an activist, motivational speaker and leadership facilitator with organizations ranging from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

His inspiring journey and his tireless advocacy for peace and human rights were recently recognized with a Global Impact Award presented by the University of Toronto African Alumni Association during its annual African Scholars Awards ceremony. For Chikwanine, who earned a bachelor of arts specialist degree in African studies from U of T and co-authored a graphic novel, Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, the award served as motivation to continue to work towards the betterment of society.

“As my father always said before he died – he always reminded me that great men and great women throughout history have never been praised for their money or their success, but rather for their heart and what they do for others,” Chikwanine said during the virtual event last last week.

“So I ask all of us – alumni and every part of this community – to be great, with great hearts to make this incredible life and incredible continent that we have be the best that it can be.”

Continue the article here

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah follows up on Canada’s two-year anniversary of marijuana legalization – The New York Times

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in a New York Times article, following up on the consequences in Canada’s legal system after two years of legalizing cannabis. This article reviewed the changes that marijuana legalization promised to make for Canadian society, and whether or not these changes were effective. Owusu-Bempah argues that the legalization did help reduce the “heavily racialized” arrests for marijuana possession, but still has a long way to go for reparations to those with outstanding criminal records, equity issues with Indigenous operations, and increasing Black and Indigenous executives of legal marijuana businesses.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We have included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full article on The New York Times here (paywall).

2 Years After Legalizing Cannabis, Has Canada Kept Its Promises?

When Robert was 18, he was arrested by Montreal’s police for possession of a small amount of hashish, an event that would upend his young life.

The charge brought him 30 days in jail, and the conviction ended his part-time job as a translator.

“Back then, you smoke a joint, you would get arrested,” said Robert, who asked that only his first name be used because of the continuing stigma of his criminal record. “Then the cops would put you in a car, then pull over and give you a couple of shots in the head. You get slapped around just because of smoking.”

His arrest in 1988 as a teenager marked the start of a long, unhappy history with Canada’s legal system, with his first jail stint opening up a new trade: burglary.

“It was like school,” said Robert, who spent a total of 14 years locked up, roughly divided between convictions on drug offenses and thefts to buy more drugs. “I went there for smoking and then guys are showing me how to open doors.”

The recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Canada two years ago, and when the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made its legalization pitch to the country, it was stories like Robert’s — a life derailed by a possession charge — that most resonated with many Canadians.

Read the full article here…

Professor Owusu-Bempah comments on police use-of-force during wellness checks – National Post article

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah’s comments appeared in an article in the National Post titled “Police shootings in 2020: The effect on officers and those they are sworn to protect.” The article reviews the statistics of police shootings in Canada in 2020, comparing patterns among the 55 cases of this year and across some year-to-year trends. Professor Owusu-Bempah commented on how police handle wellness checks and calls involving people suffering from mental illness, noting his concern for how readily police resort to use-of-force in these situations. He said that he’d like to see police show more restraint when involved in wellness checks and mental health crises, commenting that just the presence of police increases the risk for these encounters to escalate towards violence. Professor Owusu-Bempah was among several researchers studying policing and community members impacted by police violence whose comments were included in the article.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the U of T Mississauga campus. He frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets on topics related to his research focus: the intersection of race, policing and justice.

We’ve included an excerpt of the article below. To read the full National Post article, click here.

Police shootings in 2020: The effect on officers and those they are sworn to protect

Author of the article:
The Canadian Press
Kelly Geraldine Malone, Meredith Omstead and Liam Casey
Publishing date:
Dec 21, 2020  •  Last Updated 16 days ago  •  7 minute read

A photo and an urn sit on Christie Zebrasky’s kitchen table. Each time the Winnipeg woman goes to eat, she imagines her daughter’s face and wonders whether she’ll ever know what happened in the moments before 16-year-old Eishia Hudson was shot and killed by police.

“I can feel her presence here daily. She is not leaving Mom,” Zebrasky says with a deep sigh.

Hudson is one of 55 people who were shot by police in Canada between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30. Of those, 34 were killed.

The Canadian Press tracked each shooting using information from police, independent investigative units and independent reporting. It is a snapshot of police shootings in a year in which global movements have called for more accountability and transparency.

The vast majority of people shot by police were young men. When race could be identified, 48 per cent of people shot were Indigenous and 19 per cent were Black.

Relatives who spoke publicly about those who were shot said there were issues with mental health and addictions. Of the nine shootings that started as wellness checks, all were fatal and four were people of colour.

In five of those cases, police first used a non-lethal-weapon such as a Taser. Six of the shootings took place in the person’s home.

Wellness checks generally involve officers being dispatched to check on someone whose mental health or well-being is a concern. Critics have called for police to change how officers respond to these calls following multiple high-profile deaths in 2020.

Read the full article here

Professor Owusu-Bempah highlights lack of diversity in Canadian cannabis industry, calls to incorporate equity programs – Forbes Article

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently featured in a Forbes article by Amanda Siebert titled “How Canada’s (very white) cannabis industry could learn from social equity programs in the US.” In the article, Professor Owusu-Bempah discussed how the disproportionate harm Black and Indigenous communities faced under prohibition contrasts sharply with his research revealing white men to be the dominant and clear benefactors of legalization. He argued that the Canadian government’s legalization of cannabis production and sale under the Cannabis Act has not been as effective in remedying the historic injustices under prohibition as it could be. Pointing to equity programs built into cannabis legislation in a few states south of the border, Professor Owusu-Bempah urged Canadian lawmakers to consider adopting some of these strategies into the Canadian legislation as the Cannabis Act undergoes its 3-year review. These equity programs provide free or affordable training, expedited licensing avenues, and waived licensing fees for applicants from low-income or previously criminalized communities seeking to enter the industry of cannabis sale and production. Professor Owusu-Bempah argued that actively building these equity programs into Canadian legislation may help to remedy the inequality around trade of cannabis that continues to widen.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the U of T Mississauga campus. He frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets on topics related to his research focus: the intersection of race, policing and justice.

We have included an excerpt of this story below. Read the full article from Forbes here.

How Canada’s (Very White) Cannabis Industry Could Learn From Social Equity Programs In The U.S.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah opposes RCMP union’s ‘thin blue line’ symbol endorsement, in The Star article

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently weighed in on the RCMP union’s endorsement of the ‘thin blue line’ symbol in an article titled “RCMP union pushes back against ban on ‘thin blue line’ symbol, says it has ordered custom patches” by Douglas Quan on The Star. In the article, he explains what the symbol means in today’s society and why he believes that it must go.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We have included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full post on The Star here.

RCMP union pushes back against ban on ‘thin blue line’ symbol, says it has ordered custom patches
By Douglas Quan
Mon., Oct. 12, 2020

The union representing RCMP members is pushing back against a directive issued by management banning officers from wearing or displaying controversial “thin blue line” patches while on duty, calling them an “important and selfless” symbol.

In fact, the National Police Federation told its 20,000 members in a weekend letter that it has ordered custom thin blue line patches for all front-line officers that are expected to arrive in weeks.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociology professor specializing in race and criminal justice research, said Monday that RCMP management did the right thing issuing the ban and that the union’s stance is out of touch with prevailing public sentiment.

“They’re going to be on the wrong side of history. I just don’t understand why they’re not engaging in a more positive manner and putting policing in a better — rather than a worse — position,” he said.

The (lack of) diversity of Canada’s cannabis industry: report by Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah featured on CBC News and CBC Radio One

A recent report by Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Nazlee Maghsoudi of the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation about the diversity of Canada’s cannabis industry leaders was featured on a CBC News article by Joyita Sengupta and a CBC Radio One interview. In these appearances, Professor Owusu-Bempah and Nazlee Maghsoudi cite the findings of their policy brief to emphasize the severe underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people and women overall in the executive teams of Canada’s cannabis industry.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We’ve included an excerpt from the CBC News article below. Read the full article here, and listen to the CBC Radio One interview with Nazlee Maghsoudi here.

Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs struggle for traction in Canada’s cannabis industry
By Joyita Sengupta
Sat., Oct. 17, 2020

[…]

policy brief released Oct. 14 by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation and the University of Toronto looked at c-suite level executives, parent companies and licensed producers in Canada. The research reveals that two years after legalization, 84 per cent of cannabis industry leaders are white and 86 per cent are men.

The report found that only 2 per cent of industry leaders are Indigenous, and just 1 per cent are Black.

Lead author Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, says the lack of Black and Indigenous leadership in the industry goes beyond just an issue of representation or diversity.

“Black and Indigenous people that we found to be underrepresented in leadership in cannabis were the two groups that were most targeted by prohibition. So they were the groups that were most criminalized, for example, for minor possession,” said Owusu-Bempah.

In order to qualify for a retail or cultivation licence, applicants must clear a criminal background check, and this eliminates potential cannabis industry entrepreneurs who have a record for possession.

“And when we look at other jurisdictions, for example, south of the border, there have been purposeful attempts to ensure that those groups are included,” said Owusu-Bempah.

Some places like San Francisco and Oakland have created social equity programs for individuals affected by the criminalization of cannabis, not only clearing their records but providing pathways to starting their own legal businesses.

“That simply has not happened here in Canada,” Owusu-Bempah said.

Cannabis prohibition’s racial and gender disparities continue to thrive in the legalized cannabis industry: Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah publishes new article on The Globe and Mail

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently co-authored an article titled “Who is profiting off of cannabis in Canada? Not those who suffered most under cannabis prohibition” on The Globe and Mail with Nazlee Maghsoudi, a Knowledge Translation Manager at the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation (CDPE) and a Doctoral Candidate in Health Services Research at the University of Toronto. This article reflects on the racial and gender disparities during the cannabis prohibition that continue today in the legalized cannabis industry.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We have included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full post on The Globe and Mail here.

Who is profiting off of cannabis in Canada? Not those who suffered most under cannabis prohibition
By Nazlee Maghsoudi and Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah
Weds., Oct. 14, 2020

It is becoming increasingly recognized that drug laws have long been used as a tool for policing and controlling Black and Brown populations, contributing greatly to their overrepresentation in the criminal-justice system. Canada is no exception, although this feature of our past and present has received far less attention than it has in the United States.

As one of the few research efforts on this issue, a forthcoming analysis in the International Journal of Drug Policy demonstrates stark racial and gender disparities in the rates of arrest for simple cannabis possession in five Canadian cities, with Black and Indigenous people (particularly Black and Indigenous men) being more likely to be arrested than white people, despite evidence of similar rates of use across racial groups.

Against such a backdrop, the promise of a newly legalized cannabis industry in Canada was heralded by many as an opportunity to rectify the harms experienced by Black and Indigenous people under cannabis prohibition.

As we approach the two-year anniversary of cannabis legalization, a new policy brief released by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation and the University of Toronto shows that the potential of a diverse and equitable legal cannabis industry has been far from achieved.

De-tasking police and restructuring community safety – Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah featured in discussion about police and public safety on The Agenda

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently appeared on an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin alongside former RCMP officer Chad Haggerty, London police chief Stephen Williams and staff lawyer at Black Legal Action Centre Fareeda Adam. They discussed the role of police in society, given recent events in the U.S. and Canada. In this conversation, Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah sheds light on his views regarding defunding the police, the consensus between police, community and political leadership, the oversight of the police in Ontario, and a re-imagined police service where weapons are not carried.

Highlighted in this discussion is the term “de-tasking the police” to emphasize the delegation of current police tasks towards more appropriate organizations and institutions, thus reducing the negative consequences of police engagement in unsuitable activities and reducing the police budget. Such a budget reduction, to Professor Owusu-Bempah, requires close examination of the situation to sensibly reduce funds without jeopardizing public safety. De-tasking the police may also help with mental health, homelessness and youth programming. Professor Owusu-Bempah calls for a drastic re-imagining of public safety and policing that places more emphasis on social institutions, civil society organizations, and citizens.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We’ve included a transcript excerpt from Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah’s discussion below. The complete episode, Rethinking Policing, can be found here.

Who Should Keep the Public Safe?
The Agenda with Steve Paikin

Steve Paikin: “Akwasi, maybe you could follow up. We talk about taking responsibilities away from police. On the other hand, I have heard the expression defund the police meaning the police are just not the best people to carry out this function and therefore we need to take that money, not to punish police, but to more appropriately spend it on others who can better perform those tasks. Help us understand what your understanding of all this means?”

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: “I think we’re hearing all of the things you said and more, and I particularly appreciate the term that one of my colleagues kind of lended to me, which is actually “De-tasking the police.” what we’ve acknowledged is that the police are doing too much and that their budgets reflect that, and we want to take away some of those tasks, and importantly we know that when we have the police engaged in activities that they’re not the best organization or institution to engage in, we have a number of negative consequences that might flow from that, one being the criminalization of people that might not otherwise be criminalized, so we can think about this in the context of homelessness, with respect to drug use, when we’ve got police in schools, but also of course in relation to the use of force as well. So I particularly like… I’m using the term in the work that I’m doing in the area, de-tasking the police, which recognizes that we’re going to take some of the tasks away from the police, and that there will be a corresponding reduction in the police budget to go along with that. This isn’t new. This has been acknowledged by the Canadian association of chiefs of police, this has been acknowledged by the Canadian government, and in other western nations long before the current conversations around defunding the police emerged as they have now.”

Watch the full episode here…

Report shows police are key drivers of racism against Black people: Akwasi Owusu-Bempah of UTM discusses the cycle of criminalization

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in an opinion piece in The Toronto Star by columnist Shree Paradkar. The story discusses a new report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) detailing how Toronto Police are more likely to criminalize and use violence during encounters with Black people. The article Are we OK living in a society where (yet another human rights report shows) police are key drivers of racism against Black people?, cites Professor Owusu-Bempah speaking on the OHRC report. Owusu-Bempah explains how racism enters the cycle of criminalization beginning with the overpolicing of Black communities and accumulates throughout each level of engagement with the law enforcement and court systems. He highlights how the disruption of these encounters has broad and long-lasting impacts on Black lives well after individual encounters with law enforcement, and these effects can feed back into the cycle that finds Black people at a heightened risk of being criminalized.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the U of T Mississauga campus. He frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets on topics related to his research focus: the intersection of race, policing and justice.

We’ve included an excerpt to the article below. Read the full article in The Toronto Star here (paywall).

Are we OK living in a society where (yet another human rights report shows) police are key drivers of racism against Black people?

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on reducing unnecessary interactions between the public and the police

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to CBC News on limiting unnecessary interactions between the public and the police force. Professor Owusu-Bempah says that this is an important step to take because some of these unnecessary interactions have resulted in violence. Professor Owusu-Bempah explains that other agencies may be more suitable to complete some of the tasks.

Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the CBC News website here.

$46M in active civil lawsuits against Windsor police, malicious prosecution and negligence among claims

Jul 14, 2020

There are currently 12 open civil lawsuits against the Windsor Police Service totalling more than $46 million and those involve allegations such as collusion, malicious prosecution, assault and negligence, CBC News has learned.

Documents obtained through multiple freedom of information requests also show Windsor taxpayers have paid out $1.2 million, between 2006 and 2019, to victims who made accusations of malicious prosecution, wrongful arrest and assault relating to city cops. It involved 64 lawsuits and the confidential payouts are actually larger because that $1.2 million figure doesn’t include what the city’s insurers end up compensating.

“I think we need to consider the dollar amounts in the context of the calls for defunding the police we’re hearing at the moment,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

Police are being asked to do too many different things, he said, and that means more officer interactions with the public when other agencies may be more appropriate to respond.

“The less we have police presence in the lives of people where it doesn’t need to be, the less likely we are to have the types of assaults and violence that lead to these lawsuits,” said Owusu-Bempah.

Watch as Akwasi Owusu-Bempah explains why reducing unnecessary interactions between the police and the public is a good thing:

Read the full article… 

Professor Akwasi Owusu Bempah: Defunding the police: what does it mean?

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to CTV News about what it means to defund the police as a way to end violent policing amongst Black communities. Professor Owusu-Bempah explained that defunding the police does not necessarily mean eliminating the police force. Instead, it means to reallocate and redistribute some of their funds to important agencies such as mental health services, child welfare services, and education. Professor Owusu-Bempah says that defunding the police should start by calibrating the roles, responsibilities, and tasks of the police force as well as their associated costs.

Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the CTV News website here.

What defunding the police could look like in Canada’s largest city

June 10, 2020

By Brooklyn Neustaeter

In Toronto, where almost a quarter of residents’ property taxes go just to funding the police, two city councillors on Monday put forward a motion to cut the city’s police budget by 10 per cent and shift it to “much-needed community supports.”

Thousands have signed petitions in other parts of the country, including Vancouver, Regina and Montreal, for similar reallocations of police funds.

However, the concept of defunding the police doesn’t necessarily mean abolishing police forces. As University of Toronto Mississauga sociology professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah explains, defunding the police would mean redistributing some of their funding elsewhere.

“[It’s] a reallocation or a reassignment of certain tasks and functions that we recognize that the police aren’t performing very well, that there are negative outcomes to their involvement in those activities such as increased risk for the use of violence and potential for criminalization,” Owusu-Bempah told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

So what would defunding the police actually look like in Canada’s largest city?

NEW SERVICE FOR MENTAL HEALTH CRISES

Mental health is an essential piece of the call for defunding since many police-involved deaths in Canada have involved mental health and substance abuse issues.

Owusu-Bempah said redirected police funding could go to boosting supports for mental health and creating a new type of emergency service used in times of mental health crises.

“A large part of the problem is for individuals who are suffering mental health crises, and for those around them, the police are often the quickest point of contact or seemingly the most sensible resource to call,” Owusu-Bempah said.

Read the full article…

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on the Agenda

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently appeared on an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin alongside Sandy Hudson, Kike Ojo-Thompson, and Roger Dundas to discuss solutions to stop anti-Black racism and systematic discrimination on a large scale. Professor Owusu-Bampah compares structural racism in the US and Canada, emphasizing the political sphere of racism in both countries. He explains how the type of neighbourhoods a community resides in may disproportionately affect the type of policing a community receives. He further explains the need to rethink the roles and responsibilities of the police in order to fight against racism. The full episode is available on the website here.

Professor Owusu-Bampah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. We have posted the video below.

You can also watch the full video here…

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on defunding the police

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to the Toronto Star about the movement to defund police in favour of community organizations  especially in the cases of mental health calls. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

‘Defunding’ police, funding mental health resources will save lives, experts say

The death of a Toronto woman who fell from her 24th-floor balcony while police were in her home has renewed calls for an overhaul of how society deals with people in mental health crises.

Some experts believe “defunding” police — taking some of the taxpayer money going to law enforcement and putting it towards mental health services — is one way to avoid deadly interactions between officers and people struggling with mental illness.

The blowback follows the death last week of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old woman whose family asked police to take her to a mental health hospital. Police have said they were responding to an assault call, but the family has questioned the role of Toronto officers in her death. The province’s police watchdog has taken over the case.

“I think it’s unfortunate we’ve come to a place in our society that police become first responders to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“What we should do is take back that money, to defund police, and give it over to mental health professionals who are better equipped to help these people.”

Read the full article.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on how to reduce police violence

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah spoke to Mugglehead News in response to US House of Representatives suggesting that the War on Drugs was responsible for increases in police violence, particularly against Black people. While the US resolution called for greater accountability, Professor Owusu-Bempah argued that reducing the funding and scope of responsibilities of the police would more effectively reduce police violence. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

US House resolution points to war on drugs as contributing to police brutality

Best way to reduce police violence is to scale back funding and amount of responsibility police have, says criminology prof
 Michelle Gamage June 2, 2020  16 min

A new resolution condemning police brutality was introduced in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, citing the war on drugs as contributing to “the systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of colour, particularly black people.”

The resolution calls for increased police accountability, following recent police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Brennoa Taylor in Kentucky. The deaths and a history of unarmed black citizens being killed by police have sparked protests and riots in the U.S., as well as demonstrations worldwide, with many demanding the officers involved face criminal charges proportional to their alleged crimes.

But creating more oversight isn’t the best way to reduce police brutality, says Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

As an expert on the intersection of race, crime and criminal justice, Owusu-Bempah says the best way to reduce police violence is to scale back the funding and amount of responsibility police have.

“For centuries we simply asked the police to do more and more and more,” he said. “They are primary responders in issues involving homelessness, mental health and a whole host of other social ills — and of course related to substance use and addiction. I don’t think police are the right institution to be engaging in those areas. I’d rather see a culture of less policing rather than police oversight.”

Owusu-Bempah recommends demilitarizing the police and diverting funds from law enforcement to other social services.

Read the full article…