Activist makes fun of new NB jail, calls for defunding police

El Jones speaking at Mt. A. in November

As the New Brunswick government pressed ahead last fall with its controversial plan for a $32 million jail in Fredericton, poet, activist and university professor El Jones poked fun at it during a speech at Mount Allison.

She suggested that the new jail would be sold to the public as more humane and civilized.

“Do you hate people with mental health problems if you don’t want them in a brand new prison which will have more beds?” she asked.

“Oh, they have Braille on the cells, so now we can send people who are blind to prison too. Oh, we have more and more wider cells, so people in wheelchairs won’t have a problem,” she joked.

“This is our idea of progression when people with disabilities should not be in jail and people with mental health struggles should not be in jail,” Jones said.

“We need to push back on this rhetoric.”

Jones, who was speaking at Mt. A. on November 23rd as part of the university president’s speakers series, is the author of Abolitionist Intimacies, a book that examines the movement to abolish prisons through a variety of literary forms including poetry, satire, essays and journalism.

She is also one of the authors of a 216 page report on defunding the Halifax Regional Police commissioned by the city’s Board of Police Commissioners in 2020 after an academic study showed that police stopped black people in street checks at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax and that between 2005 and 2016, 30% of Halifax’s black male population had been charged with a crime compared to 6.8% of the white male population.
The Halifax figures reflected comparable ones released last year by Toronto Police.

What would defunding police mean?

The report commissioned by the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners quotes the Equal Justice Society in the U.S. on the general definition of defunding as “a call to decrease police budgets, size, scope, and power while investing into alternative community safety models and wellbeing services (anti-homelessness, healthcare, education, drug rehabilitation, affordable housing, etc.)”

Or as the report itself notes:

—Excerpt from “Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM.” El Jones was one of its lead authors

Government funding cuts

Jones told her Mount A. audience that decades of austerity have resulted in funding cuts to health care, mental health, nursing homes, schools and housing with an increasing emphasis on police being called on to fill gaps in social services.

El Jones during a visit to Mt. A. in 2018

“So, if I see an unhoused person living in a tent, I should call the police and outsource that to police and to force because I don’t want that in my neighbourhood.

“If there’s somebody outside the Tim Hortons, I should call the police because they’re asking for change,” she said.

“There’s this idea that the police keep us safe and bad people go to prison,” she added.

“But that us is the white public, the middle class public, the property-owning public, that’s how it’s imagined and anyone who’s Black, Indigenous, experiencing mental-health struggles, a drug user, a sex worker, queer or trans, immigrants who don’t speak English, we’re all outside this notion of the public and therefore, policing is turned on us.”

Jones said activists like her understand that goals such as prison abolition or defunding of police may not happen in their lifetime.

“So, we just have to step toward them in the ways that we’re able to.”

For a Mount Saint Vincent University bio of El Jones, click here.

For a report on Robyn Maynard’s 2019 talk at Mt. A. based on her book Policing Black Lives, click here.

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14 Responses to Activist makes fun of new NB jail, calls for defunding police

  1. Marika says:

    So according to this, the indigenous get hassled less than whites.

    Also, how about men getting hassled by police more than women?

    I’ve always wanted to go to one of the “defund the police” -type events and make an ass of myself… until they call in the police. That would really prove a point, wouldn’t it?

    • John says:

      You’re doing a fine job making an ass of yourself here.

    • ACAB says:

      Marika, did you even bother reading the above article? It explains clearly what defund the police means. If you’d like to ignore that it’s fine, but it tells alot about your character and how you base your opinions.

      ““a call to decrease police budgets, size, scope, and power while investing into alternative community safety models and wellbeing services (anti-homelessness, healthcare, education, drug rehabilitation, affordable housing, etc.)”

  2. Landlord says:

    Low income housing is very possible but one of the major stumbling blocks are Bylaws preventing construction in different zones. The rent control idea seems like a good idea on the face of it for low income families but there is the adverse affect of landlords having to evict tenants to increase rents even slightly. If you believe in free enterprise you would agree with my comments.

    • John says:

      So don’t evict tenants.

      • Marika says:

        … and don’t maintain the building, because there’s no money to afford it.

        That’s one way in which slums are created, by the way.

      • Landlord says:

        John have you noticed the price of oil ? How about property taxes have you noticed the increases ? Maybe not if you are not a property owner. Have you noticed the cost of building materials? Have noticed the cost of groceries? Landlords need to eat as well.

    • ACAB says:

      1. the price of oil is always fluctuating and has been this high before. Most if not all landlords do not include heat in their rent and leave it up to the tenant to pay for utilities.
      2. over the last 10 years my property taxes haven’t changed much, only when I modified my dwelling.
      3. building materials have nothing to do with what one pays as monthly rent.
      4. groceries for landlords have nothing to do with monthly rental fees. How sad to make this argument. You’ve been making money on the backs of low income, students, and working class people for years now. No one has any sympathy for you nor should they.

      • Landlord says:

        ACAB 1) heat is an all inclusive item so it does matter, 20 years ago heating oil was .40 cents a litre not 1.82 todays price.
        2) you can speak for yourself about property tax but mine has certainly increased, Public knowledge with gnb on any property tax. 3) building materials do play a cost of rent factoring tenants want upgrades and landlords like to keep their properties up. 4) of course groceries and cost of living plays a part for landlords trying to make a living. Landlords are not some sort of evil people out to get tenants, where would the low income people live if it wasn’t for landlords. With the housing crisis people should work with landlords to provide safe, economical housing.

  3. Tim Reiffenstein says:

    Dr. Jones was a memorable speaker, and fascinating poet. No ambiguity there.

    As for defunding, we are already seeing a lot of retasking of former police functions to social workers, for instance on mental health incident calls, a move police seem to support.

    But there are limits to defunding. When it comes to combatting really bad guys like the Hells Angels and other organized crime, I think police should be well funded, thank you very much.

  4. Good for her. New prisons must be questioned. Mental health issues have to be addressed humanely. Police are notoriously racist, there’s no denying it. It has to be said for them to begin to gain back the trust of the public over time.

  5. Jon says:

    The street check report certainly demonstrates discrimination by race, but it demonstrates just as clearly discrimination by sex. However, since that discrimination isn’t against women, it’s ignored. Black men are street checked by police far more than black women. White men were street checked at a rate 3-4 times that of white women. In fact, white males 15-24 were street checked at a higher rate than black females the same age. (See FIGURE 5.9 of the NS Human Rights Commission’s Wortley report, Police Street Check Rates (per 1,000), by Age, Gender and Race, Halifax Region, 2013-2017)

    It seems hypocritical — or racist and sexist — for Jones to use such stats selectively to support her argument that the “white public” is protected by the police while the non-white public isn’t, given the statistics she uses about police street checks, derived from the NS Human Rights Commission’s Wortley report. The real picture of discriminatory practices by the police is more complex, and has a clear sexual component that is ignored.

    She’s certainly correct that there is too little support for homelessness, addiction, and mental health, and that discrimination exists. Her argument isn’t helped by submerging obvious sexual discrimination inside merged statistics that focus solely on race, which leaves the impression that she only cares about the human rights of the people she’s interested in, not human rights in general.

  6. Tantramarshire says:

    Abolitionist could also mean the end of the monarchy… just sayin.

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