Hamilton police investigating 'defund the police' painting on Main Street

Hamilton Police Service says it's conducting a potential criminal investigation after Black Lives Matter supporters painted "defund the police" on the road in front of city hall.

At least 100 people gathered at noon to paint the road, one hour before a police services board meeting

Black Lives Matter protestors blocked traffic and painted "DEFUND THE POLICE" on Main Street West in Hamilton on Thursday. It took about an hour to get the job done. (HWDSB Kids Need Help/Twitter)

Hamilton Police Service says it's conducting a potential criminal investigation after Black Lives Matter supporters painted "defund the police" on the road in front of city hall.

Deputy Chief Frank Bergen said Thursday evening that police are investigating it because it was mischief to public property and blocking Main Street East.

"We maintain that people have the right to assemble and have peaceful protest," he said. "But the minute they step into the roadway and disrupt a main artery in our city and cause mischief in our community and disrupt traffic flow," then it becomes a criminal matter.

"There will be an investigation that will move as a result of this."

Bergen's comments came hours after activists blocked Main Street in front of city hall and painted "defund the police" in bright yellow paint.

City workers tried cleaning off the yellow lettering on Main Street West left behind by Black Lives Matter protestors on Thursday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)
The yellow paint that read "DEFUND THE POLICE" started to wash away as cleaners worked to remove it due to concerns the paint could be dangerous for drivers. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The demonstration happened an hour before a police services board meeting where members received dozens more letters in favour of taking money from the police budget and putting it into mental health, affordable housing and other social services. They also discussed an annual report around police use of force

City cleaners removed the paint later that afternoon, saying it made the road slippery.

People have a right to protest, the city said in a release, but "the paint used is household paint that will create slippery conditions impacting safe driving on the roadway."

At least 100 people gathered at noon with signs, chalk, banners and spray paint. Sarah Jama, a lead organizer, told CBC News the timing — right before the board meeting — was intentional.

"We're calling for the defunding of police," she said. "We want money to be taken away from police and given to community services in our city."

The activists are calling for 20 per cent of the police service's budget to be spread to community services right away. The police board is reviewing what that cut would look like, though members have also said they don't think it's a good idea.

Before the activists took over Main Street West from Bay Street South to Summers Lane, some were writing the phone number of a local lawyer on their bodies in case they needed legal counsel.

Activists stood at both ends of the street with banners, signs and megaphones, reciting chants like, "Black Lives Matter here!" and "We will win!"

Greg Dongen, a regular Black activist, led many of the chants through his megaphone while others occupied Main Street West. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
Police stood near the Black Lives Matter demonstration but didn't appear to make any arrests. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Others held rope between the street and the sidewalk. Then, a group started tracing the message "DEFUND THE POLICE" and filling in those lines with yellow paint.

Songs by Kendrick Lamar and NWA played in the background. Also in the background, a handful of police officers stood quietly and watched.

Pippa Lock with the New Vision United Church was at the demonstration. She said the church supports the movement. She's not sure if police will.

"I don't know how they'll receive it. I hope they'll examine the question of how we'll best allocate our resources," she said.

"There are systemic, societal injustices that are often invisible and we need more money for social resources."

One of the Black Lives Matter activists paints on Main Street West. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
By 1 p.m., the painting on Main Street West was just about finished. The city is cleaning off the paint because it could be unsafe for drivers. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Jennifer Hompoth, who was also in attendance, called the demonstration "monumental" and hopes it won't be ignored. If it is, the movement won't rest.

"People are going to continue to be resilient. They are going to continue to educate themselves and others, and going to continue to act and organize," she told CBC News.

"We're at a time and place where we have opportunities to change many crumbling systems."


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.