Hamilton police chief's 'hypocritical' letter fails to impress black community, anti-racism expert

Racialized experts and activists are calling Hamilton's Chief of Police "hypocritical" after he released a letter on Wednesday in response to protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

An expert and activists say letter doesn't address systemic issues

Hamilton Police chief Eric Girt is being called "hypocritical" by black experts and organizers for writing a letter in response to the killing of George Floyd. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Hamilton's police chief has issued a public letter acknowledging that "racism, racial profiling and other biases exist in policing," and expressing the service's commitment to taking action and "continuing the conversation."

But a racialized expert and activists are calling Chief Eric Girt's letter, released Wednesday in response to protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis "hypocritical."

"We must continue to talk about these issues and take action to eliminate racism and discrimination in all forms. As a police service, we are committed to continuing this conversation with members of our community," reads the letter.

 Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor who studies critical race theory, said there has never been a conversation between Hamilton police and him. He also described broader failings, noting many calls for the service to address "individual, systemic, structural and historical racism as a problem."

"People have asked for inclusion in governance, for responses to issues of racial profiling, to address racist statements and behaviours, to support marginalized groups," he told CBC News.

"There have been multiple and repeated opportunities for conversation to occur and none of those have resulted in conversations that put racialized people into a place where transformative change can happen ... a phone call, an email, an invitation to any of these, would be start.

"So, to issue a statement, when people have already asked for more and been refused, comes across as both offensive and hypocritical."

Girt's letter also noted the service is "not perfect and there is much work to do," and says people join the police service to have a positive impact.

Letter fails to address larger issues

This follows a demonstration on Tuesday which saw Hamilton Black Lives Matter activists make demands including one to defund Hamilton Police Service and put the money toward social causes such as anti-racism initiatives and food security.

Sabreina Dahab, an activist and member of HWDSB Kids Need Help, said the letter doesn't lead to a conversation about the larger, systemic issues that burden racialized people.

"It's important we re-centre the conversation around the murder of black people across Canada and across the U.S.," she told CBC News.

Gregory Dongen said there needs to be more race-based data and wants them to learn how to interact with the racialized community. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Greg Dongen, a fellow activist and the co-president of the Black Youth Council at Bernie Custis Secondary School, said police need more race-based data and education about racialized communities.

"Put in place systems like racial education where you hire police and educate them on how to interact with racialized people," he said.

Some prior calls from the black community include ending a program that involves police officers in schools, which they feel is endangering students rather than protecting them.

A statement from Mayor Fred Eisenberger doesn't provide a clear answer to those questions, though he did say he would learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement and how he can work better with black-led community organizations.

"My role as Chair of the Hamilton Police Services Board enables me to provide guidance and recommendations to our police force. I am committed to having these conversations on how we can continue to serve and protect all members of our City equitably and respectfully," he said.


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.