Professor Joe Hermer in The Conversation: "Homeless encampment violence in Toronto betrays any real hope for police reform"

August 3, 2021 by Victoria Shi

Professor Joe Hermer recently published an article titled "Homeless encampment violence in Toronto betrays any real hope for police reform" on The Conversation. The piece argues that when police officers forcibly and violently demolished homeless encampments in parks across Toronto they broke a trust with the public that they had committed to repairing just a few months earlier. Their betrayal of public trust now calls into question their capability of caring for marginalized and vulnerable people.

Professor Joe Hermer is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. He is currently working on a project called “COVID-19 Policing and Homelessness Initiative.” His research focuses on homelessness, crime victimization, and the criminal justice system.

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

...The widespread criticism of these evictions focus on the human rights breaches that have occurred. But what is equally troubling is that promises made by the police to be more accountable to marginalized communities have been exposed as a fraud.

More than a year after the death of George Floyd in the United States and historic protests for police reform, it’s clear that the Toronto Police are insincere about changing how they treat historically over-policed and criminalized communities.

Just three months ago, both the Toronto police chief and mayor accepted the recommendations of Missing and Missed: Report of The Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations. The report came after an inquiry that was established in response to criticism that the police did not take missing persons reports seriously about six of the eight gay and bisexual people who were murdered by serial killer Bruce McArthur between 2010 and 2017.

In her meticulous analysis, Justice Gloria J. Epstein, an independent reviewer of the report, found that while some dedicated officers did excellent work, the overall investigation had “serious flaws” and was marred by “systematic discrimination.” The report made clear that, while those murdered were part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, “these victims were marginalized and vulnerable in a variety of ways.”

A major theme of the 151 inquiry recommendations is the absolute necessity of repairing the badly damaged trust between the Toronto Police and marginalized communities, which include racialized and Indigenous people, those experiencing homelessness and people with mental health issues.

In other words, repairing trust with the very people who are most likely to have been forced to take shelter in homeless encampments in Toronto parks in order to survive the pandemic. Those who take refuge in encampments tend to be the most vulnerable and victimized of people experiencing homelessness, and are more likely to have complex needs that are poorly served by the shelter system.