A Hamilton MPP along with several local Black and anti-racism organizations are calling for Hamilton police to drop charges against those arrested last week during protests related to the city’s encampment removals.
The NDP’s Matthew Green is also calling for a judicial inquiry into the arrests of affordable housing advocates who demonstrated during an encampment teardown and others in a separate protest at the central police station days later.
“I join the community calls that the charges laid against the six youth as a result of these occurrences be dropped,” Green said in a release.
“And look forward to continuing conversations with all levels of of government in Hamilton Centre about both immediate and long term solutions to this manufactured housing crisis.”
Hamilton began dismantling encampments in city parks following a superior court judge ruling on Nov. 2 against a group of homeless residents seeking a permanent injunction to stop the city.
My statement on HPS Use of Force
Stop the targeted criminalization of Black youth activists in our communities.
Drop the charges against the six housing activists in our city.
Initiate a Judicial Inquiry into the HPS actions pertaining to these events. pic.twitter.com/qtjJGLCsBE
— Matthew Green 🍊📈✊🏾 (@MatthewGreenNDP) December 1, 2021
Last week, several Hamilton residents experiencing homelessness were displaced after a fire tore through an encampment at J.C Beemer Park on Victoria Avenue North and Wilson Street.
After crews knocked down the blaze, the scene was then turned over to Hamilton police and the city with those affected relocated, according to a press release, including six individuals who were provided with shelter spots.
Hours later, authorities reported that a group advocating on behalf of the encampment residents asked city staff to refrain from removing what was left of their belongings.
Arrests were eventually made amid an encounter between advocates and police officers.
During a Wednesday presser on Ferguson Avenue North, community leaders addressed the events between Nov. 24 and Nov. 26 which included the decay of a demonstration at 155 King William St., culminating in arrests and charges for three people.
Ruth Rodney of the Hamilton Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association suggested the bookings serve no purpose and potentially could cause deeper divisions in the community.
“In addition to dropping all charges against the youths, we also call upon Chief Bergen to undertake a review of police interaction with citizens in these context of contestation around social justice issues,” Rodney said.
“The broader historical and ongoing context of systemic, institutional and anti-Black racism resulting in racial disparities in the criminal justice system make the need for this review even more compelling.”
Lyndon George of the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre called the images seen during the Beemer Park and central station confrontations “deeply troubling” and called attention “to systemic issues of racism in policing.”
“Right now, we need more than just conversations about police accountability in order to work with all community partners for the best vision…possible in order to ensure Hamilton’s Black community can live, work, play and peacefully protest without fear,” George said.
One occurrence at the central station incident, an alleged “serious injury” to a 24-year-old woman, is now the subject of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) probe.
A spokesperson for the ministry of the attorney general, who has the authority over a judicial inquiry, told Global News it would be “inappropriate to comment” on the matter due to the SIU probe and the fact a claim has now been made to the courts.
Hamilton police spokesperson Jackie Penman echo that statement for the same reasons, saying, “the service will not make any further comment.”
“We heard the perspectives, stories and impact shared at this morning’s media conference. We welcome and accept the opportunity to come to the table with community in seeking resolution to the events that transpired over this past week,” Penman told Global News in an e-mail.
“We commit to working with the community to engage in a serious, honest and transparent conversation.”
Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger told 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show he believes the “social activism” being seen with the Beemer Park and central station incidents are “obstructing the very important work” the city is doing to find alternatives for the estimated 60 people “living rough.”
Eisenberger said despite $150 million a year from all three levels of government to those experiencing homelessness in the city, many choose not to take their offer, which creates encampments that are “not safe and secure” for people to reside.
“The reality is that the long term solutions are being worked on each and every day,” said Eisenberger prior to Wednesday’s media event with the members of the Black and anti-racism organizations.
“Do we ever solve this problem? I’m not sure that we do.”
The mayor says the city needs “partnerships” with those prepared to help move homelessness along rather than obstruct the work they’re trying to achieve.
Some 7,000 affordable housing units managed by the city and another 7,000 managed through non-profit sectors make up the allotment of accommodations the city has to work with to put a roof over their head of those who need it.
Supports for mental health are something Eisenberger says the three levels of government are going to have to tackle, believing the ongoing issues surround properly housing those with disorders.
“Right now, we are taking on that responsibility and unfortunately putting the police at the front lines of this when it really isn’t their responsibility, it is our collective responsibility,” Eisenberger said.