There was some polite pushback on recent allegations that racial prejudice was shown in two encounters that took place at last week’s dismantling of the homeless encampment at J.C. Beemer Park. The allegations came after Hamilton Police scuffled with activists during the encampment clearance when a crowd broke through a police tape line, and again at Hamilton Police Headquarters when protesters rallied demanding the release of some of those who had been arrested at the Beemer Park incident.
At Wednesday’s GIC meeting senior staff were closely grilled about the sequence events that led to the dismantling of the encampment and successive events. At times staff seemed reluctant to answer pointed questions, even when Councillor John-Paul Danko attempted to take staff through a series of what appeared to be friendly questions that would have provided some context for the actions taken by city officials and the police that day.
The camp was cleared after a fire and what appeared on a cellphone camera to be an explosion at the encampment. Firefighters and police arrived on the scene, although nobody seems to know who called the police or whether the police showed up on their own. The blaze was doused, leaving behind the remnants of burned tents and also propane tanks and gas-powered generations in the debris.
Appearing before the committee Kojo Damptey, Executive Director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, said police reacted disproportionately towards Black protesters. Then a discussion ensued about the difference between systemic racism and personal racism. Asked directly if he thought Hamilton Police actions were motivated by racism, he said yes. A member of his staff, Sarah Jama was among the protesters arrested in the aftermath of the encampment dismantling.
Ward Two Councillor Jason Farr, whose ward has seen several encampments set up and dismantled questioned Damptey about his social media activity. In addition to the website and Twitter feed for the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion Damptey has a personal account with the hashtag #defundpolice.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger flatly rejected the accusations of racism.
Absent from the meeting were representatives from Hamilton Police who called in the Special Investigations Unit as soon as allegations were made that police had used excessive force in arresting protesters. Police can’t comment further while the matter is being investigated,