Sulaimon Giwa has strong opinions on modern day policing from years of lived and academic experience.
He doesn’t however, have a specific answer for what it means to defund the police.
“It’s a question I’ve been trying to grapple with,” he said. “Are we actually using the correct language to define and have meaningful conversations around this issue of police brutality and this issue of the police budget?”
This is one of the main questions Giwa will be asking his students in a new course being offered at St. Thomas University this fall.
“Defunding the Police: Rhetoric vs. Reality” is a fourth-year criminology class that will examine what defunding looks like at police and community levels, and what implications this call to action has for racialized and Indigenous communities.
“At the end of the day, I want students to have a fulsome conversation around what we actually mean when we are talking about defunding the police,” he said. “What is lost and what is gained when we are using this language, and by using that language are we doing a disservice to the movement itself in terms of what it’s advocating for?”
Regardless of the terminology used to describe the phenomenon, Giwa said it’s long been a topic of discussion and debate. The conversation became louder, however, after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.
“With the events that we’ve seen in recent times, but definitely that have been longstanding in terms of police misuse of power, over policing racialized communities and under-protecting them, it created the climate for this kind of discourse around defunding the police,” he said.
Giwa is a Nigerian-born associate professor at Memorial University who teaches about disrupting whiteness and systemic inequalities. He holds degrees in social work and criminology and criminal justice. He also has a police education diploma and has worked with several police organizations and Correctional Services Canada.
Giwa’s life and academic experience have formed his opinions on policing, but he will not be imposing a particular perspective on students, he said. Rather, he’ll be facilitating critical conversations.
Hoping for critical conversations
“It’s really difficult to come into this space in a neutral sense, because I visualize as a Black, gay man, and these are realities for me as well as you on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
“But I think it’s really, really important that I’m not coming into that space with my own values and beliefs and having students take those positions necessarily.”
Giwa knows of some similar post-secondary courses in the United States but hasn’t heard of any being offered in Canada.
Black Lives Matter New Brunswick would like to see that change. The group’s executive director, Matthew Martin, is in full support of the STU course, and said it has a place in all post-secondary institutions.
“It should be something that’s not just an elective … I think it should be ingrained into any program looking at dealing with racialized community groups,” he said. “The more individuals are aware and equipped about the injustices that Indigenous, Black, and racialized community members face, the more understanding of that they can be.”
Martin said the group has reached out to various police organizations in the province about the defunding movement. He said most police chiefs are open to having the discussion but fail to act on it.
“A lot of conversations have happened, but again, there has never been that step forward for anybody to say, ‘Let’s take this jump’ or ‘Let’s have a real strategic plan of how this would look in our municipality,'” he said.
St. Thomas University expects there will be significant demand for a spot in the course. According to spokesperson Jeffrey Carleton, criminology classes typically reach capacity quite quickly.
Predicts high demand for seats
He expects the timeliness of the subject will pique the interest of many senior students.
“It’s a great opportunity for these students to take what they’ve already learned, to see what’s going on in society, and then bring a scholarly lens to it and drill down on these issues with a scholar whose expertise is in this area,” he said.
Carleton said the university is thrilled to have Giwa as the visiting Endowed Chair in Criminology and Criminal Justice for the fall term.
The Fredericton Regional Police didn’t respond to a CBC News request for an interview.