Nelson Police Chief: ‘I want to be part of this conversation’

Paul Burkart reflects on the state of racism in the Kootenays.

Nelson Police Chief Paul Burkart is keen to engage in dialogue on race in the wake of shootings in US.

Nelson Police Chief Paul Burkart was scrolling through his social media feed last week when he came across the story of Charles Kinsey, an unarmed black care worker shot by police officers in Miami. Though Kinsey was laying on the ground with his arms in the air, attempting to assist an autistic man in distress, the cops still shot him.

“I read that story and I felt a little sick,” Burkart told the Star. “I know even though that’s not my police agency and that’s about as far away from little Nelson as possible, we know that people here are looking at that and wondering ‘what’s going on in our own police department?’”

And though he doesn’t feel the current social climate is quite as divisive in Canada as in the US, he believes it’s important to keep abreast of developments south of the border and feels there’s plenty of conversations to be had surrounding race in the Kootenays.

These situations, these shootings, they can have implications for my members so I have to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure my members are safe…It definitely gets thrown in our face: ‘what’re you gonna do, shoot me?’ People are very aware of what’s going on.”

Lately those sorts of topics have been coming up more and more, according to Burkart. So following the police shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in the US, events that resulted in a targeted shooting that left five police officers dead in Dallas, Burkart decided he wanted to be proactive about involving himself in the conversation and expressing his solidarity with local residents of colour.

He made a point to attend Let’s talk justice, equality and power, a dialogue on race at the youth centre Wednesday. But after a discussion with organizers in which they asked him to return in civilian clothes Burkart left, calling it “a missed opportunity.”

And he’s not surprised there have been roadblocks to successful communication. According to him, being a cop in a small town is fraught with these sorts of conflicts.

“There’s not a day when we’re out in the public where people aren’t talking about how we’re driving, how we’re conducting ourselves. We’re being filmed and sworn at and assaulted and there’s only one reason for that: we wear a certain uniform and do a certain job.”

He feels that gives him an empathy for those who face discrimination.

“I’m certainly not going to say I understand what people of colour are going through in their lives but parts of it I certainly do, the ways they’re being marginalized. I’ve been eating breakfast in uniform and people will approach me and say ‘hey, I’m paying your taxes, shouldn’t you be out in the street?

“We stand out. It’s not about the colour of our skin, it’s about our uniforms and the vehicles we drive.”

And the discrimination they face can have violent repercussions.

“I do find it upsetting that my members and police in general are being painted with the same brush because of incidents occurring some other place in situations we have nothing to do with.”

All to say that he understands why some people would be uncomfortable with his presence at the youth centre event last week, and he didn’t want to get in the way.

“It wasn’t an easy thing to do, making that request,” organizer Stephanie Meitz, adding that she was thrilled Burkart made the effort. “But I do feel that for people to speak openly and freely about their oppressive experience, it’s important for them to feel safe.”

And having him there, with a gun on his hip, was uncomfortable for some. They asked him to return in civilian clothes.

“He was kind of put off by our request, and maybe that’s fair. Maybe it hasn’t been requested of him before. But he said ‘no problem’ and he was polite and gave us his contact information.”

Burkart said the main issue was that he was on duty, and therefore could’ve been called into action during the meeting. He prides himself on his department’s response time, and cited the successful arrest of bank robber Andrew Stevenson as an example of a time his preparedness was key.

“We have to be ready to respond at any time,” he said.

Meitz thinks this situation demonstrates “that he should be here, so we can have these discussions.”

“It was really great he did come and we’d like for him to join us in civilian clothes so we can further engage in this dialogue.”

Burkart’s game.

“At some point I’d be happy to join in that conversation because I think I have some important things to add. I want to be part of this conversation.”

He’s sad he missed out on hearing community member’s stories.

“I think I might’ve added just as much if not more to the conversation, because I have my stories as well.”

 

Just Posted

Evacuation alert issued for City of Kimberley

Three hours after an evacation order was issued for the St. Mary Valley, an evacuation alert was issued for the nearbycommunity of Kimberley.

Little Wagon Theatre brings comedy to Nelson streets

There will be various performances of It’s Jest a Show throughout the weekend

Hometown gold for rowers at Nelson Regatta

Rosie Velisek and Jesse Harold won three golds Saturday

LETTER: Time to roll back power prices

FortisBC is overcharging customers, Andy Shadrack argues

Taekwondo is a family obsession at Nelson’s Yom Chi Martial Arts

The Jordahls have found success with their Baker Street dojang

B.C. wildfires 2018: Hazy skies impacting crews in spotting new fires

18,000 people are on an evacuation alert, with 3,000 homes under an evacuation order

Minister optimistic after 2 days of Columbia River Treaty negotiations

Canadian and U.S. officials met in Nelson Wednesday and Thursday to discuss future of the treaty

Man dies in B.C. police cell while awaiting court hearing

An independent investigation is underway after a man died while in Penticton police custody Aug. 16

RCMP appeal for tips, dashcam footage in German tourist shooting west of Calgary

The Durango crashed into the ditch after the shooting near the Goodstoney Rodeo Centre

2 nurses attacked at B.C. psych hospital, union calls for in-unit security

PHSA says that in-unit guards would do more harm than good

Former B.C. optician won’t be jailed for sexually assaulting minor

Kenneth Pilkington sentenced to 24 months’ probation for offence three decades ago

B.C. program to educate parents reduces ‘shaken baby syndrome’ by 35%

Period of PURPLE Crying was launched nearly a decade ago

Red Cross now accepting donations for those impacted by B.C. wildfires

The Canadian Red Cross is asking for help now and in the weeks and months ahead.

B.C. golfer, just 23, scores the rare albatross

Six-million-to-one shot a first for the Terrace club

Most Read