On Policing: A Reading List

July 21, 2020 | margaux s

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The death of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25, 2020, has spurred widespread movements to defund the police. There have been many protests against police violence in the United States, Canada, and across the globe. Toronto has seen a series of protests about Toronto police. Protesters are calling to defund the Toronto Police and redirect funds toward community programs. Further deaths, such as those during police wellness checks in Canada, have continued to drive these demands.

Black lives matter signs in the windows of a building
Black Lives Matter signs in the Parkdale area. "End police brutality. Black lives matter. No justice no peace."

Responses to these calls include a document from the Canadian Chapter of Black Lives Matter. In the document, the group outlines a detailed list of demands. In June, Toronto city council member Josh Matlow brought a motion to the June city council meeting calling to reduce the police budget  by 10% in 2021. The motion failed to pass by a vote of eight to sixteen.

In light of these events, more Canadians are becoming aware of and concerned about racism in our society. There’s a lot of information out there, but where do you begin?

In 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published an interim report, A Collective Impact. This report examines racial profiling and discrimination of Black people by the Toronto Police Service. For a local perspective, it's a good place to start.

Below is a recommended reading list on the criminal justice system, policing and racism in North America. Some of the books included deal with the broader context and history underlying these issues. With more conversations happening around defunding the police and racism, these books offer a bigger picture, beyond social media and news headlines. They tackle answers to questions such as:

  • What is the history of policing in Canada and the United States? 
  • Does Canada face the same systemic racism in policing and the criminal justice system as the United States? 
  • How can communities be safe if we defund police forces?
  • What will it take to see real change when it comes to racism and policing? 
  • What is the difference between defunding and abolishing the police, as planned in Minneapolis? 
  • What policing policies have led to our present day system?
  • Are there alternatives to the criminal justice system as it is today? What alternatives are being proposed? 
  • Have past reforms to policing worked? Why or why not? 



Policingblack Lives book cover

Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robin Maynard.

end of policing book cover

The End of Policing by Alex Vitale.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney.

I can't breathe cover

I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street by Matt Taibbi.

The fire this time book cover

The Fire this Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward.

Who do you serve, who do you protect

Who Do you Serve, Who do you Protect: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States edited by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré and Alana Yu-lan Price; foreword by Alicia Garza.

The colour of the law

The Colour of Law: A Forgotten History of how our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.

the condemnation of blackness book cover

The Condemnation of Blackness by Khalil Gibran Muhammad.

race after technology, book cover

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Technologies for new Jim Code by Ruha Banjamin.

are prisons obsolete, book cover

Freedom is a constant struggle book cover

Are Prisons Obsolete? and Freedom is a Constant Struggle, Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis.


Articles and Interviews

Most of the books mentioned above have holds on them. So here are some relevant interviews and articles to explain a bit more about wellness checks, what defunding the police could mean and more. They're useful reading or listening while you wait for your books.




Recently, we published a Black Lives Matter book list, another list for kids, and a Black films list, which may be of interest as well.


This isn't an exhaustive list of books or articles on policing Black lives. If you have other recommendations, please share them in the comments below!