2010: A Year of Police Terror

by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan – BASICS Issue #23 (Nov/Dec 2010)

The G20 debacle will be remembered, above all else, because for thousands of student organizers, social justice activists, journalists and onlookers, it was their first experience with savage, un-restrained police terror.

Even the most liberal observer could not simply dismiss what happened at the G20 Summit: The images of protestors being pepper sprayed and clubbed by fully armored thugs, grabbed off the street and thrown into unmarked vans; the testimony of people having their basic constitutional rights suspended; the largest mass arrests in Canadian history; the crude and illegal violence enacted against an entirely non-violent group of demonstrators.

It made clear for many the lengths to which the Canadian state would go to eliminate and repress a perceived threat.

The G20 arrests laid bare for those who hadn’t already realized it the nature and purpose of the Toronto Police Services.

And since then, the Toronto police have met with impunity for their conduct.

The SIU’s joke of an investigation into a mere 6 incidents (two of which have already been dismissed because the offending officers couldn’t be identified in matching riot gear), and Bill Blair’s ridiculous pledge to mount an ‘internal inquiry’ with the RCMP and OPP, have simply made apparent the non-existence of independent civilian oversight over police activities.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of commentaries on the violations perpetrated during the G20 summit, from the surprisingly blunt condemnations of “police misconduct” in the Toronto Star to the statements being put out by various leftist groups and committees, have failed to mention that for particular communities in this city, this police violence (that many found so unbelievable in regards to the G20 weekend) is a daily occurrence in Toronto.

That is, with regards to marginalized, racialized and criminalized areas and people, the police have always been permitted to act with complete impunity and unfettered aggression.
The past year has been a testament to this reality: over the past 5 months alone, six known individuals have been shot or beaten to death by cops in the GTA.

Of these victims, at least three have been young black men and two were individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. All were killed in very disturbing circumstances, which at ‘best’ remain unclear, and at ‘worst’ scream police execution.

This year should also be noted as a period during which Coroner’s Inquests into the three police murders resulted in a congratulation of the officers involved and defamation and criminalization of the three victims.

Eighteen-year old Alwy Al-Nadhir, 28-year old Byron Debassige and 15-year old Duane Christian were killed by police in 2007, 2008 and 2005 respectively.

The Coroner’s Inquests, the culmination of the supposed SIU investigation into each case, resulted in nothing but a few feeble recommendations from each jury, and a confirmation that cops are immune from facing punishment or even judgment for their actions.

But the police killing unarmed racialized youth, or state-sanctioned agencies acting as exonerators and facilitators of police crimes should not come as a surprise to anyone.
The names you see below are simply the latest victims of a continuous and long-running policy.

And it is unfortunate that it is only when this brutality is directed against more privileged people that a more serious examination and critique of policing in this city and province takes place.

It is revealing that student organizers languishing in poor detention conditions for a few hours results in calls of a “brutal spectacle” in media outlets; meanwhile seven police officers beating an unarmed 18-year old to death in broad daylight on a university campus – Junior Manon, May 5, 2010, at York University – while he screams for help is almost immediately revised as the youth ‘dying of a heart attack’.

This is not to minimize the suffering of the many victims of police aggression during the G20 weekend, but rather it is simply to point out that any honest and effective movement or campaign against police brutality in this city must have at its forefront the voices and demands of the communities who are the cops’ primary targets.

It is to underscore that any change to the murderous and corrupt gangsterism that permeates policing in this city will not come about through lobbying or begging officials or reforms to pre-existing structures and policies.

It will instead, and inevitably, be the result of systemic change brought forward by a unified and organized community-based movement.