Community Group Launches Civil Rights Struggle
Kirstyn Whightman, Solomon Muyoboke, & Farshad Azadian – BASICS Issue #19 – May/June 2010
On March 3, some 60 residents of the Esplanade neighborhood came together to address the pressing issue of police brutality. This event, held at a local recreation centre, wasorganized by the Esplanade Community Group in response to several incidences of police brutality and harassment. This turnout, made up of residents of all generations, came together to launch an organized response to defend the community against police violence.
The event featured a presentation on several cases where police had murdered youth in Toronto and Montreal, and the subsequent political responses mounted by those communities. Cathy Crowe, a community member and NDP provincial candidate for Toronto Centre, also spoke about her experience fighting police brutality in her work supporting Toronto’s homeless. Several Esplanade youth, who have since become politically active, gave a presentation on their experiences as well.
As shocking as the stories were about youth being beaten up or illegally detained, most disturbing were the stories from children as young as ten years old who had been stopped, questioned and searched by the police. These stories highlighted a lack of access to education about civil rights, which naturally resulted in the inability of these youth to defend themselves when illegally searched.
These experiences drew attention to the need for a clear program of work in our community focused on educating youth about their rights, acting as a liaison between community members and affordable legal services, and mobilizing the community in a political fashion to address police brutality.
While stories of harassment continue to be reported in the community, an incident in the neighbouring Moss Park neighbourhood is particularly striking. Francis Akuar, a father of two children and a long-time resident of Toronto, got in contact with members of the Esplanade Community Group to report that he had been assaulted by 51 division police while detained at the police station.
This blatant violation of human dignity and abuse of power occurred on April 2, 2010. Francis had been at a bar at Queen and Sherbourne, where a dispute broke out between himself and the bartender. The police stepped in and arrested Francis, charging him with assaulting the bartender. The bartender, however, never accused Francis of assault, although she complained that he had thrown a bottle against the far, empty wall of the bar as he was leaving. There was no report of resistance during the arrest from either police or witnesses.
At the police station, Francis was put into a holding cell. At some point, during his hour-long stay, he requested water from the police by waving at the camera. It was at this point that two police officers, who were not the arresting officers, grabbed Francis and began beating him. He suffered severe injuries to his face, accompanied by minor injuries to his torso. It is important to note that the police never reported any misbehaviour on the part of Francis during his detention, nor during his arrest. That this happened on police premises (perhaps even on camera) indicates a certain ingrained culture of abuse within our “finest”.
As many of our readers can attest to, this kind of police abuse is prevalent in working class and poor communities in Toronto. The police force acts like it is outside the boundaries of the law. With no real accountability, and with minimal organized community response, it is easy to see why this kind of treatment continues. It is for these reasons that we, the Esplanade Community Group, have decided that enough is enough. We are going to stand up for ourselves and take responsibility for the violence in our communities – and that means challenging a corrupt, unaccountable and criminal police force.
This incident also shows us that organizing efforts cannot be isolated to one community, because there is no question that the police who commit abuses in Moss Park are the same ones that will patrol the Esplanade community (or St. Jamestown or Regent Park for that matter). It is in this spirit that the Esplanade Community Group states that it will help and support residents in other communities, such as Moss Park, in developing grassroots working class organizations that will stand up on issues such as police brutality, housing and good jobs.
If you are interested in getting involved, organized or want to report incidences of police mistreatment, contact us at: esplanadegroup@gmail.