By Basics Editorial Committee
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” – Assata Shakur
On Saturday March 26th, over a thousand people gathered for #BlackOut Against Police Brutality to demand justice for Andrew Loku and Alex Wettlaufer who were murdered by the pigs. On Monday April 4th, hundreds marched to Queen’s Park, demanded and were granted an audience with Kathleen Wynne, who admitted “I believe that we still have systemic racism in our society”.
Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) forces onlookers to recognize that police brutality exists and that black people in this city are specifically targeted by the police. It also gives voice to the ways that black people and people of colour experience racism in Canada today. Occupying a space like Police HQ shows that people can come together to build inclusive spaces that rely on the contributions, support and commitment of people across the city.
The Black Lives Matters Toronto movement has made concrete their solidarity with Indigenous organizers. BLMTO stood side by side with occupiers of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) office in Toronto, just as indigenous allies had stood with the people occupying TPS headquarters when they were attacked by the pigs in the middle of the night.
As a result of Tent City and other actions, Toronto City Council voted to restore Afro-Fest to a full two-day event and unanimously voted to review the province’s Special Investigations Unit through an ‘anti-black racism lens’. Kathleen Wynne committed to meet again with BLMTO organizers and the Ontario Coroner opened an inquest into the death of Andrew Loku. And Michael Coteau, the Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism has promised there will be public meetings to talk about anti-blackness in policing.
But now that Tent City has come to an end, how will the community prevent police from harassing and killing our people? How will we prevent more state-sponsored murders, such as those of Jermaine Carby, Sammy Yatim, and Andrew Loku? Demanding inquests into the murders of people at the hands of police is not something new and has never changed the way police brutalize and murder the people in our communities.
The state has a long history of maneuvering around the demands of protest movements. In the 1990’s, the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) agitated against the Toronto Police to stop the police’s investigation of police, which led to the formation of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). However, provincial and municipal governments have always found ways to protect the police because the police are accountable to the state, not the people. Today, the SIU is filled with people who are ex-cops and apologists who do nothing but uphold the current system of exploitation that allow these murders to happen in the first place.
We have to ask ourselves: what is it going to take to build strong and independent communities, to disrupt police brutality, and to challenge state power?
Basics Community News Service members have been working with the families of the victims of police brutality for almost a decade now from Alwy al-Nadhir to Junior Manon to Sammy Yatim to Jermaine Carby. In spite of increasing public awareness, the law continues to drag its feet year after year in the case of Jermaine Carby, who was murdered in December 2014. In the case of Sammy Yatim, the law was used to justify the clearance of murder charges against Officer James Forcillo.
“We are not going to eliminate imperialism by shouting insults at it” – Amilcar Cabral
Despite vocal protests against state violence, the demands formed during Tent City will not provide the people with any way of protecting themselves from being brutalized, because the demands are not focused on building up our own power and capacity – they rely on the state agreeing to change for the better. BLMTO organizers frequently chant “the system isn’t broken, it was built this way”. But if the system is working the way that it is supposed to, why do we insist on asking this very system–directly responsible for the oppression we face–for small and incremental changes that don’t address the root of the problem?
The law will never go after the cops who killed Andrew Loku last July, even if they are identified, because that’s the way the system works.
We cannot ask to participate in the colonizer’s power. ‘Freedom’ does not look like black consultation with the SIU or a new body that will replicate the same incompetence. A number of public meetings that were held throughout the province last year had a resounding message: eliminate the practice of carding immediately. But even with all of these public meetings and promises that were made by Yasir Naqvi, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, carding has merely been ‘regulated’ and in some cases temporarily suspended while under review.
But the practice of racial profiling and police targeting black people and people of colour still continues. What will these new meetings on anti-blackness in policing reveal that we didn’t know already? What can they change if the enforcement completely relies on the state and police to follow through on their empty promises?
Do we want to be on their investigation committees after they shoot our families and friends, or should we make sure that another pig does not dare kill another one of our own? Our power and freedom will come from protecting each other, and from creating our own autonomous communities that maintain the livelihood of the people within them.
“Whether it’s in America or the rest of the African world, black lives will never matter until we attain BLACK POWER; which is power in our hands to determine our future for subsequent generations to come.” – Black is Back Coalition
The people who are incarcerated by police know that they are human and deserve justice. What they don’t have is an organized community that has their back. We cannot ask the state to recognize the value of our lives; we cannot ask them for power. Black lives have never mattered to the Canadian state, and they will never matter, regardless of how much we plead for recognition.
For police violence to end in our communities, we must work towards building genuine people power that can be organized to prevent or respond to state violence. Building genuine people power means that we create alternative structures that directly challenge the repressive power of the state.
We don’t ask to be accommodated in the system or try to hold it accountable to the people. You don’t ask your enemy to solve your problems for you — especially when they are the ones who created the problem in the first place.
These tactics have proven successful in communities throughout the city including in the Esplanade, Dufferin and Eglinton and in Jamestown. Community members have made significant interventions the moment cops attempt violence on the streets.
In the Esplanade, when the TPS attempted to falsely arrest a young black man, accusing him of committing a murder that he had no involvement in, the Esplanade Community Group (ECG) intervened and prevented his arrest. When the community faced ongoing harassment and brutalization by constant police patrols, ECG members organized a cop watch and systematically intervened by gathering people around the police and recording video of police interactions. When a member of the ECG was targeted by police who attempted to throw him down a set of stairs, once again the community was there to protest police violence. Actions cannot just invite community members to attend, support and then leave, but must actively integrate them into the organizing.
In the neighbourhood of Dufferin and Eglinton, the police of 13 Division had targeted and terrorized the community to the point where black youth could not move freely in the community. If youth were in groups larger than two people, police would stop them and subject them to pat down searches and other forms of harassment. Youth who were most impacted by this police terrorism decided that they had to organize to change these conditions.
They began meeting regularly in the basement of a local bookstore to discuss the issues of police harassment and engaged in political education including knowing their rights when dealing with the police. This organizing work led to the creation of the Black Fist Defence Brigade in the community, and after a period of six months of organizing, youth would be able to walk the streets in their neighbourhood in groups of five, ten, or more without fear of police harassment. The police could no longer stop and harass these youth, because they had an organization to back them up and the support of elders their community.
In Jamestown, the TCHC regularly collaborates with the police at 23 Division, permits police to conduct searches of tenants’ homes, and uses the police to enforce evictions. When families came under attack by these two state institutions, local organizers in the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) mobilized their members and community supporters to defend them from being kicked out of their homes and put out on the street. InPDUM engaged community members directly with the understanding that the police are an institution of the state, which was built and maintained through the theft and destruction of Indigenous, African and other exploited peoples. With this understanding, InPDUM members did not ask the police to reform their tactics or improve their interactions with the community. Instead, the people recognized that in order to make change, they needed to be organized to contend with the power of the state and police.
These interactions with the police were successfully challenged because there was already a clearly outlined protocol in place for community members to follow. The efforts of InPDUM and the residents of Jamestown reflect how organizing – specifically, having meetings with the most affected, working class members of the community, establishing goals collectively, and demanding responsibility from each other rather than the state – all play a crucial role in developing our capacity to be leaders and protectors of our own communities. This is why organizing tactics must focus on creating trust and reliability of members within the community – our only strength is in our unity and organization. We must recognize this in order to combat a state that exists to eliminate indigenous people, brutalize people of colour and exploit the working class.
Organizing to resist and combat the violence inflicted on our communities by the police is not a simple task. But there are more of us than there are of them.
“We ain’t gonna fight no reactionary pigs who run up and down the street being reactionary; we’re gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we’re gonna fight reactionary pigs with international proletarian revolution. That’s what it has to be. The people have to have the power: it belongs to the people.” – Fred Hampton