by Steve da Silva
Activists and concerned residents in the Durham region rallied outside the Oshawa Courthouse in the early morning of September 27 to protest the brutal, racially motivated attack on Dafonte Miller by an off-duty Toronto police officer and his brother.
Two dozen protestors gathered and chanted just before the latest hearing in the trial of co-accused brothers Michael and Christian Theriault who beat and blinded Dafonte Miller in one eye back in December 2016. This is the first hearing that the presiding judge has ordered the Theriault brothers to be present in.
“Indict, convict, send the racist cop to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell,” chanted the protestors as they filled the courtroom.
The rally was organized by the Anti-Racist Network of Durham Region. On its Facebook page, event organizers called into question how seriously the province is taking the case. Legislators are ill prepared and apathetic, says the post, which is reflective of Ontario’s history of failing to hold the justice system accountable for its violence against racialized and indigenous communities.
The Durham region has seen an influx of people of colour seeking affordable housing, and with it, an increase of racist acts of violence, both at the hands of police and other community members.
“I went to high school in Ajax, and police surveillance and violence is nothing new to my experience,” said Rajean Hoilett, a member of the Network. “We had a police officer stationed in our school, and I would see black and brown kids get hassled all the time, and there was a clear school-to-prison pipeline being administered here in Durham region. We are seeing increased police presence in our neighbourhoods, and we are hearing racist rhetoric from our neighbours. Dafonte Miller is not alone.”
Activist and journalist Desmond Cole, who grew up in Oshawa and has been a vocal advocate for the black community and against state sanctioned police brutality against them, was also present at the rally.
“We need to disarm the police,” said Cole. “We need to take away the licence to kill that police officers have. We know what we need to do and we’re pretending like there is a liberal answer, that there’s a way to keep investing authority in a system that kills black people, as if there’s a workaround, a fix, a reno.”
This past week, the Anti-Racist Network of Durham Region, alongside Black Lives Matter Toronto, issued a set of open demands on all authorities, agencies and levels of government implicated in the Dafonte Miller case. They are as follows:
- An independent investigation into the extent to which frontline officers and administrative staff of both Durham Regional and Toronto police services colluded to cover up the assault of Dafonte Miller;
- An apology from both police services to Dafonte Miller;
- Monetary compensation for Dafonte Miller and his family;
- The firing of Michael Theriault from Toronto Police Services;
- The firing of Michael Theriault’s father, John Theriault, from the Toronto Police Services for his role in covering up the assault his son committed; and
- An overhaul of the Special Investigations Unit, including a commitment to:
- release the names of all police officers charged by the SIU
- annually collect and publicly distribute race-based disaggregated data on SIU cases
- publicly release all past and future reports of the SIU, and
- adopt the 2017 Independent Police Oversight Review Recommendations.