Toronto’s Biggest Gang

More police brutality not the solution to violence in our communities
by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan and E. Jamal Chang
BASICS #14 – June/July 2009

There has been a lot of talk recently about the supposed ‘gang war’ in some of Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods. Over 12 people have been murdered and more than 50 shot in the west-end since January alone; including a 14 year-old youth gunned down on Scarlett Road, and a 5 year-old girl who survived a stray bullet to the chest at Lawrence and Weston. City politicians, corporate media reporters, and so-called “community organizations” have been discussing the conditions in and solutions for the largely black and brown areas experiencing the violence. But the commentaries and proposals have been flawed, and even racist, since they have ignored the role of the state in both causing and creating the conditions that cause violence in the first place. So the project now being enforced on the city’s poor and racialized communities as a solution to gun violence is the boosting and backing up of what could be described as this city’s largest gang: the Toronto Police.

Any honest discussion about the violence in low-income communities in Toronto and elsewhere must acknowledge that police brutality is routine and systematic. It is experienced daily; it is cold, calculated, raw, and at times, homicidal. Because of this, many residents of these communities approach the police with fear, and at times even frustration and anger.

The story of Shak featured in this issue is just one example of violence the Toronto Police are well known for, brutality that escapes both the media lens and any public accountability. Shak’s only “crime” was informing his neighbours that suspicious men (police) were lurking in their backyard. For this the cops pulled Shak off his bike, dragged him out of sight and violently beat him so badly that he later fell unconscious. He is in grade nine. Only one week after that brutal attack, the Toronto Sun released information about 2 black youth in Richmond Hill who were nearly beaten to death by eight masked York cops in September. The cops had broken into their hotel room and tazered them 24 times, leaving one of the youth unconscious and nearly blind in one eye.

Police Brutality in its most extreme form, murder, also takes place in this city regularly. Most notably, 17-year old Alwy Al-Nadhir who was murdered on Halloween night 2007 and Byron Debassige on February 16, 2008.

These acts of violence don’t only affect their direct victims, but are used to terrorize, contain, oppress and silence whole communities. Even families who have the courage to speak out are confronted with a state that uses every means – from the media, to the court system, to the corrupt SIU – to cover up for and justify police brutality.

In this way, the police are agents of the very activities they claim to act against: their fists bruise, their batons smash, and their guns kill. Amidst a worsening economy, poor housing conditions, gentrification, and an unhealthy relationship with police forces, how can we expect to see any real changes in our communities? When the school system isolates, and expels our youth, when the economy leaves them with no opportunities, and when our neighbourhoods are flooded with weapons and drugs, what is to be excepted other than a rise in crime?

The only solution is to come together and unite in our neighbourhoods, to mobilize so we can end the violence ourselves, whether caused in our communities, or from the hands of those employed “serve and protect”.

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