On Saturday, March 26 at the 149th hour and seventh day of peaceful protests outside the Toronto Police headquarters marked gains of momentum far and beyond anyone’s imagination, cumulating to one of the largest peaceful protest the city of Toronto has ever witnessed.
Years of systemic discrimination, injustice and police brutality fueled the revolutionary movement, but more importantly love and solidarity triumphed in an effort to dismantle violence and systemic racism.
The peaceful protest was joined by labour unions, students and indigenous groups.
The event coincided with a week-long, and counting, tent city demonstration (#BLMTOtentcity) occupying space outside Toronto’s police headquarters. This followed an announcement days earlier that the police officer who shot and killed 45-year-old Andrew Loku in a Toronto apartment building last July would be neither charged, nor named.
The influx of people forced the police to shut down College Street between Bay and Yonge Streets. The crowd’s spirt was heightened by live entertainment from various artists; many danced and sang along as the night continued.
Loku, described by many has hard working and ambitious, was a father of five, a refugee and former child soldier from South Sudan. He lived in an affordable housing complex where he was confronted by two police officers and gunned down while allegedly walking toward them with a hammer.
The only civilian witness to the shooting has disputed the sequence of events as reported by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the body tasked with investigating police-involved crimes, such as shootings.
The #BLMTO demonstrators are calling for justice for Luko, an end to police violence and anti-black racism. The specific demands have been outlined as follows:
•The immediate release of the names of the name(s) of the officer(s) who killed Loku and charges to be laid against the officer(s)
•An overhaul of the province’s SIU, in consultation with families of victims of police violence and the black communities
•A condemnation of Toronto Police’s excessive use of force and ongoing intimidation tactics against Black Lives Matter Toronto protesters.
•The immediate release of the name(s) of the officer(s) who killed Alex Wattlaufer, and charges to be laid
•A commitment to the full elimination of carding, including: the deletion of all previously recorded data, consistent implementation amongst different police boards, and concrete disciplinary measures for officers who continue to card.
The demands have been praised for addressing all levels of change: service, policy and system. This comprehensive approach is only the beginning to decentralizing power that will enable us to have an inclusive and equitable society. In addition, it marks an important phase within the #BLMTO movement, a movement that has vowed to continue the peaceful protests until demands have been met.
The protest has gained significant success with the restoration of Afro-fest to a two day festival.
Previously made a one day festival due to restrictions placed by the city of Toronto, anti-black racism has been pointed out as the root cause of such a restriction by #BLMTO members.
Three Toronto councillors have drafted and handed in a motion to city council calling on the province to ensure police services and investigations are fair and transparent as activists continue to protest against the fatal police shooting of a black man in the city last year; an address from the city regarding the demands of #BLMTO is expected on Monday.
Toronto police have been criticized for utilizing unnecessary force, demonstrators said officers were violent as they poured a black tar-like substance over their belongings, including firewood used to help people stay warm.
“We acknowledged as a community that [Monday’s police raid] was a tactic to get the tent city to break down and to destabilize the movement. Since that happened it only served to galvanize the community, and we’ve been able to set everything back up and have been able to withstand police intimidation throughout the week,” Rodeny Diverlus, co-founder of #BLMTO said.
“Every single day there’s something new, whether it’s shutting off the power, whether it’s removing the only public garbage cans in the area…whether it’s coming in and removing materials and signs and constantly intimidating, constantly having their presence known, and really making it very clear that we as protesters aren’t welcome here — while simultaneously going in the media and talking about support for peaceful protests, talking about support for the resisters and the chief of police saying they welcome criticism and welcome residents challenging them.
“So there’s a disconnect between what’s being said by the police and their spokespeople in the media and what actually happens on the ground. The protesters have been really strong and staying put, and really figuring out ways of being flexible when the police are intimidating and attacking us.
We know that the police already have power and we already know that the police often wield that power in excess. So for us as black communities, it’s something that we’re already used to. If the police think that we’re going to go away just by creating a really uncomfortable situation for us, I think that [instead] they’re going to see black people’s resilience and strength.”
Despite these challenges #BLMTO support has significantly increased and supporters are encouraged to show solidarity in any way they can, constant updates of needs are made through social media platforms.
The movement has combating violence and racism with love and acceptance with indigenous communities showing solidarity by welcoming the #BLMTO on to their traditional through singing and drumming, homeless persons being provided with food and shelter and people across all identities (women, queer and trans folks) being provided a platform to lead voicing the injustices they face through various forms of expression (music, dancing, painting etc.).
The movement highlights the constant narrative in mainstream media that justifies the actions of authorities when black people are killed.
“So, for us, we want to shift the narrative from talking about the victims to talking about the perpetrators,” he said.
“So often victims of violence are discredited in the media…to suggest that the victims might have deserved what they got — that the victims had a history of violence, et cetera,” said Diverlus.
He continues to emphasize anti-black racism is not a Toronto isolated case, in fact it is occurs on a national and global case.
“So I always encourage other communities to plug into the movement and to find the ways that anti-black violence and police brutality affects their communities as well,” added Diverlus.
One of the most important lessons we can learn from this movement is that anti-racism- the act of recognizing that it is not enough to not engage in racist behaviour and use of your position of privilege to battle racism while fully comprehending the fact that you will never know the systemic/racist barriers that people of colour have to confront in their day to day lives.
It also acknowledges the complex facets race and race relations present, and is an important aspect of dismantling systemic racism.
The #BLMTO movement provides the platform to engage in anti-racism efforts, folks can show support through donating money (through [email protected]), donating time and keeping up to date with #BLMTO movement through various social media platforms.