Among our heroes of the year that was, BLM-TO inspired a new wave of youth-driven activists, shook the city’s conscience on policing and dared anyone to deny that Black lives have been and continue to be devalued
It’s impossible to reflect on 2016 and not acknowledge Black Lives Matter-Toronto (BLM-TO) as one of the city’s most significant change-makers.
The Toronto-based chapter of the U.S.-spawned social movement that’s focused on combating anti-Black racism, particularly in policing, spent most of the year making headlines. It forced Torontonians to reckon with homegrown racism in ways not seen since the Black Action Defence Committee in the 1980s.
And like all activists who deploy disruptive tactics, BLM-TO pissed off a lot of people.
But along the way they organized and inspired a new wave of diverse and youth-driven activists, shook the city’s conscience on policing and dared anyone to deny that Black lives have been and continue to be devalued and, in some cases, eliminated by the state.
Their blitz-like actions, including occupying the front steps of Toronto police headquarters for two weeks, deserve serious consideration and respect. Besides confronting power, their in-your-face activism wrested significant concessions from government. Premier Kathleen Wynne was forced to publicly acknowledge the validity of their demands, which brought about a long-overdue comprehensive review of police oversight bodies and a hard-won public inquiry into the police shooting death of Andrew Loku.
Yusra K. Ali
BLM-TO were instrumental in bringing about a review of police oversight bodies and a hard-won public inquiry into the police shooting death of Andrew Loku.
Oh yeah, and then there was that much-talked-about shakedown at the Pride parade.
But success on the seemingly intractable police abuse file, the group’s raison d’être, has been elusive.
Both Mayor John Tory and police Chief Mark Saunders have dodged a genuine face-to-face with the group for close to a year now, even while the city has honored the group’s “new vision of responding to inequities experienced by Black people of African and Caribbean origin in Toronto” with a human rights award. A batch of new but muddled policies on carding don’t really deal with concerns about racial profiling.
When asked what the struggle against carding has wrought, BLM-TO co-founder Sandy Hudson is blunt: “Nothing has changed, nothing at all.”
And therein lies the major challenge for BLM-TO. It has demonstrated it can get the attention of people in power, but to what extent this has resulted in measurable gains that affect the everyday reality of Black people is an open question.
Toronto police chief Mark Saunders has dodged a genuine face-to-face with Black Lives Matter – members of the group had to track him down at community consultations on carding instead.
Black and Brown men in Toronto are no safer vis-à-vis lethal police powers at the end of 2016 than they were in 2006. And we’ve yet to address police violence against women and trans people.
BLM-TO has chipped away at the tree trunk, but the all-important roots aren’t giving.
Prospects for the future, however, and directions for BLM-TO’s energies, remain enticing.
So far their uncompromising stance means they have eschewed institutional and policy approaches, but nothing can be entirely taken off the table for a group that revels in the element of surprise. Not knowing what they’ll do next is what will make them relevant into the city’s foreseeable future.
Human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan rightly situates BLM-TO’s efforts over the past year within a venerable tradition of Black protest.
“But no one can deny,” says Morgan, “that the artistry embedded in their creative, strategic and fervent advocacy has played a catalytic role in changing the Canadian conversation around anti-Black racism in our city and country.” Here, here.