New year, same story for Black Lives Matter Toronto?

Two weeks into 2017 and were already on edge, beginning the year with news of another case of police violence..


Two weeks into 2017 and were already on edge, beginning the year with news of another case of police violence.

This time it was a New Years Eve raid on a Black-owned art gallery on the west side that ended in an altercation and the use of a taser.

We know people who were there, many of them artists in our community. Mere hours into the year, our email was flooded with tales of police brutality. Such is the reality of being Black in Canada: those in charge of decision-making and law enforcement continue to be out of touch, dragging their feet in the mud when it comes to making meaningful change.

Still numb from the onslaught of anti-Blackness in 2016, our inbox is overflowing with requests for support, resources and assistance in navigating recurring incidents of anti-Black racism throughout our communities.

As we remember all the agitation of last year, we cannot simply rely on the promise of new beginnings.

Many organizers with Black Lives Matter Toronto have heard the phrase Youve had a great 2016. Its meant as congratulations for a year of history-making struggle. We understand this.

But great years arent made from page views, best-of lists and media interviews. They are made from lasting, systemic change. And in that regard we cant say weve had a great year.

How can there be any celebrating the decades of sorrow, rage and pain crammed into the last 12 months?

Again and again, Black people were reminded of the banality of anti-Blackness.

It was just last year, for example, that the Special Investigations Unit announced that charges would not be laid against the police officers who killed Andrew Loku. We had to sleep outside police headquarters for 15 days to get a response from the province and the city on Brother Lokus death, a peaceful action that resulted in a police raid with children, elders and disabled people present. For some of us, the trauma and resulting injuries remain.

Mayor John Tory showed a lack of courage, trying to divide the Black community by refusing to meet publicly with Black Lives Matter. He announced instead that hed meet with the people he deemed representatives of the Black community.

When those people publicly refused to participate in his plantation-style political games and demanded he meet with us, Tory made a commitment to do so. Yet we have still to meet with the mayor about police brutality, carding and anti-Blackness in this city.

Last year, too, the city announced the reduction of Afrofest to one day. It was the year of hollow pinkwashed police apologies and endless consultations on racism.

Police Chief Mark Saunders repeatedly attempted to discredit our advocacy in 2016, and never once engaged in a single communication with us despite our attempts to contact him and his public statements to the contrary. He has pledged to turn over a new leaf and respect all sides in 2017. We have little hope that his behaviour of neglect and deception will change.

Just outside Toronto, it was the year we watched Constable Ryan Reid of Peel Regional Police, say without remorse in the presence of Jermaine Carbys mother and family that, given the circumstances, he would kill him again.

And last year we witnessed Ottawa police taking the life of Abdirahman Abdi. Numerous witnesses to the altercation report police striking Abdi repeatedly with blows to the head, face and neck.

In 2016, talking about anti-Black racism was hot. Ignoring it was hotter. Policy-makers and decision-makers, quick to consult, were unhurried when it came to action.

Despite it all, Black communities continued to create beauty through calamity, and resistance in the face of injustice with a fervour not seen in our generation.

Black Lives Matter Toronto launched a Freedom School, supported Black arts and built community through Tent City.

Black Torontonians took to the streets in their thousands and brought their struggle to an international audience, proving again and again that anti-Blackness is all too real.

So what of the year that lies ahead?

Its time for the end of the SIU as we know it, the full elimination of carding, a police-float-free Pride and charges to be laid against law enforcement officers who brutalize our communities.

Its also time for a mayor who prioritizes ending anti-Black racism, for Ontarios Anti-Racism Directorate to become a well-funded and a powerful resource for people in distress, and for Toronto city council to force these issues of racism to be worked on in a serious and urgent manner.

Its time for the powers that be to stop hiding when it comes to these issues.

The United Nations has chastised this country for its treatment of Black people. A great year would see political leadership municipally, provincially and federally move from decades of meaningless consultation to action.

Unless we see bold action from policy-makers, this year might prove to be the same as last.

Are we saturnine in our expectations of decision-makers?

Perhaps. But we have faith in our collective power. We will continue to disrupt, agitate and build the better life that we seek.

Rodney Diverlus and Sandy Hudson are co-founders of Black Lives Matter – Toronto.

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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