One of the more plentiful placards at the 150-strong demo at police headquarters on College on March 15, Toronto’s Police = T.O.’s Biggest Gang, seems a little over the top.
But standing on the sidewalk watching and listening to friends of teenager Alwy Al Nadhir, shot dead by a cop in Riverdale Park near the pool entrance last Halloween night, it’s easy to see where it comes from.
If typical teenagers – and all evidence indicates that Al Nadhir was one – continue to face harassment and violence from police, then I guess slogans are just going to get edgy.
“The street can’t take any more of this shit,” says Al Nadhir’s bud, Quanche. “Cops are supposed to lead by example. They’re on us about how we have to get bad on gun violence. How are we supposed to listen to them when they’re shooting us?”
The event marking the International Day Against Police Brutality centred on the deaths of Al Nadhir as well as those of psychiatric survivor Byron Debassige and 17-year-old Jeffrey Reodica, but the sense was that it was really about everyone present.
“While this protest is in the name of Alwy, it is really focused on the rest of the inner-city youth that the police continue to harass, beat up and kill,” Quanche tells me.
Steve da Silva from Lawrence Heights group Basics, tells me that since the Riverdale vigil, held right after Al Nadhir’s death, there’s been growing momentum and mounting demands to see officers charged in Al Nadhir’s death.
“If that doesn’t happen, we’ll step up our campaign,” he says.
But activists in the Justice for Alwy Campaign and its supporters – all those young people in braces, baggy pants and ball caps, some in high school, others in college or university and many from Regent Park, where Al Nadhir’s family used to live – better not count on getting meeting space at the Park’s South Community Centre.
The centre, which Al Nadhir and his family often frequented before they moved, initially agreed to host the group’s organizing meetings.
“We thought it would be the best place to organize, since Alwy and his family have many friends there,” says da Silva. However, shortly before the meeting was scheduled, organizers were told they couldn’t use the space after all.
“Parks and rec prevented us from holding the meeting, and we think it’s because of our focus on police brutality,” he says. “It seems like the cops have influenced the decisions of parks and rec.”
Lucky Booth, acting manager of recreation for the Toronto and East York district, won’t go into details.
“We are preparing a written response to their complaint that I hope will be ready by the end of the week,” he says.
Meanwhile, nearby Central Neighbourhood House has offered meeting space. CNH coordinator Kelly O’Sullivan says supporting this group is part of the agency’s mandate. “We are a multi-service agency that provides programming and advocates for social change,” she says.
“So if the community is dealing with issues like police brutality, youth violence and alienation, it’s important for us to give support.”
Very few details of Al Nadhir’s death have been made public. At least one other person was in the park with Alwy. “That guy is refusing to speak to us about what happened that night,” says da Silva.
Many speakers at Saturday’s rally are also angry at the pace of the investigation by the province’s Special Investigations Unit. “Ideally, we like to have these investigations wrapped up in about 30 days,” SIU spokesperson Frank Phillips tells me later.
“However, with this one we have been waiting on forensic results to come back to us. Once that happens, we can complete our report.”
Al Nadhir’s sister, Salma Al Nadhir, who says her little brother had a part-time job, no police record and was planning to study mechanical engineering, is anxiously awaiting that report.
So is his mother, Muna Bafagih, here surrounded by a clutch of supporting friends, her face ashen. “I hope justice will prevail,” she tells me.
Steve da Silva on the campaign against police brutality and the silence from the SIU around Alwy's death:
Quanche, Alwy's friend on the vibe on the street among youth about the police:
Salma Al Nadhir, Alwy's sister talks about: what her brother was like:
Salma Al Nadhir, Alwy's sister talks about:what plans he had for his future:
Salma Al Nadhir, Alwy's sister talks about:how her mother is holding up:
Salma Al Nadhir, Alwy's sister talks about: about the Justice for Alwy campaign:
Some friends of Alwy speak: