Black community reps pen open letter to John Tory and Doug Ford on gun violence

Black community activists, scholars and artists say initiatives to curb gun violence will only further barricade and quarantine Black communities already under economic pressure from government policies



At a recent meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), a motion by Mayor John Tory seeking $4 million from City Council to install new surveillance technology known as ShotSpotter in predominantly Black communities was passed. 

The microphone technology, which is already being used in predominantly Black communities in many cities in the U.S. as well as Cape Town, South Africa, is designed to identify the location where shots are fired, but has been widely criticized for its lack of accuracy and oversight. 

In addition to the decision to install this technology, the Mayor has announced plans to deploy 200 additional officers to police these communities between the hours of 7 pm and 3 am, ostensibly in response to a recent rise in shooting incidents. The measures go before council today.

These initiatives will only further barricade and quarantine Black communities that are already under economic pressure from government policies ushering in an unprecedented era of unaffordable housing and meagre job prospects for young people.

Mayor Tory has made it clear that the shootings in predominantly Black communities and elsewhere in the City are the work of “thugs,” “sewer rats,” and gangs – racist and dehumanizing language that is reserved, it appears, for when the perpetrator is alleged to be Black.

This City and its leaders have historically relied on harsh and deadly policing measures when dealing with Toronto’s Black communities. 

For example, the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), which Ontario Premier Doug Ford has signaled he plans to reinstate, is responsible for the racial profiling and unlawful arrests of untold numbers of Black people going about their daily lives.

The practice of carding – central to the function of the TAVIS program – has been documented to cause immeasurable harm to those it targets. It has had negative impacts on the mental and physical well-being of our communities, with consequences that have far too often been deadly.

Black activists and community workers fought tirelessly to get rid of this initiative, which was halted under the Liberal government. The Premier’s move to reinstate TAVIS – and the recent disdainful tactics by his Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Michael Tibollo and City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to don bulletproof vests while in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood – are clearly based on the racialized discourse of Black people as criminals and dangerous, and our communities as violent cesspools.

The approximately 50,000 residents who call the Jane and Finch area home walk around and live their lives without bullet-proof vests every day.

The new Premier of Ontario also moved the Anti-Racism Directorate and other initiatives to end anti-Black racism in the City, under the control of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, a decision that only reinforces the links of Blackness to criminality and the prison industrial complex.

Research and common sense show that an increased militarization of police does not curb gun violence and certainly is not focused on prevention. One only need to look south of the border for proof of that.

What the city needs now is to understand that violence is a public health issue, social issue and economic issue. Our communities need mental health supports, social and economic programs that create healthy communities and ease economic hardship.

The $4 million allocated to the ShotSpotter technology would be better spent on programs that are part of a human-centred, violence prevention approach, rather than being added to the more than $1 billion the city already spends on policing.

We demand that Mayor Tory and Premier Ford end their anti-Black approaches to curbing gun violence in communities populated by Black families and that they immediately bring an end to TAVIS and the deployment of ShotSpotter technology.

We demand that the millions approved for militaristic interventions in these neighbourhoods go to community initiatives to provide affordable housing, jobs, and social and health services.

We demand the removal of the Anti-Racism Directorate from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. 

And we demand that the Mayor and Premier stop referring to Black youths in this city as “thugs” and other dehumanizing terms, and work with communities to find appropriate and creative solutions to end gun violence.

Signed,

Idil Abdillahi, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Ryerson University

Beverly Bain, Women & Gender Studies, University of Toronto, Mississauga 

Dionne Brand, poet, novelist and essayist

OmiSoore Dryden, Chair and Assistant Professor, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Thorneloe University, Sudbury

Sandy Hudson, co-founder Black Lives Matter – Toronto

Robyn Maynard, Author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery

Abdi Osman, photographer, artist

Christina Sharpe, Professor of Humanities, York University

Christopher Smith, Graduate student, Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, OISE

Rinaldo Walcott, Director of the Women & Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto

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