Standing with about 100 others at a vigil (November 7) at the very spot in Riverdale Park where teenager Alwy Al Nadhir was shot and killed by police Halloween night, I'm aware that I'm one of only a handful of white people.
That fact says a lot about the disconnect between the neighbourhoods clustered around the park, mostly middle-class and white, and those who knew Al Nadhir, mostly poor and black.
And yet, as I listen to a rep from the Black Action Defence Committee frame his death in racial terms, I'm thinking he's got it only partly right. For here at this hastily organized vigil called Saved the Males, a Portuguese kid speaks up saying the cops are going after his community, too.
Another youth complains about endless petty police harassment. As I lean closer to glimpse his face shadowed by a baggy hoodie, I see a white kid with peach fuzz on his chin.
Vigil organizer Laurel McCorriston, a white woman with a now adult son, tells of his almost constant harassment growing up. Just minutes before Al Nadhir was shot, he and his friends spoke to her, warning her not to step into some nearby glass.
Standing in a circle under a lit entrance to the park's pool, high school chums of Al Nadhir step into the middle to talk about their friend.
An older woman with a Spanish accent speaks tenderly of her time working with him at Wal-Mart.
Many here identify themselves as coming from city housing projects in Regent Park, on Bleecker Street and as far out as Scarborough. They're mostly high school students, some with jobs and immigrant parents, but they all appear to have one thing in common: an utter contempt for and bitterness toward a system that many in the surrounding 'hoods would say is working more or less just fine.
"It's sick when I go outside and worry about cops," says Wanda, Al Nadhir's high school friend. "I'm just a kid. I'm not even a full adult." As I glance around the impromptu circle, I wonder if what I am looking at is Toronto's future permanent underclass.
I imagine these kids adrift on an ice floe watching the hopeful skyline recede. The anger they're expressing suggests they may be imagining something along the same lines. Indeed, race isn't the unifying thread binding this bitter story. Class is.
But amidst the tears and collective hand-wringing that follows a tragedy like this, it's the poverty piece of the puzzle that usually gets sidelined. Instead, we focus on the act: How could the cops shoot an unarmed kid? Did Al Nadhir provoke the officer? How could this happen in such a nice, quiet neighbourhood?
And while the multicultural black community rightly questions the lack of media attention and civic grief over black deaths compared to the outpouring of emotion after the killing of Jane Creba, there's another story to tell.
There was some talk about poverty during the recent provincial election, but not nearly enough, and what was on offer was meaningless. After all, only those who will never have to depend on anything as paltry as a $10 an hour minimum wage could, with a straight face, get behind such a lame-assed poverty reduction target.
Pols continue to chatter about child poverty, too. But tell me, what does "lifting a child out of poverty" actually mean? It's nifty rhetoric, but bogus. To think that the state can reach in and pluck out a child while leaving the parents to Kraft Dinner and minimum wage requires real force of imagination. Next time you hear talk like that, know that it's code for "We aren't going to do a damn thing."
By all accounts, Alwy Al Nadhir was a bright one. He was on track to finish high school, had a part-time job and hopes for university. I'm told he had a winning smile and a sweet disposition. We may never know what happened Halloween night in Riverdale Park, but we can be fairly certain about what happens to the kids of parents with few resources.
Youth coordinator Kim Haynes, who knew Al Nadhir for years through the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, tells me, "We try to make things positive for these kids, and when something like this happens we ask ourselves how we are failing them." She's upset, beleaguered and despondent. "This kid is our future," she says.