Opinion: We protest in solidarity with Ferguson because we are the same

Approximately 3,000 protesters came together at a peaceful protest on Tuesday, November 25 in front of the US consulate in.

Approximately 3,000 protesters came together at a peaceful protest on Tuesday, November 25 in front of the US consulate in solidarity and love for the folks in Ferguson who are suffering from the injustices of a system that wasn’t meant to respect the validity of their lives.

The protest was organized by Black Lives Matter, a Toronto-based, informal coalition of concerned black community members, activists, students, youth and professionals. We are working in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and racialized working class communities in Toronto to actively take on fighting against all forms of police violence and racial profiling.

Organizers, mostly young women and trans folks, specifically asked for nonviolence, and we specifically asked allies to centre blackness in quantifiable ways in order to have black voices heard and black actions visible. Janaya Khan requested for black trans people, black folks with differing abilities, black sex workers – black folks usually left out of the conversation – to come out of the fringes and into the centre of the demonstration. Khan also asked white folks and other people of colour to decentralize themselves by stepping back.

While media focused on how white people were not able to centralize their voices in a conversation about the value of black lives. We were busy challenging several municipal police forces. Chanting “Organize or die,” stating the only options for black people living in Toronto, we want the demilitarization of police, an end to police violence and racially biased policing practices, and not to feel like we’re next in a line of black men, black women and trans folks who have had their lives stolen by the hands of police.

The organizers and almost 3,000 protesters demanded justice for Mike Brown, and then we stood in solidarity. As per the request of the Brown family, we observed a moment of silence to represent the four-and-a-half hours the body of the slain 18-year-old lay on the pavement under the summer’s sun.

Black people are sick and tired of the unequal treatment of our children and young men/women and trans folks. We are sick and tired of being targeted for driving while black, for being stopped, harassed, dehumanized on our way to our homes, work, business and places of worship. I have yet to see a white guy on Bay St. or King St. being carded or harassed by TAVIS (The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy). You would be hard-pressed to find two black men living any where in Toronto who haven’t been.

“Black childhood is considered innately inferior, dangerous and indistinguishable from black adulthood,” writes Stacey Patton, author of That Mean Old Yesterday. “Black children are not afforded the same presumption of innocence as white children, especially in life-or-death situations.”

Among the list of demands the protesters had for the municipal, provincial and federal governments was the fulfilment of all demands outlined by the Jane Finch Action Against Poverty.

The slogan Black Lives Matter is not new to Toronto or North America. It’s a chant to remind folks with power, wealth and those with white privilege that the lives of black people should and do matter – that it is unacceptable for any state-sanctioned force that is paid to provide protection and serve the community to gun down a young man in the streets.

“The shooting of Michael Brown is not an isolated event rather we see this as an event that speaks to the continuation of insidious anti-black racism that has claimed the lives of countless black youth,” reads a solidarity  statement published by the Canadian Federation of Students “We see these events as part of larger societal and political structures that aim to uphold white supremacy through racial profiling, police brutality, and school to prison pipelines for racialized communities.”

Jermaine Carby was shot and killed by the Peel Regional Police on Sept. 24, 2014. “The S.I.U. is investigating the case,” says Carby’s cousin, La Tonya Grant, “but have not given my family any answers as of yet such as why was the car Jermaine was in was pulled over? Where is the driver? What is the name of the officer who killed my cousin? My family and I are seeking justice in this case. And the very little we know just don’t add up.”

Last year, the Black Action Defense Committee launched a class action lawsuit against the Toronto and Peel Police Services on irrefutable evidence regarding racial profiling practices. This is following a history of deaths, wrongful convictions and a disproportionately high incarceration rate of black people, which we believe is fuelled by racism.

Those of us who are mobilizing are young organizers working with minimal resources. We have received some goods and services donated by progressive grassroots organizations, largely we’ve had to empty our own pockets and take time away from our studies, day jobs and families.

How are we different here in Toronto from Ferguson? Well, we’re not. Not really.

But our polite Canadian façade allows matters of inequality and racially biased policing to percolate under the surface, coming to a slow boil. We are on a similar trajectory. Right now, Toronto Police Services uses racially biased carding practices to target non-white Torontonians similar to “stop ‘n’ frisks” in the U.S. Poor and migrant neighbourhoods are targeted by TAVIS, and every day a black man is pulled over for driving while black. Black people wonder if they will be the next Jermaine Carby.

This humiliating, racially based problem perpetuates a cycle of mistrust, anxiety and fear of police within black communities. Toronto’s only difference with Ferguson is that they decided they’d had enough.

Akio Maroon is an organizer of Black Lives Matter, an occupational health and safety consultant, a nurse, fundraiser and activist for sex worker rights.

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