May 16, 2016

Black Lives Matter TO's Tent City: “Those in power that don’t serve the people - you are on notice!”

Shay Lafontaine

The colonialist-imperialist Canadian state has murdered, impoverished, and sentenced to abject misery countless people worldwide in the name of corporate greed, most often targeting non-white nations, namely in Africa. The Canadian government also offers support to the racist apartheid state of Israel and plays a role in the colonial occupation of Palestine, and has been involved in illegal coups worldwide, such as in Honduras and Haiti. This oppression is not solely exported - the same brutal occupation tactics that Canada supports and uses around the world are exercised over the racialized population within Canadian borders.

As many studies illustrate, racialized families are disproportionately denied their right to employment, impoverished, homeless or lacking access to food.[1][2] Police target and harass racialized groups (predominately Black Canadians), and in Toronto, through the controversial ‘carding’ system, this practice is official policy. A run in with police for a Black person is more likely to end in a charge, or even murder.

Some of the Black Canadians most recently murdered by police in the GTA were Jermaine Carby, Kwasi Skene-Peters, and Andrew Loku. Loku was a 45 year-old man from South Sudan, where he lived through over a decade of civil war before fleeing to Canada. He went to college, married his wife, and had five children. His neighbours who lived above him in his apartment building were constantly creating noise, stomping and blasting music. He endured this for months and tried everything to stop it, noise complaints, personally pleading, attempting to drown the noise out with music of his own, and even sleeping in the basement laundry room. But the noise didn’t stop and Loku, who had a history of mental illness, was fed up. On the night that he died he picked up a hammer, walked upstairs, and starting banging the walls, the noisy neighbour’s door, and the railings in the stairwells, demanding attention in a desperate plea for the noise to stop. The police were called and upon arrival, an officer shot him dead in the hallway. This was in July of 2015. In response, Black Lives Matter Toronto, a group formed in 2014, took a series of actions that led to mass action in Toronto resulting in significant victories.

On March 18th, 2016 the Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) ruled that ‘justifiable force’ had been used in the murder of Andrew Loku. The killer cop’s name would not be released, he would not be charged, and he would continue to serve on the force. In response, #BLMTOtentcity was born. Protesters demanded a coroner’s inquest into the Loku shooting, that the officers involved in the shooting be charged and have their names released, the elimination of the carding system, condemnation of Toronto Police violence and overhaul of the SIU.

The Tent City was born after a rally at City Hall. Nathan-Phillips square was temporarily occupied before moving to the Toronto Police Service headquarters on College Street. The peaceful act of protest was met with violence - police punched and kicked protesters, and destroyed tents. Mayor John Tory refused to publicly meet with BLM leaders. Instead of looking at the racist and violent Canadian state, many media outlets opted to instead criticize the way some BLM organizers articulated their frustration with racism. While the corporate media and far-right racists scrutinized old tweets, BLM Toronto gained mass support. A poll revealed that 55% of Torontonians support the movement and understand that anti-Black racism is a serious issue in Toronto. [3]

CUPE Ontario and the Toronto & York Region Labour Council declared solidarity. On March 26th, after the first week of the Tent City, a mass rally was held, drawing thousands. Solidarity came from all sections of the Canadian masses, including Indigenous people, Asians, Muslims, Sikhs, and queer, trans and disabled folk. The space was transformed into one not only of resistance, but also of art and healing. Paintings and posters were displayed, music was blasted (I heard Rihanna’s “Work”, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and Beyonce’s “Formation”. BLM TO also released a mixtape) and protesters danced. This was not only an act of healing in the wake of racist state violence, but also one of rebellion. One which forced the so often suppressed blackness, Black cultures, and Black people centre stage - not only their struggles but their art, their songs, their dances, and their humanity.

Messages of solidarity were plastered across the space, not only from other groups with BLM but also from BLM to rape victims/survivors (in reference to the Ghomeshi trial), as were harsh condemnations of Police violence, and even the Canadian state as a whole. Many evoked imagery of the Black Panthers (who were of course, Marxist-Leninists), some signs featured quotes from Black Communists like Assata Shakur. Some signs had criticisms of Canadian action in Africa. There was an air of a disillusionment and frustration with the bourgeois government as a whole, whether it is run by racist Conservatives or racist Liberals. Despite the official more pragmatic demands, the tent city gave the feeling of a broader struggle - one which calls for full Black liberation, one which demands a more revolutionary change, and one which leads to deeper questions and struggles against the imperialist, capitalist, and racist Canadian state as a whole. BLM TO’s solidarity with Somali refugees only served to further illustrate this. [4]

Kathleen Wynne visits demonstrators outside Queen's Park
after the Tent City became impossible to ignore.
The occupation lasted over two weeks, and eventually the protesters won a visit from Premier Wynne while rallying outside Queen’s Park. More importantly, one of their key demands was met and an inquest into Loku’s death was called by the Ontario government. With the Tent City packed up and a partial victory won, the movement has not subsided. BLM TO has declared solidarity with the Indigenous people of Attawapiskat in light of the recent suicide crisis and the group participated in the occupation of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) building on St. Clair. Organizers have made clear that the struggle is not over and they still want to see all of BLM’s demands fulfilled. They have warned Toronto police, and all elements of the Canadian state that do not “serve the people”, that the masses were watching them and gave them 300 hours to meet the rest of their demands. [5]

BLM TO’s success has inspired new groups and protests in cities across Canada, including Ottawa, Victoria, Montreal and Vancouver. The message is clear - Black Lives Matter has done a great deal to raise anti-racist consciousness in Canada. More and more people can see major flaws in the capitalist, imperialist, colonialist and racist Canadian state and are beginning to demand and struggle for structural change. Black and Indigenous peoples are at the forefront of this struggle.

Notes
[1] http://www.cwp-csp.ca/poverty/just-the-facts/
[2] Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market - https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/canadas-colour-coded-labour-market
[3] http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/04/14/majority-of-torontonians-support-black-lives-matter-poll.html
[4] https://www.facebook.com/blacklivesmatterTO/posts/491176331077862
[5] https://www.facebook.com/blacklivesmatterTO/posts/485808011614694
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This article is printed in Issue 20 of Rebel Youth which is now available! The issue deals has a focus on racism and anti-racist struggles. Find out more and subscribe today!

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