Yesterday, May 7th would have marked the 78th birthday of Dudley Laws.
In Dudley’s honor, a celebration of his life will be held every year to remind us how much he cared for his community. In the final hours before his death as he lay in his hospital bed dying, Dudley instructed members of the Black Action Defense Committee to carry forward and continue all that he had worked tirelessly for since the committee’s inception in 1988.
The Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) was co-founded by Dudley Laws, Charles Roach, Sherona Hall and Lennox Farrell in response to growing numbers of unarmed black men, shot and killed by Toronto police. The shooting death of Lester Donaldson, a man experiencing a mental health crisis, was pivotal, in moving Dudley and BADC’s co-founders to action. The group pushed for independent police oversight, accusing police of targeting black youth, racial carding and profiling.
It has been said by every member of BADC, I have had the privilege and honor to speak with, that Dudley Laws was untiring and fearless and that he took all the risks for all of us in his effort to end police violence against unarmed young black men.
Arnold Minors, keynote speaker, at the Dudley Laws Day celebration this past Sunday, spoke of the experience of a black man while being relentlessly targeted, hunted down by a Toronto police force with impunity. Can you imagine trying to live your ordinary life and being tracked continuously? Can you imagine being watched by police so set on silencing your voice and stopping your efforts that every law including those of the late 1800′s are considered to prevent your success? This was the life of Dudley Laws.
Dudley was targeted, set-up and attempts made to find some measure of law-breaking to charge and incarcerate this activist, halting his mission to end police violence against his people and other citizens. In the end, police found nothing with which they could apprehend and contain this man, concluding what everyone else in the community already knew – that Dudley Laws was a decent, hard-working, law-abiding citizen, contravening no law.
Reuben Abib, of the Black Action Defense Committee and the Never Again Coalition, clad in blue hospital gown blazoned with the words: NEVER AGAIN! spoke of the recent shooting death by Toronto police of Michael Eligon, 29-year-old man, father of an 8-year-old boy. Michael Eligon, holding only scissors in each hand and threatening no one, wearing only a hospital gown, socks and a toque was gunned down by Toronto police on a cold February day. Abib spoke of the urgent need to support BADC through membership and action, stating current goals were calling for total civilian oversight of police within the SIU and for police impunity to end.
Roger Love, Advice Counsel for the African Canadian Legal Clinic, spoke of the need for independent analysis by social scientists of the data compiled and gathered by the Toronto Star a decade ago on racial profiling and carding to prove the hypothesis that racism and racial profiling exist within the Toronto police force. Love stated that it is not possible that the 49% of incarcerated men are black and this is representative of black men in the community. It is not realistic to state that 49% of black men in the community are not law-abiding citizens. Black men are jailed for minor infractions of the law that non-blacks are not being incarcerated for. Why is this?
It has been said that the police are afraid of the black man. Dudley Laws asked, why is that? Black men are not shooting police officers – they are being shot by police officers and are not retaliating.
Racquiah Topey, proud supporter and assistant to Dudley Laws for the last 15 years, tells me, “It is lonely at the BADC office without Dudley there.” Racquiah shoulders the burden that Dudley once did. She answers all the phone calls, assists her people and others in the community in need, as Dudley would have. She listens to the phone messages – threats and hateful comments, peppered with the ‘N’ word and sighs, then carries on with the good work that Dudley started.
Racquiah spoke out to the crowd with passion, loudly, to not let the efforts of Dudley Laws die – to get involved in body and spirit. This is the only time I have seen gentle Racquiah, with quiet, polite, polished reserve, speak animatedly and with such verve. She returns to her former mellow self once seated again.
In 1996, I witnessed the shooting death of Tommy Barnett by Toronto police. I was shocked to discover that truths were re-interpreted and facts twisted to support the police version of events. I could find no one in either my white community or the black community in my area who would champion the cause of this young man, Tommy. Complete apathy. The white people thought I had it wrong. The black people believed, but worried for the safety of the community if truths were spoken about or issue raised – just leave it alone was the advice, which I sadly followed. I wish I had know about BADC and Dudley Laws in 1996.
Today, black woman say – you are a white woman so you will be shocked by the death of black men at the hands of Toronto police, but this is everyday reality for us – not shocking. Quiet resignation, silent defeat, stay safe, maintain the status quo.
This racial cleansing must stop.
The Never Again Coalition formed in response to the shooting death of Michael Eligon by Toronto police – another unarmed black man, one experiencing a mental health crisis – one in need of our help and assistance not execution and elimination. White people witnessed, held a vigil, felt sad, still feel sad, feel outraged, shocked by what they have come to realize – that their community is not safe for all Canadians equally.
Black and white members of the Never Again Coalition and any others – individual or groups who wish to assist us in standing up for the rights of any oppressed persons profiled or violently transgressed by police who have witnessed police violence against the unarmed or those who are simply outraged by this unjust treatment of our Canadian citizens are welcome to join us in changing policing in the city of Toronto, the province of Ontario or the country of Canada and carry forward the vision Dudley Laws had for all Canadians.
Dudley Laws’ vision was the creation of a just and equal society and an unmitigated stand against police violence towards members of the black community, poor whites, First nations and oppressed people. Dudley has said that while growing up he learned the precious value for honor and respect for human lives and the expectation of a better and a more caring world.
Dudley couldn’t have said it better and I couldn’t agree more. Together we can create an equal and just society. Together we can fulfil the vision Dudley Laws had for a better and a more caring society – equality for all Canadians is the path towards a Canada we all want to live in – safe for all of us.
Darlene Marett, RPN, BAA Nutrition and Family Studies
Member of: The Never Again Coalition, Black Action Defense Committee
Administrator/writer of: peopleschoicemovement.com