Peoples choice movement

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Archive for the tag “toronto police”

Two Conversations With Former Toronto Police Officers

I had the opportunity to speak recently with two former Toronto police officers.  Both conversations were unique, candid and surprising.  Due to the candid nature of the conversations and concerns about publicly announcing viewpoints that may bring repercussions to both former Toronto police officers, I have chosen to keep their identities anonymous so that they would feel free to disclose. One of the officers now works in health care. The other continues to work in law enforcement.

Officer #1:  Male, married, 40-something

PO #1:  So what’s this blog about?

Me:  I write mainly about social justice and civil rights issues for racialized, marginalized and vulnerable persons.

PO #1:  Hmm.  Why, do you get paid to do this?

Me:  No.

PO #1:  So you just do this for fun?  What, do people write to you and say stuff like ‘good writing’?

Me:  Not really.  The blog is pretty controversial.  Not everyone agrees with my point of view, and … might not really like   what I’m going to say next.

PO #1:  (taking a deep breath, shifting position and straightening his back)  Go ahead.  You can tell me anything you want.

Me:  You know there have been a lot of shootings of black youth by the Toronto police since the 1970′s and I’m looking into it.  I also think the Somali kid who got shot in the alleged home invasion in Peel seems a bit unusual, too.  So I wrote about that, too.  That blog sparked a lot of hateful comments.  Many comments I could not approve and some of them were overtly racist so were inappropriate to publish on the blog.

PO #1:  You know, you don’t look like a cop-hater.

Me:  I’m not.  I just think that policing should be ethical.  There was a police officer last year that had to bring in another police officer who had been drinking and driving and..

PO #1: (he cuts me off – not maintaining eye contact, looking away to the side) So what do you care if some Somali kid got shot?

Me:  Because I do.

PO #1:  So you want your kind of justice.

Me:  (I’m beginning to feel quite anxious here, but I continue on) My kind of justice?  Shouldn’t justice be the same for everyone?  Tell me you don’t care about this Somali kid.

PO #1:  (maintaining eye contact with a great deal of effort, gritting his teeth)  I..Don’t…Care. (the corners of his outer eyelids droop in sadness)

Me:  You care.  I can see that you care.

PO #1:  (looking to the side, shifting position, sighing) No I don’t.  They shoot each other, too.  Didn’t you know that?

Me:  (sadly)  Yes, they do.  I’ve been writing about something else, too.  I witnessed a Toronto police officer shoot a black kid back in 1996.  I saw the whole thing from start to finish.

PO #1:  (he starts writing down what I say)  Okay, when was this exactly?

Me:  January 10th, 1996.  The black boy was Tommy Barnett.  They say he had a sword, but it was only a flag.  I saw the whole thing from my apartment window.

PO #1:  (sounding edgy, writing again) What was your address?

Me:  3 Claxton Blvd. apt #302.

PO #1:  Who was the shooting officer?

Me:  ( I tell him the officer’s name)

PO #1:  (sounding angry)  You’re talking about my friend.  I worked with that guy.  And that kid was a man.

Me:  That kid was 22-years-old.

PO #1:  That’s a man. (spoken emphatically) I can’t deal with this.  I’m not talking to you about this.  I’m getting someone else(He begins to walk away)

Me:  Does your friend know I’m writing this blog?

PO #1:  No. And he’s not gonna know.  I don’t want him to know.

Me:  How is he doing?  Is he still working as a police officer?

PO #1:  (still upset, edgy) Yes.  He’s doing just fine.  And yes, it was a flag, but there was also a sword.  You should read the entire inquest before you write these things.  It’s not as if you..well, yes you did see it, so…(with some sarcasm) okay, so tell me all about it.  So you heard the sirens and you went to the window.

Me:  Actually, I don’t know what brought me to the window, I don’t remember sirens but anyway…I went to the window and I see a cruiser in the middle of Bathurst St close to what was originally Haber’s pharmacy.  The cruiser was parked on a diagonal across Bathurst St.  The officer was standing outside the cruiser on the driver’s side and moved along the length of the vehicle until he was closer to the back near the trunk.  With his back to the cruiser he took aim and shot.  It happened pretty quickly. It seemed like just a few minutes between him watching Tommy and the shooting taking place.  The other officer didn’t seem to want anything to do with it.  He was standing on the other side of the cruiser, sideways, looking over.

PO #1:  (stated matter-of-factly) There wasn’t another officer there.

Me:  Yes, there was.

PO #1:  (less matter-of-factly, more casual) Oh yeah, that’s right he did have a partner sometimes.  Well, you don’t want to know what I think of him, ratting Ben out like that.

Me: (I don’t know if this is true or not, but I want to see the officer’s reaction) He didn’t.

PO #1:  (visibly taken aback, pulls his head back and straightens up quickly).  You know it was snowy that night.  The ground was icy.

Me:  The shot was from at least 15 feet.  That’s quite a distance.

PO #1:  It was icy.  You know I’ve gotta give you credit for looking into this, but you’ve got a lot of nerve doing this.  (incredulously) And, you put your actual name on your blog and your picture?  That’s not a good idea.  If you were my sister, I’d tell you to..

Me: (cutting him off) You’d tell me not to do it, right?  It’s dangerous to write about this, isn’t it?  I want people to know who is writing this so that it can be verified.

PO #1:  Listen. I’m not gonna tell you not to do this but do it by proxy, okay?   You’re writing about this stuff, but you don’t know how it is.  You don’t know what its like when you’ve got someone pointing a weapon at you and you have to protect yourself.

Me:  One black teenager was shot in the back.

PO #1:  (emphatically)  I’d shoot someone in the back, too.  If I’ve got a person who was a threat to my partner, I’d shoot him and I don’t care what my supervisor says or the chief of police.  You got that?  And if someone was running towards you with a weapon in their hand, I wouldn’t worry about whether I was shooting centre mass or not, I’d ram them with my vehicle if I was in it.  (sarcastically) You want to sit at home in your nice little house and watch tv after dinner with your nice little families while we’re out here dealing with all this stuff so that you can feel safe.   So, you can feel safe.

Me: (thinking to myself:  I don’t feel safe with ‘police justice’) That boy who was shot in the back didn’t have a weapon, wasn’t threatening anybody.

PO #1:  That guy you saw shot.  Did you know he was giving us a hard time?  Did you know he was giving us trouble?

Me: (dumbfounded, wondering what kind of hard time Tommy gave the police that deserved being shot in the head)

PO #1:  I’ll bet for five bucks you can get a copy of the whole inquest.  You need to read the whole thing.

Me:  I’m going to do that.


Officer #2:  Female, separated, 40-something

Me:  I had an interesting conversation with a former Toronto Police officer the other day.  We were talking about my blog and the shootings by Toronto police officers of black youth.

PO #2:  Shootings of black youth?

Me:  Well, there has been quite a few shootings since the late 1970′s and nothing has changed.  I saw a black guy get shot from my apartment window by a Toronto police officer in 1996.  I didn’t speak up back then, but I’m writing about it now on my blog.  I started after Michael Eligon was shot last year.  He was wearing only a hospital gown, toque and socks when he was shot by Toronto police.  He was holding blunt-ended scissors in each hand at his sides walking towards police when he was shot.

PO #2:  What?

Me:  When I talked with this former Toronto police officer, he said that he’d shoot a kid in the back if he had to.

PO #2:  (incredulously) In the back?  How can you shoot a kid in the back?  That kid better be facing you and he better have a weapon in his hand.

Me:  Nope.  No weapon.  And, the police officer who shot that kid in the back was not charged.

PO #2:  What?  If I had to shoot a kid, he’d have to have a weapon and I’d have to be in danger and I’d wait until I absolutely had to.  It would be a hard decision.

Me:  How do you’d think you’d feel afterwards?

PO #2:  I’d want to quit.  I think any officer who shot someone would find it difficult to work after that.  That’s how much it would affect someone.

Me:  The officer who shot the guy I saw shot, is still working.  Others are, too.  How long did you work for Toronto Police?

PO #2:  Two years.

Me:  That wasn’t long.  What happened?

PO #2:  I was always getting into trouble.

Me:  For what?

PO #2:  I wasn’t hard enough on people.  I’d feel bad for someone if they were upset and I wouldn’t give them a traffic ticket sometimes.  I was also kind to the people we took into custody.  My supervisor didn’t like that.  So, I quit.

Me:  Do you think it might have something to do with being female or male?

PO #2:  No.  There are female officers who are just as bad as the guys.  You know, arrogant, tough, cynical, suspicious.  Some are tougher!

Me:  Do you miss policing?

PO #2:  Yeah.  Thinking of applying for OPP.  You know, there are police officers who haven’t drawn their gun in thirty years of service.

Me:  Wow, that’s good to know.

Police Dishonesty: Will Reporting Officers Lies During Testimony Make a Difference?

It is official.  Police who lie during testimony in court, are to be reported.  But to whom?  Will they be reported back to their police chiefs as the final judge of police conduct?  What will happen then?  Will the police officers be disciplined or will it be forgotten and swept under the carpet?  Will it matter?  Will it make a difference?

Although the number of police officers who lie is purportedly a small fraction of police forces, should we ignore it?  Should we pretend it doesn’t matter because it is only a small number of police officers who lie?  This seems to be the current position of the Toronto Police service.  Will this continue to be the position of the Toronto Police service?  And does it serve a useful position?  Is there a reason why the Toronto Police service would prefer to cover-up,  particularly those in positions of greater authority over the men in blue, such as the chief of police?

Is this cover-up not simply a lie as well?

It may have been an understandable position, to cover-up the lies of police officers in the past, hiding the ugly, human side of policing for those who found some justification for doing so.  To hide the truth would be to maintain an air of integrity for the entire police force.  To hide the truth proves without a doubt that all police officers are honest, up-standing citizens we can all count on to do the right thing and to serve and protect the public.  Of course, this is the image that the Toronto Police service wishes to convey to the public.

And while the cat is not out of the bag, this serves to be a useful projection and guise - to cover-up.  Fooling the public, while the public wishes to be fooled is a great marketing advantage and tool.  A perfect political move.  Namely, a public who wants to believe that all police officers are honest and looking out for their best interests and a police service funded by the taxpayers with huge sums of money not questioning their integrity, or questioning where the money is allotted, or if the money is even being used wisely…or if this ‘tough on crime’ position is in the best interests of the public.

Unfortunately for the TPS, the cat is out of the bag.  Fortunately for us.

But, only if we no longer believe that our police chief, Bill Blair or any subsequent police chief will allow a cover-up of a police officer’s actions and lies during court testimony after they have sworn that they will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Only if we no longer have faith in the actions of the SIU, who have sanctioned multiple cover-ups, police chiefs who allow cover-ups of police officers indiscretions, police chiefs who allow bullying of honest police officers by their less than honest police colleagues.

Vickie McPhee, executive director for Rights Watch Network, is encouraged by this decision.  “The decision that Crowns have to report officers that lie during testimony in court moves the issue of police misconduct to the forefront and takes a shot at the Blue Sheild of Brotherhood with the police services and association.”

McPhee explains, “Over the 15 years I have spent as an Advocate I have attended a number of cases where a judge has made, on the record, statements about conduct of officers needing ‘review’, ‘investigation’ what-have-you.  However, the reality is the crown is trying to win the case whether the officers lie or not they do not care; they just want to win.  I disclaim that I believe all crowns to take this position but it is the inherent best practice within the court system.  Now when an officer lies and the transcripts reveal it  the defendant has a right to a copy of the transcript and can hold Crowns accountable. The defendant can file the complaints through the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OPIRD), they can file other complaints through other available streams for redress.  The decision gives individuals represented by the Rights Watch Network an opportunity to prove that an officer has violated the Police Services Act and they have a right to redress.  Officers engaging in Profiling fit this.  We will make utility of this decision as test cases. The decision has utility for our clients and I look forward to testing what process will be followed by the Crowns forced to report officers.”

McPhee also believes that it opens the door to increase Ombudsman complaints and build the need for greater oversight for that
body.  A revolution is afoot she says and she is enjoying the small changes.

Conversely, upon hearing the news, Yafet Tewelde of Justice Is Not Colour-Blind, tells me he is reminded of something former Civil Rights leader Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael would say: “all things change all the time it is a scientific fact.” Tewelde says, “He would say this to show that this applies to white colonial state-power (i.e. Canada) as well because this type of power must adapt to the demands of society. We must remember the current political context that this decision is arising in; there is currently a massive amount of criticism of the police and unchecked power. This is especially seen here in Toronto with numerous reports on racial profiling and the groups, such as Justice Is Not Colour-Blind, fighting to have this addressed and the outrage around police abuse after the G20.”

Tewelde adds, “This decision shows that resistance works and challenging state power is the only way. However, we cannot rest on our laurels because the system will give us solutions that still maintain unjust white supremacist control. We must ask how we can trust a system to all of a sudden challenge police when this same system has given police a mandate to carry out Canada’s goals of suppressing progressive political actions through abuse and degradation. This is a smokescreen to pacify the growing anti-police movement.”

As a community, we need total reform of the Toronto Police Service and the SIU to hold accountable all police officers who are dishonest and sully the image of their brethren who do not lie, and do uphold the law.  This, for all the cops who swore their pledge of allegiance to the Toronto Police Service to serve and protect, believing they were joining a group of men and women with the highest degree of integrity possible.  This pledge to serve and protect, with the highest degree of honesty because this is who they were.  Great men and women of integrity.

It’s time to restore the Toronto Police service to what the public believed it was -  a police service they could trust.

A cover-up and protection of the few without integrity is to completely dishonour those men and women of the Toronto Police service who do uphold the law.  The ones who really do serve and protect us.

There has been a lot of talk lately about a disorder commonly known as PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that affects police officers who have seen other police officers shot, or have been completely stressed by their job, similar to those who have served in the military and have fought during war.  There is some controversy about the authenticity of its existence by those in the psychological scientific community.  Some psychologists believe that PTSD is simply post traumatic stress, which is a normal response to stress, rather than an authentic disorder.

Perhaps some police officers are coping less well to the demands they are under from their superiors and from the policing culture in general that emphasizes support of colleagues at all costs, encouraging the suppression of the truth.  For more ethically minded police officers, it would not be difficult to imagine that clinical depression would be the result of factors not under their control with the pressure of the thin blue line.

I wonder about those honest police officers who have seen dishonest cops shoot and kill an innocent person, followed by a cover-up by the entire Toronto Police service.  I wonder how stressed they feel.  The ones who didn’t take part, but were complicit in the cover-up because they didn’t know where else to turn…because no one would believe them.  Because the chief of police reminded them that no one would believe them.  This, because the unsuspecting and complicit public believed and wanted to believe the lies were truth too.

I wonder about the other police officer standing on the opposite side of the police car, in January 1996, trying to look away while Tommy Barnett was shot.  I wonder about his PTSD.  I wonder how he’s holding up.  Secrets are hard to keep, when they are filled with others lies.  Post trauma stress, duress, a pretense that a single lie is truth.

James Bishop: Is Police ‘Use of Force’ Police Brutality?

On January 11, 2011 43-year-old James Bishop and his 11-year-old son visit the Scarborough YMCA and play a game of hoops in the gym, joined by other members of the YMCA playing bball.  In an uploaded video to You Tube entitled, “Toronto Police Thugs Gang Up & Beat Guy Senseless,” captured on YMCA security camera is an image of James Bishop’s son subjected to watching his father beaten into submission during arrest.

I watch a young man of 11-years-old, stand helplessly at his father’s side while police speak with him.  It is not clear what is being said by the four Toronto police officers or James Bishop, but sometimes it is easier to understand intention and reaction by observing body language while in a state of ‘deafness’.   I watch the YMCA security video several times over and watch different aspects each time.  First, I watch James Bishop during arrest.  Second, I watch the police during arrest.  Third, I watch James Bishop’s son during his father’s arrest.  Fourth, I watch the other men’s reaction during James Bishop’s arrest.  I will watch the video many more times and try to see what I didn’t see the first time.

This is the beauty of actions caught on video camera.  What you didn’t notice the first time, can be viewed again and again until clarity is gained.

What strikes me first is the police action.  They approach James Bishop and speak to him.  One officer notes the security camera by glancing briefly towards us, the viewers.  Does he warn the accompanying officers that they are being monitored?  Eventually one officer moves behind him.  James moves away from the other three officers.  It is clear that James is avoiding contact with the officers he is facing by backing up, but why?  Have the officers stated that he is under arrest?  We don’t know because the YMCA camera does not have audio so we can only watch.  Suddenly, James is surrounded by the four officers and they bring him down to the ground with force after a struggle.  It is clear by security video image that after James is brought to the ground, he is hit forcefully with the police baton when one officer raises the baton over his head and strikes James with it on his shoulder.  I recoil and wince, wondering if James’ shoulder is broken after the bodily trauma of this assault.

After several minutes, James Bishop is cuffed, but something is not right.  My nurses trained eye, the eye that blocks out superficial ‘noise’ to make a clear assessment of someones health status, notes James’ body language and comportment – the determining factor in deciding a person’s health status and whether they need medical help.  James suddenly slumps over to the ground.  Once the police officers have raised James to his feet he tilts his head back and it is obvious he is short of breath.  I see his chest rising and falling rapidly as he struggles to breathe, craning his neck, lifting his chin up to improve airway flow.  His shoulders rise in a vigorous attempt to use accessory muscles to gain extra air entry.

When the heart is failing to effectively pump enough blood, the blood that carries oxygen to each cell necessary for life, pain is sometimes felt, but not always.  This pain may be felt in the chest area, the left arm or the back, or a combination of areas.  What is painfully clear, is that James is not receiving enough oxygen.  When the heart does not pump effectively to supply oxygen to the entire body, during a heart attack, it feels as if one is unable to breathe.  Beyond feeling pain, if any, during a heart attack, the overwhelming feeling is suffocation.  I see James suffocating as he tries to inhale and I recognize the signs of a heart attack.  I see that the Toronto police officers bent on ‘use of force’ tactics do not take notice.

Does James tell the officers that he can’t breathe?  I would imagine so.  I saw him in the security footage before the brutal takedown, bent forward, leaning in, arms at chest level, motioning firmly with his index finger pointing in a repetitive arcing motion to punctuate his intention and the point he was attempting to make with the police officers.  Clearly he was trying to explain something to the police officers before arrest, I would imagine he would at least say that he couldn’t breathe at some point, either during the arrest or after.

I notice while watching the security footage, when I watch the other YMCA members, that they too, are clearly distraught by the event.  They attempt to move in, then back away as a police officer points his baton at them firmly and says something I am unable to hear.  The men try carefully to come to James Bishop’s aid.  They converse with each other and motion with their arms, palms up and forearms out asking “why?” with their body language.

One black man holds up what appears to be a cell phone and seems to digitally capture the event.  I see someone who appears to be from the YMCA try to stop the man filming, the man moves away.  I see others peacefully and respectfully intervening, trying to explain something to her.  I see her nod her head.  I see another person, male, who also appears to be working with the YMCA, arrive to stop the filming, and once again he moves away and continues.

Then, I see something I do expect to see.  A police officer, back straight, with a ‘I-am-in-charge’ body language approach the man filming with the cell phone, take it from him, go back to the other police officers.  The cell phone is returned to the rightful owner and I see him checking the cell phone.  He is talking to the other men and explaining something.  He looks as though something has been altered on the phone because he does not look settled.  Something is wrong.

I wonder if the police erased the image and the sound captured.

I don’t wonder why the police have done this.  They know they will be questioned.  They know they will have to answer for their actions.  They also know that with less evidence, backing of the police union, along with preventing the SIU and the Toronto Police Services Board from doing their job, complicit with the attorney general and our government’s political system, they will resume their policing jobs with impugnity and some minor inconveniences, even if they didn’t get James Bishop medical attention in a timely fashion.  They are not worried.  They will not be held accountable.

The Toronto Police know that taking care of an assumed perpetrator and keeping them safe is not their job.

The Toronto Police know that use of force and making arrests to keep others safe is their job.

One thing I didn’t notice.

James Bishop’s son, the eleven-year-old boy who stood with his hands at his sides, body motionless as he tried to figure out how to help his Dad; the boy – one of the civilians the Toronto Police are mandated to include in keeping our lovely city safe, was only acknowledged, when he tried to help his Dad by moving closer.  This acknowledgement delivered as a warning to stay back by the arresting officers results in the boy standing unattended, unsupported.  Alone.

As his Dad is being escorted out of the YMCA gym, James Bishop’s son slowly follows, but not too closely.  The police ignore him, but James’ son has already learned that the police are not there to help him or his Dad.  He keeps his distance as he follows them out trying to figure out what he will do next.  He knows he will not  ask the police for help.

Jim Rankin reports in a piece entitled, ‘Police sued for $2M after brutal arrest’ in the Toronto Star, July 9th, 2012,  that James Bishop says, “I’d like the police to be retrained to deal with people like myself, that are boisterous.  Learn to calm people down and talk to them.  Don’t start by beating them.”  James’ wife, Sofia Sandiford has fears and of repercussions for the family and her husband.  Jim Rankin writes that Sofia says, “When I think about going up against the Toronto police, to me that is a little bit daunting.”

It is a little bit daunting.

I, too felt afraid to speak up about the brutality I witnessed during Tommy Barnett’s murder by Toronto police officer.  I worried whether there would be repercussions to myself or my interracial family, too.

Watch the You Tube video below.  Decide for yourself.  Plan to join me in supporting the Bishop family with this daunting task.  If we all stand together, we are strong together.  Together we can make a difference in policing, bring about changes and greater diversity in the justice system.  We can, together, help people like James Bishop and his family and  all the other families affected by Toronto police brutality and violence.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and encouraged.  Together as a community, let’s support James Bishop, his wife and family.

SIU Investigations: Inherent Bias a Fatal Flaw with Faulty Analysis

Lead investigator Carm Piro of the Special Investigations Unit is not a police officer or a former police officer.  He is, however, one of the SIU team’s investigator’s who, according to the Star newspaper, had formerly worked part-time as a private detective and enjoys investigating – a quasi-cop-like role.  The Star piece quotes Piro, “I don’t approach any investigation with bias.  I have no bias toward anyone.”

Can anyone actually say they have no bias?

We all live with bias.  To err is to be human.  To be human is to be biased.

How do I know this?

When conducting research, particularly scientific research, one must account for inherent bias.  This occurs with all researchers.  To counteract this, one employs within research design, a parameter known as the double-blind method.  What is the double-blind method?  It is a method that completely offsets the bias one assumes –  bias, often without conscious awareness.  Research bias takes the form of silent subterfuge in any researchers methods of collecting data as the researcher unwittingly attempts to influence outcomes.  And even if a researcher is aware of the potential for bias, one cannot assume awareness of biased findings can prevent it.  The researcher has a ‘stake’ in the outcome and can influence the findings to suit the outcome he is looking for.

So, if the researcher, a social scientist and the director of a youth program, is researching, let’s say, the beneficial result of a youth program and the program is one that will continue if outcomes for youth are favorable and the outcome will be funded given favorable results, the researcher will want the results to be favorable given the fact that his/her employ will continue if the program has been effective.  Even if the researcher is entirely altruistic, an extremely rare if not impossible, state of being, scientists assume bias is possible if not probable, hence use of the double-blind method.

The double-blind method tallies findings based on the findings being ‘unknowns’ to the researcher, so the researcher cannot ascribe value to any given fact as they do not know the source of the fact.  For example, in the research on the youth program and whether the program benefitted the youth, a definition would need to be assumed as in, let’s say, something mathematically quantifiable such as improvement in school attendance – number of days the youth attended school in a given period of time.  The researcher (director of program)  must not be aware of whether the number of school days in attendance is a reflection of a particular youth in the program or one who is not in the program so as to not bias the research.  This method reflects a blind method of collecting data.

A double-blind method would have youth who are in a program designed to improve school attendance and another youth program as a control group not designed to improve school attendance without the youth themselves aware of which youth program they were assigned to.  The researcher tallying results would not be aware of which set of data is initiated from either – being ‘blind’ to the data so to speak to prevent bias.  With double-blind methods, both the research subjects themselves and the researcher is ‘blind’ to the data collected. This results in the purest and least biased outcomes, however scientific research is not complete without noting potential flaws in research design and potential bias in conclusions drawn.  Then, there is always peer review which attempts to duplicate conclusions many times over before even a tentative conclusive conclusion is drawn.

So, how can this be compared to SIU lead investigator, Carm Piro and his statement of being completely unbiased in his research and investigation of a Toronto police officer?

First, there is the knowledge that 27 cases have come up before the courts, 3 convictions are the result.  As Carm Piro heads into the investigation he is armed with the biased knowledge that most investigations result in exoneration for the police officer.  So Piro begins to investigate with the biased assumption that the police officer probably hasn’t done anything worthy of conviction.

Second, he has spoken with the police officer and unfortunately is unable to speak with Michael Eligon who the police officer killed.  Without Michael Eligon being able to speak in his own defence, it is unclear what, if anything Michael said as he wandered towards the police officers, wearing a hospital gown and socks, holding scissors at his sides.

One witness I spoke with said that Michael Eligon said nothing at all.

Funny, although, there seems to be a ‘bounty of witnesses…an investigator’s dream’, plus in-car police video and forensic evidence, how is it that this witnesses knowledge has not become an important factor in determining the truth?  It looks like the bias of 11 police officers plus countless SIU investigators who are not unbiased towards the police.  And, the police refuse to show us the in-car video.

And, another thing.  One police officer heard Michel Eligon say, “I want to die.”  If this is so, is this the reason the police officer who shot and killed Michael Eligon must be exonerated?  So, if you or I walk towards a police officer and say, ‘I want to die’ and are suicidal, that you or I can get my wish?  All it takes to get shot and killed is to walk towards a Toronto police officer holding anything in your hands that can be misconstrued as a weapon or implicated as a weapon and say,”I want to die” ?

Right now, I hear all the police officers reading this say a resounding YES!  Of course!  This is what we’ve been saying all along.  If we ask you to drop your weapon – scissors, kitchen knives, pens or pencils, or flags and you do not do this and you keep walking towards us, or you look like you might walk towards us and especially if you say you want to die:  you will die.  We will shoot you dead with our glocks.  How many times do we have to tell you this?

This is the third bias.  Piro begins this investigation knowing that it is customary for police officers to shoot people walking towards them with objects in their hands and if they do not drop the ‘weapons’, drop to the ground, submit and surrender entirely, no matter whether they can hear, speak or have the mental capacity to follow police demands, that does not matter.  The police are correct and impugned due to their correctness in this assumption.  And, it is an assumption, supported by the chief of police, the police union, the attorney general, and the Police Services Act.

And, we, the public really have no say about that, do we?  The Toronto Police Services appear to be a state power unto themselves.  Certainly this is biased thinking at it’s best and Piro has the job of investigating it because he agrees and has assumed it too.

This is not unbiased thinking.  This bears repeating…this is biased thinking.

When all Toronto Police Officers are subject to the same laws that we observe, due process will begin.  All police officers must be subject to the court system as civilians are.  And we, the public, must see due process in action.

If this does not change, it does not matter how many unbiased, so-called, civilian SIU investigators the Toronto Police Service thinks they have.

We, the public, are not buying it.

It’s time to reform The Toronto Police Services Act.  It’s time to reform the SIU.  It’s time to reform, period.

It’s time for accountability.

Corrections – Punishment or Pushing Potential? The Eaton’s Centre Shooting – Part II

Christopher Husbands, 23-year-old, Eaton’s Centre shooter, turned himself in on Monday at 52 division.

Media discussion has primarily centered on the guns and gangs aspect following a brief lull where everyone questioned whether the shooting was gang related or not based on lead homicide investigator, Det. Sgt. Brian Borg’s noteworthy comments referring to the possibility of gang involvement but not the probability – comments made before we knew who the shooter was; before he turned himself in.

Det. Sgt. Brian Borg stated after Husbands turned himself in, that police believe the shooter encountered the two victims with known gang ties by happenstance and unfortunately in a very bad location.  This means that the shooting was not targeted or meant to happen at that particular time – not premeditated.  The shooting also sounds like the culmination of rage unleashed due to the shooters aim in three different directions.  There were only two gang-related victims and they were not in three locations when the shooting took place.  The shots fired were somewhat random and in a busy of the saddest aspects of this particular event because many people were injured.

From media accounts to date regarding the Eaton’s Centre shooter, it seems as if Det. Sgt. Brian Borg has the most common sense of all.  I suspect that Det. Sgt. Borg is a seasoned police officer who, given his vast experience, does not arrive at conclusions haphazardly or quickly.  Judging from his cautious and reflective statements vs the knee-jerk comments of others, I imagine that Det. Sgt Borg has been giving this situation some deep consideration along with careful analysis, thorough fact-finding, and research – the basis of any valuable detective work.

It seems that there are some anomalies in this case, that Det. Sgt. Borg has been noticing from the beginning.

1.  The two ‘gang-related’ victims did not appear to be together – they were at opposite sides of the food court – hence the happenstance theory.

2.  The location was a food court – not a usual place for shoot-outs and gang rivalry and turf feuds. (Happenstance Theory)

3.  Christopher Husbands turned himself in.  How many gang members are turning themselves in following shootings? (Is this a true gang member, gang revenge killing or an angry frightened youth caught up in a world of gang involvement he probably had little ability to avoid?)

Did Christopher Husbands do something wrong?  Yes.

Should Christopher Husbands be disciplined?  Of course.

There is just one small issue we should consider, given the facts at hand that are compelling enough in their authenticity and rawness that we must consider them.

Christopher Husbands father, who grieves for his own son’s inescapable incarceration due to the choices his son made on June 2nd,  is only slightly overshadowed by the  grief that Ahmed Hassan’s family is experiencing due to the choices their son made two months prior when he involved himself in Husband’s stabbing and now lies dead in a modest coffin.  Christopher Husband’s father says, according to Toronto Star reporters, that his son was a quiet, happy child growing up in Guyana and that he was a good guy coming up, but that as a teenager living in Regent Park, he started getting into fights, then scrapes with the law.

What do we know of Regent Park?  We know that Regent Park is a tough place to grow up in.  We know that many families choose to live in Regent Park due to tough economic circumstances, whereby they have little choice other than to raise their children there.  Regent Park is not as it’s name suggests ‘a walk in the park’.  Regent Park changes people, notably innocent children coming up, growing up.  It changes adults, too, but in other ways – breaks their spirit, strips away self-esteem, reduces their humanity, frightens them and raises their stress levels to near-heart attack levels.

Try taking your middle class backgrounds and survive a night or two in Regent Park with gunshots, and the press of overwhelming sadness, grief, and loss of hope all around you…the falling through the cracks as you try to shore up your family and try to make something healthy and sound of your current circumstances.  Try adding to that a lack of education in this country or lack of education recognized by this country and added to that, a loss of your former culture in your previous country of origin, loss of family and friends from your country of origin, loss of language – a necessity to obtain employment that pays the bills.  And watch your children watch you go through all the pain of loss and watch them lose hope , too.

This was the life of Christopher Husbands before he walked into the Eaton Centre.

This could have been my children’s life, too.  My son could have been Christopher Husbands.

In 1989, the year that Christopher Husbands was born, before he immigrated to Canada with his parents as a young boy of 11-years-old, I moved as a single mother with my two very young children to Toronto in search of a better life for my family.  I had nothing.  But, I had some advantages.  I had the advantage of being born in Canada, knowing the language as my mother tongue, being a part of the culture so I knew how to cope within it…and I knew about the notorious Regent Park.

I had two choices and I looked carefully at both of them.  I knew that each choice would be a trade-off of advantages vs disadvantages.  If I chose to live in Regent Park, I would be closer to school – a hop and a skip away and the rent would be affordable making maintaining my mental health with the reduced stress of an affordable apartment a huge part of maintaining sanity by keeping the slow creep of depression at bay, keeping me in school and floating my dream of escape from poverty alive. On the other hand, I could live near Forest Hill in the Bathurst/St Clair area and pay a ridiculously high rent, but my children would be surrounded by well-educated, professional people with schools filled with their children who would then influence my children’s life in a way that provided hope and chances for opportunity and growth.  And it would be safer.

I chose the hardest ‘economic’ road.  I chose the Bathurst/St Clair area.  Then, I struggled.  I struggled to pay the rent that in 1989, was $860.00 per month.  I had, at one point, only $10.00 per week to pay for the food for one adult and two children.  Luckily, in 1989, the government was very helpful to single mothers who wanted to go to school, so while I attended school, the government covered the cost of daycare for my two children and that included a hot nutritious lunch for them every day.  I lived on peanut butter, bread and tea and reminded myself that it was only until I graduated, then I would get a good job and we would all be doing better.

School and the hope it provided for the future is what kept me going through the hungry nights and days while I studied hard, listened well at school and felt completely different from the other carefree students busily enjoying their lives.  I remember at many points during the school day how odd this all seemed that I would be sitting in a classroom and that I should just quit and try to go it without education, while my stomach rumbled reminders to survive and that food was priority over learning.

Christopher Husbands parents when immigrating to Canada did not have the advantages that I had.  I was luckier – much luckier.

My kids were much luckier that they had a parent able to understand the potential of these choices, then, had the ability to choose other than Regent Park, protecting them from the ravages of Reagent Park…the downhill slide into gang life influences and gang life culture.  Christopher Husbands father says he tried to beg him to keep out of trouble.  I believe him.  Unfortunately gang life does not give you options.  In Regent Park, gang life does not ask you if you want to belong or not.  Gang life is like a devil chasing you until you relent with exhaustion and agree to it’s terms - terms that don’t let you escape from it’s clutches like a terminal cancer until it ends your life…death…or incarceration.  Two choices that both lead to the end of your life as you know it.

Regent Park ended the life of Christopher Husbands.  The culture of Regent Park tore away any hope of a bright future for Christopher Husbands.  So, while you may not see Christopher Husbands as a victim…sadly, he is…a victim of Regent Park.

But, there is hope.  A Regent park worker, named Kevin Jeffers has changed numerous lives.  Daniel Dale, a Toronto Star reporter writes, Anna Ferrone states,”If Kevin wasn’t around to inspire and motivate the youth, many would be either in jail, in a gang, out on the street or even worse.”

The trouble is, Mayor Rob Ford doesn’t believe we need more youth workers.  Mayor Rob Ford believes we need more sweeps, raids and pumped up police presence to get rid of these gangs.  Trouble with that is when you remove one gang another comes along to replace it like pouring water into a bottomless pail it keeps on flowing and the police with their pumped up presence, catching the water as it flows out the bottom and containing it.  But, what are we containing?

We build more jails and more jails to house all these young men who could have simply had a better opportunity to begin with.

Councillor Pam McConnell has put forth a motion asking council to protect the youth workers until a review is completed in September.  Outreach workers connect young people in poor neighborhoods with programs and services, provide mentorship and guidance.

So, Mayor Rob Ford, if you’re listening… which sadly, you don’t seem to do –  this city is begging you to consider the effect and cost to your budget and the cost savings of building less jails and funding more youth workers, or at least keeping the ones we have.

Rob Ford.  You said that you don’t believe we need more youth outreach workers, that we have enough.  Crime is going down every year.  If you prefer to cut the youth workers from your budget, expect that stat to reverse and expect a deficit in your budget.  Jails are expensive and housing youth is expensive and the ripple effect both financially and spiritually is endless and mathematically speaking, exponential in effect.

I like the way Michael Gray Kimber puts it,  “Couldn’t we build a dream instead of a prison?”

If you agree, forward this ‘post’ to Mayor Rob Ford.

Eaton Centre Shooter: An Alternate Viewpoint

Like you, I have been reading about the Eaton’s Centre shooting.  Like you, I am horrified with the outcome:

13-year-old boy, shot in the head

25-year-old woman, Tasnia Mahmood, shot in the knee

22-year-old man, shot in the leg

22-year-old woman, shot in the hand

22-year-old man, Nicholas Kalakonis, shot in the thigh

23-year-old man, described as black, wearing jeans and having dreadlocks, shot several times in the neck and chest who may have gang ties and may have been targeted

24-year-old Ahmed Hassan, black man, known to police and believed to have gang ties who was shot and killed by the shooter

Perhaps, unlike you, I note the conversation, see the inferences, read the words, but also note the difference you may not see.  Highlighted above are the differences.  May have gang ties..may have been targeted…known to policebelieved to have gang ties.  When we tease these words apart from the others we see that these are inferences only.  May and believed mean possibly, they don’t mean probably.  But, possibly is not the conclusion most readers will arrive at.

In Joe Fiorito’s article, ‘Eaton Centre shooter a coward’, Fiorito writes, ‘You two-bit thug.  You thing.  You it.  You worse than the scum I scrape off my shoe….You lousy s.o.b….You worthless chicken…you’re a sad-ass.’  We read these words paired with our outrage and sadness over the shooting, learn that the shooter is black, with dreads, wearing a hoodie..or was it a light brown coat?  We begin to form opinions and conclusions and believe we understand what happened.

We believe that a shooter associated with a gang, targeted two black men known to police or definitely with gang ties – bad, black men did this.  Three, bad, black men who if they were not known to police, or didn’t have gang ties or were not black and were not in the Eaton Centre food court, this would not have happened.

I think differently.

I would like to challenge your assumptions.  Yes, they are assumptions.

Do we have gangs in the city of Toronto?  Of course.  Is this a gang related shooting?  Not yet known.

According to the Star, detectives have since said that Hassan was known to police and that the shooting was targeted; he was believed to have gang ties.  However, Det. Sgt. Brian Borg, lead homicide investigator in the case stated, “Whether this is a gang-motivated shooting has not been definitely determined..but I can say that it is closely being looked at, given that at least one of the victims has known gang association.”

What does ‘known to police’ mean?

I recently learned at the YYC meeting in Weston-Mt.Denis, that ‘known to police’ is a high-school youth who has been asked by police who he is, on the streets in his area 10 times in the last year.  Does he have a record?  No.  Is he a good kid?  Yes.  Is he working with and involved in his community?  Yes.  but, he is known to police.  Yes.

Carding and racial profiling, 208 carding, results in a body of information, a list, of known black men whether they have committed any crime or not, whether they are up-standing, law-abiding citizens or not, simply by wandering around in their neighbourhood.  Known to police includes all black men in a certain area.

It seems as if the police just want to get to know who are the gang-related black men and who are not, doesn’t it?  I might believe this if a black youth hadn’t been carded 10 times in one year.  In his own words, “Don’t they know me by now?”

And, what worries me, is the conclusions the public arrives at when they hear the words, known to police.  It sounds as if there is a black man known to police, then they certainly must be a criminal.  The flaw in this collective thinking, leads to two outcomes.  One, a black man is guilty before being proven innocent.  Two, black youth are at risk for believing this, too.  The sad outcome for all society is that our unchallenged and uneducated belief system leads to condemnation for all black men and black male youth by society in general.  Condemnation by all black men and black male youth becomes the belief system for the black people, too.  They might not think they believe it, but when faced with these allegations every day, it is hard not to believe somehow, maybe subconsciously, that they really are bad after all.  And what does low self-esteem lead to?  A hunger for recognition?  Power?  Retribution?  Righting a wrong?  Anger?  Lashing-out?

The real sadness is that a society that believes these ideas without challenge, is an entire society at risk.  A society which includes not only the black man, but all of us together as a whole, that does not challenge faulty perception is an unsafe society at risk of social unrest and social breakdown.

If this act was committed by gang rivalries, this begs the question.  Why?

We may think we have come to the correct conclusion when we think we have all the facts as given to us via the media and the police.  Perhaps, we should be asking more questions after the outrage subsides.  Perhaps we should be asking why we have gangs, why black men are drawn to gangs and what purpose does gang inclusion serve.  We should also ask how as a society we can help to resolve this social issue, rather that judge, turn away in disgust, believe we are somehow better, believe that these youth are just bad people.

If we don’t want to be a part of the resolution then at the least we should try to understand it and support those who do.

I support those who do.

Watch this blog:

Police Whistleblowers – Why there are few if any and the blue code of silence

Whistleblowing.  What motivates it?  What prevents it?

Many of us can relate to the desire to tell, to unburden, to inform, especially when harm is being done to others.  A few take the risk and tell, but at what cost?

David Hutton, Executive Director of FAIR – Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform which works to protect whistleblowers who protect the public interest, recently writes, Dr. Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerrard Lambert were scientists with Health Canada in the late 90′s.  They blew the whistle on a drug designed to improve dairy cattle’s milk production that would be harmful to Canadians drinking the milk – Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone.  Their protest caused the drug to be banned not only in Canada, but in other developed countries around the world.  Canadians’ and other world citizens’ health was protected, but our government reprimanded these scientists, told them to remain silent, then fired them.

A government  agency was created to protect whistleblowers.  The scientists were promised protection for their testimony by the senate.  Later, the public sector integrity commissioner, Christine Ouimet stated that it wasn’t in the “public interest” to deal with the scientists concerns and the senate took no action against the integrity commissioner.  The result – three sacrificed careers.

Ernesto Londono of the Washington Post reported that a number of our Canadian military soldiers in Afghanistan in the mid 2000′s, were upset after witnessing Afghan boys being raped by Afghan soldiers.  A Canadian forces chaplain, Jean Johns filed a report describing how one corporal told her that Canadian troops have been ordered by commanding officers “to ignore” incidents of sexual assault.  Other chaplains told similar accounts of soldiers coming forward to speak of the same incidents of sexual assault on boys.  The Department of National Defence argued Canada wasn’t obliged to investigate because none of the soldiers made a formal complaint.

Can one expect these soldiers to blow the whistle, when the result will be loss of their jobs, income for their families –  a means to survive?  The whistleblowers are left unprotected as are the victims that the whistleblowers are attempting to protect in the first place.

The Toronto Star’s,  Sheryl Smolkin writes, “If you badmouth your manager or your company in a way that seriously undermines the employment relationship, you could be fired for just cause without notice or termination pay.  Criticizing a boss’s character, honesty or competence can also trigger justifiable termination and it’s easier for the company to prove just cause if you criticize the management in writing.”

No wonder formal, written complaints are not lodged.

Is it then, a surprise that police officers do not ‘rat out’ their partners or co-workers?  This is why it is important to have effective oversight of the policing systems so that reliance on whistleblowing is not required.   The SIU - Special Investigations Unit initiated in the early 90′s- was created to supposedly have effective oversight and mete out disciplinary action for the handful of police officers not following protocol.  Unfortunately, this has not been effective.  The few police officers that choose excessive use-of-force each year are often cleared of any charges – if in fact, any charges are even laid at all.

Associated Press reported in London that police chiefs in the UK suspended officers from duty following alleged racism, among them an allegation that an officer used a racial slur while arresting a black man in the aftermath of England’s riots last August.   And, in Northern Ireland, 4 police officers were suspended from duty after the discovery of racist and sectarian text messages.  The Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement, “We expect our staff to behave with the utmost integrity at all times both on and off duty.   Any officer who fails to abide by the highest standards of behaviour expected of all officers as laid out in our code of ethics can expect to be rigorously investigated.”

At the Toronto Police Services Board meeting April 19th, I heard nothing that compares.  What I heard from Toronto Police Services Board and Chief Blair is that ‘use-of-force’ is declining backed by plenty of stats to support that statement.  What I didn’t hear was a commitment to discipline any officer who had killed unnecessarily, found contravening police protocol.

I’m still waiting…

Calvin Harris: Feels so close – Let the healing begin

Music.  It soothes my soul.  I love all kinds of music: reggae, pop, dance, classical, jazz, rock, oldies, hip hop, rap, etc. I love all styles of dance, although I have two favorites:  Argentine tango and hip hop.  Two completely diverse styles of music and dance that evoke two different kinds of emotion within me.  Sultry and sensual tango that melts my heart…energizing and motivating hip hop that moves me to action.

Emotion – it is what drives us, connects us, motivates us.  We are expected to keep our emotions in check at all times – at work – be professional, be quiet, be silent, controlled.  In the community – discuss mundane topics – the weather.  In a world filled with war, hunger, racism, cruelty…be quiet, accept, go along with the status quo, don’t make waves, don’t make trouble…

Yesterday, at the Toronto Police Services Board Meeting I stood up for the marginalized, the homeless, aboriginals, racialised minorities, persons in mental health crisis… calling for an end to police shootings of the vulnerable in distress and in need of assistance.  I was joined by many:  John Sewell, former major of Toronto, founder of Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, Reuben Abib of Black Action Defense Committee, Doug Johnson-Hatlem, a mennonite street pastor, Doug Pritchard, witness to the police shooting of Michael Eligon and  former co-director of Christian Peace Teams, Jennifer Chambers of the Empowerment Council, funded by CAMH, James Loney of Christian Peace Teams and author, Lee McKenna of Santuary, Dr. Jane Pritchard, a physician who regularly provides medical care for the homeless and those in mental distress, Cindy Rose, R.N. and mental health consultant with public health in Toronto, Karyn Greenwood-Graham of Grief2Action, a support group for the grieving families of those who have been killed, Anita Szigetti, lawyer representing the mentally ill, myself – Darlene Marett, witness to the police shooting of Tommy Anthony Barnett and many, many others.

The Never Again! Coalition is growing.  We are a newly formed grassroots initiative comprised of a growing number of concerned citizens, witnesses, community groups, organizations and individuals who are affected by police violence.  Through respectful dialogue and non-violent direct action, Never Again! is organizing to change policing in Toronto.

Please watch this Calvin Harris video.  Listen to the words.  Watch a nation unite in peace and love – young and old, black and white, and those with dreams…and let the healing begin – there’s no stopping us right now!

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