Thursday, March 13, 2008
by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan
On the night of February 16th, in a convenience store near Davisville station, Byron Debassige stole two lemons. He had a pocket knife. A few minutes later, in nearby Oriole Park, he was shot in the chest by police and was later declared dead in hospital.
A witness recounts that Byron was obviously drunk at the time, and was singing and asking for change immediately before being killed. The passer-by heard the cops scream “drop the knife” moments before they fired four shots at Byron who “fell like a bag of hammers.” The police and media’s explanation of what happened is, unsurprisingly, sketchy to say the least. Some initial reports talk about two officers being hospitalized for minor injuries suggesting Byron had stabbed/assaulted the police. However, later articles and quoted police statements make no reference to any injured cops, and simply talk about a “confrontation” with police.
Whatever happened that night, one thing is clear: a 28-year old man was deliberately slain by the cops – for the initial crime of stealing lemons.
On March 5th, friends and family honored Byron in a packed room at the Native Canadian Centre. He was remembered as a kind person who always saw the best in everyone. He was a gifted DJ and graffiti artist, and despite having gone through difficult times, he had renewed a commitment to succeed. Attendees also expressed a deep frustration and anger at Police, with many acknowledging the violent targeting of the Native community. One friend mentioned that Byron was a schizophrenic, which, along with his intoxication, may have well meant he did not understand police when they told him to drop his knife.
While no one (except his killers) knows how Byron died, we DO know that Byron was Native, which in this country makes you a target for the Canadian state and its thugs (RCMP and Police). We also know that Cops in this city brutalize and execute racialized and impoverished youth on a regular basis. Byron’s death comes only 4 months after Alwy Al Nadhir was murdered in Riverdale.
While it is not certain that Byron threatened the police, because the police consistently lie to cover up their crimes, even if Byron had attempted to harm one of the officers, a group of well-armed, trained men could have easily restrained or talked down a single intoxicated man with a pocketknife. The firing of 4 shots was a brutally excessive use of force. We must demand a full investigation into Byron’s killing, not by the ex-cop stacked Specials Investigations Unit, but a fully independent civilian body.
Justice for Byron! Justice for Alwy! Justice for all victims of police terror! ∗