Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Youth Stand Up Against Police Brutality With Music and Protest

by Sara Cain & Salma Al-Nadhir
Basics Issue #9 (May 2008)

On March 15, 2008 the Justice for Alwy Campaign had two amazing events in Toronto. First there was a rally in front of Police Headquarters at College and Bay to demand justice for Alwy al-Nadhir, who was shot dead by police on October 31, 2007. Approximately 200 people rallied, with a number of speakers from Black Action Defence Committee (BADC), No One is Illegal (NOII), Central Neighbourhood House (CNH), Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), and Basics Community Newsletter. The rally was very successful. Family, friends, and supporters spoke about police brutality and memories of Alwy. People were angry, upset and disappointed especially that the police officers who were patrolling the rally were laughing. Their disrespectful laughter did not intimidate the people, it just made them stronger.

The rally was followed by a march from Toronto Police Headquarters to City Hall where the people demanded that the police be held accountable for the murder of Alwy al-Nadhir. They also vowed to continue their struggle to end police brutality.

Later that evening a benefit concert was held in memory of Alwy Al-Nadhir at the Holy Trinity Church. Approximately 200 people attended the concert to show their support. Various talented artists spoke up about different struggles. Performers included Lal, Waleed Kush, Boonaa Mohammed, Wasun, Bighead and many others. A special song dedicated to Alwy - written and performed by The Voyce –outlined the story of Alwy’s murder and how it fits into a larger pattern of police brutality in our communities.

Since these successful events the members of the campaign have continued to fight hard to bring down police brutality – even while some government-funded organizations have closed their doors on our face. First, the Regent Park South Community Centre refused to let us host our March 1 Memorial for Alwy. Upon further investigation we found out that the councillor for the ward where Regent Park South Community Centre is located is Pam McConnell, the vice-chair of the police services board. We exposed the hypocrisy of a community centre working for the police instead of for the community by writing an open letter to the manager of the community centre, Lucky Booth and by talking to Now Magazine who has been following the story of Alwy closely.

Then again, on Saturday May 3, members of the campaign were blocked at the last minute from speaking at a conference organized by the Arab Community Centre of Toronto called, ”Arab and Muslim Identities on Trial: Youth Step Up and Speak Out.” The Canadian Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration-funded Arab Community Centre closed its doors to us because the topic of police brutality was a “liability”, even though Alwy Al-Nadhir was an Arab, Muslim youth. This proves to us that neither the government, nor most organizations funded by it, will help us in our struggle. Instead we need to organize ourselves.

Later that day on May 3 at the No One is Illegal May Day / Immigrants’ Rights march, we were given the chance to expose the hypocrisy of the Arab Community Centre and deliver our message of organizing against police brutality in front of hundreds of people.

The Justice for Alwy Campaign continues to do outreach in different communities to educate people about police brutality through our stories of lost loved ones and our struggles. Our goal is to mobilize the communities and bring everyone together because “the people united will never be defeated”. ∗

MCs Iman and Sara after a long night.