Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jane and Finch Residents Unite Against Police Brutality

by Mike B.
Basics #12 (Jan / Feb 2008)

On Dec. 10, 2008 a collective of Jane & Finch residents and community workers organized a Rally and March against Police Brutality; organizers said that this was in response to escalating levels of police brutality in the months leading up to the rally. The rally began at the corner of Jane & Finch and was followed by a march to 31 division to deliver a formal letter endorsed by community members and organizations appealing to 31 division and Superintendent Christopher White to do something about the violence and mistreatment of members of the community at the hands of the Toronto police. The letter called on the police to work within the law, demanded respectful policing and an immediate end of the harassment and profiling of community members.

Residents said that the relationship between police and the community in Jane & Finch has been a problem for many years. According to lawyers from the Community and Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP), based out of York University, police misconduct has been an ongoing issue in the Jane & Finch community for at least 25 years, and it has come up again most recently related to some violent incidents with youth.

Some of the regular police behavior in Jane & Finch includes people being randomly stopped for questioning, intimidating behavior, and the general targeting of youth in general, and young black men in particular. According to one resident in the Connections complex who is a mother and a community organizer, “Almost every youth in the community you talk to has had some unprovoked run-in with police.” Organizers cited some examples of recent incidents including a youth being dragged on the ground while in handcuffs and a woman being inappropriately searched by male officers. Police have also been accused of using overly militaristic tactics when conducting arrests, raids and sweeps. Residents cited one case where during a raid the mother of a suspect was punched in the face by police, and a second case where innocent community members were burned in the face by police smoke bombs.

Another concern addressed at the rally was the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) program, which was implemented this past summer in the community, and was promoted amongst the people as a community policing strategy. One resident argued that this program is simply a way for the cops to get more resources and more cops on the street, and saw little change in their methods of dealing with the people in the area. In their Press release organizers argued that TAVIS contributed to creating a “siege mentality” in the community. This program has only meant more police on the block and in the area.

This kind of treatment from the police has been seen in working peoples, African Canadian and newcomer communities all over the city for years, it is only through people mobilizing to take responsibility for their communities and hold the police accountable will any change be possible.