A recent Toronto Star op-ed by the president of the Toronto Police Association, “Andrew Loku tragedy is not about race,” offers a case study of the insidious ways that anti-Black racism operates within Canadian policing. It denies, degrades, dismisses and delegitimizes the accumulated decades of police-inflicted pain and deep wounds of racial prejudice experienced by Canada’s Black community.
The anti-Black racist nature of Mike McCormack’s ill-advised and callously crafted piece is embedded in its attempt to erase, displace and debase what the Black community and its truest allies have come to suffer within our very souls: namely, traumatic histories and lived realities of anti-Black racist policing. The tragic truth is that this kind of policing has seemingly rendered it permissible for Toronto police to continually take Black life with impunity.
McCormack affirms with credulous confidence that race had nothing to do with Andrew Loku’s killing at the hands of officers he’s paid to represent. He does so by removing the case from its proper social and historical context. But it is only within this context that it can be understood that the active demonstration and demands of the Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition are just the latest manifestation of a long line of instances where Toronto’s Black community members have mobilized opposition to the torturous trend of anti-Black police violence that devalues and discards Black life.
The record of Black bodies
Since at least the late 1970s, the Black community has been engaged in efforts to prevent the piling up of anti-Black killings and increase transparency, accountability and fairness in the too numerous incidents that have occurred. The heralded Black Action Defence Committee, established in 1988 after the killing of yet another Black man by police, Lester Donaldson, is emblematic of this history. However, Black men, especially those with mental health issues, continue to be the one target of police use of lethal force incidents in Toronto.
It is within this context that thousands are rallying in support of Black Lives Matter’s call for justice for Andrew Loku. Despite what McCormack wants the public to believe, we know that racism was a factor in Mr. Loku’s death: the evidence is in the record of Black bodies that are stacked the highest among victims of police use of lethal force.
McCormack’s bald-faced claims that race had nothing to do with Mr. Loku’s death are therefore not only ridiculous, but also baseless.
Police identities unknown
McCormack’s assertions only hold the veneer of legitimacy because of the dark cloud of secrecy and cruelly opaque practices that now poison policing in Ontario and its purported oversight institutions, such as the Special Investigation Unit.
For instance, how can we be so sure that racism had nothing to do with Mr. Loku’s killing when we can’t know the names of the officers involved and by extension are barred from knowing whether the officers have a disciplinary record for race-based misconduct and use of force?
Are these officers among the large number exposed by the Toronto Star as having lied under oath during trials, or among the four recently charged with perjury and obstruction of justice? Are they among the officers charged with sexual assault and gang sexual assault of another female officer, or among those the Star has revealed to have been found guilty of serious misconduct without receiving any meaningful punishment?
We can’t know the answers to these questions because provincial policing legislation protects the identities of the officers involved in the killing of Mr. Loku and every other civilian killed by police in Ontario.
McCormack also makes the morally suspect claim that the SIU investigators were not affected by systemic racism in the conduct of their investigation into Mr. Loku’s death. He doesn't seem to understand the ways in which systemic racism operates and how it manifests with policing.
For instance, the SIU does not keep statistics on the number of cases that involve racialized persons who live with mental health issues. Why? “We currently do not keep these types of statistics as we do not believe they would advance how we conduct our investigations,” a spokesperson told the Star.
Given the fact that it is the killing of Black men by Toronto police that the SIU routinely investigates, there is no other label but systemic anti-Black racism to appropriately describe the SIU’s race-erasing investigative practices. This amounts to willful blindness to anti-Blackness in policing and the SIU's oversight functions.
Mental illness and racism not mutually exclusive
McCormack could have more honestly engaged the question of the role of anti-Black racism in Mr. Loku’s killing. He could have constructively and courageously engaged the issue of the near total absence of transparency, accountability, fairness and cultural competence within Ontario policing and its oversight institutions, which continues to allow police-induced fatalities to befall far too many Black men in Toronto. Instead, he tried to eliminate questions of race through a legitimate call for a much-needed increase in mental health services.
Yet mental illness and anti-Black racism are not mutually exclusive occurrences. Yes, Tasers or body cameras would further aid with more humane and transparent policing. But those modifications fail to address the racial prejudices that exist among Toronto police by not incorporating necessary measures such as anti-Black racism training and the overhaul of the SIU.
Such measures are long overdue and absolutely needed to rebuild trust between the Black community and law enforcement. This is true especially in light of what I've said before: “Officers engage people with mental illnesses all the time, but when the person has mental health issues and black skin, they end up dead more than anyone else,”
This, ultimately, is why Andrew Loku’s case is about race. To deny this is to deny Black people the right to define our own humanity.
Anthony Morgan is a lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic.