On March 18th 2016, a Friday afternoon, I checked in with my Black Lives Matter Toronto team. The official statement from the Special Investigations Unit had just been released; the officer responsible for killing Andrew Loku would not be charged.
On July 5th 2015, Andrew Loku was shot and killed by Toronto Police Services.
If there are any of you reading this who has ever felt driven to the edge by a loud neighbour, one who constantly bangs on your ceiling, who ignores every effort you’ve made to bargain and plead, who doesn’t care for the days and months of accumulated sleep loss, imagine being in that place again.
Now imagine being executed for it.
Andrew Loku, like many of us before, went upstairs to rebut his neighbour for the umpteenth time on their constant noise. He used a hammer to bang on their door, and banged the hallway and stairway railing as he made his way back down to his floor.
That was just before midnight, by just after midnight he was dead.
A police officer called to the scene shot Andrew Loku twice within seconds of seeing him.
He died in a hallway. I lit one of the candles there. So did my team. Too many of us have in the face of police brutality.
On July 10th 2015, BLMTO held a vigil in front of his building. We learned more about the 45-year-old father of 5 he supported from afar, who loved drumming, lived through 16 years of civil war, was a child soldier, lived in a refugee camp, moved to Canada and went to college only to die at the hands of Toronto Police.
We celebrated his life and mourned his death with his community and friends.
He was murdered for being a Black man with a history of grappling with mental health.
On July 16th, 2015, we crashed the Toronto Police Services Board monthly meeting calling Mayor John Tory and Chief of Police Mark Saunders out, demanding justice for Andrew Loku.
When we shut down both side of the Allen Road Expressway on July 27th, 2015, we did so demanding justice for Andrew Loku, and Jermaine Carby, a 33-year-old Black man who had been killed by police in Peel, minutes after leaving his home.
Kwasi Skene-Peters, only 21, was another Black man who was killed by police only two days before our Allen Action. We chanted his name as well.
We continued to organize, anticipating that the SIU would once again fail in their duty to hold police officers accountable. Months went by. The statement came out on this Friday past. The officer who killed Brother Loku has not only been absolved, he has been and will continue to be actively on duty. We don’t know his name because the law protects his identity.
BLMTO held an action this Sunday March 20th, and began #BLMTOtentcity, an occupation of Nathan Phillips Square that began as a rally. The Toronto Police bullied and threatened arrest. The community, the fire keeping people warm, tents and art were all threatened by police. They were in riot gear, on horses, in vans and in cars.
— syrus marcus ware (@syrusmarcusware) March 23, 2016
The occupation moved to Toronto Police Headquarters as planned, provisions were set up, well contained community fires were lit, and the pitched tents were named to represent the gross injustices of Toronto and Canada at large.
— Aday Sefu (@SefanitH) March 21, 2016
The tents were named Alex Wettlaufer, Sammy Yatim’s friend, both of whom were killed by police, Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby, Francisco Javier Romero Astorga and Melkioro Gahungu, who both died in Canadian immigration enforcement custody in less than a week.
They were named Africville and Afrofest, one a Black settlement that Canada made every effort to erase and another a Pan-Afrikan festival the City of Toronto attempted to demean, just as they did with massive budget cuts to Caribana. Space was held for Sumaya Dalmar, who represents the violence that is inflicted on Black trans women and sex workers, who must maneuver around TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy), and criminalization in order to survive. We don’t believe she died they way they said she did.
BLMTO, our ally team, Toronto’s dedicated community organizers and new converts alike have been keeping #TentCity alive. On March 21st, only one night in, the Toronto Police came and rushed the crowd of peaceful protestors, some of whom were elders and children, kicking, punching and dragging people while their sirens blared and their lights disoriented the crowd.
They attacked mostly Black women. They threw unknown chemicals into the air that landed on people’s clothing and skin. They had agents in hazmat suits pore those same chemicals onto the community fires, and broke and stole the tents.
#BLMTOtentcity is ripping apart the myth of the racial haven of Canada, a myth has been allowed to exist due to, for example, no race-based statistics on fatal police encounters are kept by the SIU, Statistics Canada, Toronto Police, or the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and its constant investment in its false legacy as the hope in the north, denying its violent history and using language as ‘not as bad as the states’ to hide.
#TentCity is bringing together this country’s legacy of colonial violence, its anti-Black racism and three centuries of enslavement, its mass incarceration of Black and Indigenous people, Indigenous genocide, its racist and deadly migrant and immigration practices, its transphobia and misogyny, its deeply embedded Islamophobia apparent in terrorism implications with our actions.
The lie, one that has caused uphill battles for so many of us who live in Canada, is being exposed.
— Amanda Parris (@amanda_parris) March 23, 2016
At this moment, BLMTO is planning to do food drives for homeless and street involved people with excess food donations we have received for our action.
The vision of truth and decolonization, the friendships, the solidarity and coalitions built, the retelling of a truer Canadian history around the community fires, the reclaiming of space, the reimagining of public safety, programming, and the flames lit in each of our hearts will exist long after this action action has concluded.
But we aren’t there just yet. #BLMTOtentcity still stands strong at 72 hours as I write this.
As for what’s next?
Keep your eye on the final hour.
— Chris Reynolds (@ChrisAReynolds) March 22, 2016