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The #BlackLivesMatter movement, originally created in 2012 when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, now spans across the continent and across the world.
From the recent suspicious death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jailhouse, to the deaths of Shereese Francis, Yvette Smith, Rekia Boyd and several transwomen of colour including London Chanel, India Clark, and Taja DeJesus, to the ongoing Ferguson protests, the war on the Black form is constant.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is working to change this and in Canada Black Lives Matter - Toronto has been at the forefront of that movement.
Why protests are occurring in Toronto
On the evening of July 27 2015, cars on the Allen Expressway came to a standstill when hundreds of #BlackLivesMatterTO activists and allies blocked traffic to call for justice for the deaths of two Black men, Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby, killed by police in Ontario, and ongoing anti-Black racism and police violence.
Loku, a 45-year-old South Sudanese man, was shot dead by police on July 5 at his apartment, which is leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association CMHA.
During an altercation between Loku and his upstairs neighbours over noise levels, police arrived on the scene to find Loku holding a hammer. According to a witness, the police shouted only once at Loku to drop the hammer before fatally shooting him. "I'm not talking five minutes, or two minutes, I'm talking seconds here. We didn't get a word in, me or Andrew," a witness explained.
Carby, a 33-year-old Black Brampton man, was shot dead by Peel Police late last year when the car he was in was pulled over. Carby was reported as carrying a knife, which his family says is false.
Allegations of tampering with evidence after Carby's death have led many to question the Special Investigations Unit's (SIU) capacity to answer to Carby's family. In mid-July, the SIU revealed that no knife was found at the scene. Instead, there was a knife found "several hours" later.
These are just two of several cases of police violence in Canada.
The faces behind the movement
Yusra Khogali and Pascale Diverlus are two of the organizers involved with #BlackLivesMatterTO. Organizers in the movement are diverse and often occupy several roles.
"We are students, community organizers, artists -- we come from different walks of life," says Yusra. While schedules can sometimes be tight, the work always gets done.
"I work full time. But on top of that, I organize with a team and that means things like, setting up rallies or vigils," says Pascale.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement works to prioritize the most marginalized in the community. This means that individuals with disabilities, those identifying as queer and/or trans, single parents, and those with no/low-income are focused on significantly.
"The thing about Black Lives Matter is that we tackle several different issues while centering the most marginalized in our community […] because we realize that if we aren't adjusting our focus to all of those issues, then we aren't able to help the entire Black community," states Yusra, "In terms of our leadership […] we want to reflect all groups in our leadership because we recognize that the issues we discuss affect them in several ways and they are also an important part of this collective movement."
"The issues we tackle are multi-faceted. We speak about police violence as a focal point because the most marginalized black people are the ones targeted but, our scope examines how anti-blackness is deeply embedded various societal systems, such as education/legal system/healthcare/housing/immigration, which create these conditions that literally work to streamline black folks to be either lethally brutalized/battered and harassed by police, or incarcerated," she added.*
"The leadership of BLM non cis-male centred which, traditionally, black liberation movements have always framed anti-black racism [as cis-male centred]," continued. "Black lives matter as a movement works to dismantle systems of heteropatriachy within our liberation movements because we work to centre the most marginalized in our leadership so decisions made about the movement are narratives working to highlight the experiences of black trans women in various intersections and that benefits the entire black community."*
"Freedom is not free until all of us are free. And that means really prioritizing the most marginalized people within the Black community. The reality is they have the most to lose but they also have the most to gain," added Pascale.
In past rallies, activists asked that non-Black allies to stand to the side and let Black individuals stand in the middle of the demonstration space. While this is considered controversial by some, organizers are making an active effort to prioritize those affected most by systemic racism and police violence.
"It's unfair that we are seen as 'bad guys' when we try to prioritize ourselves. This whole movement is really trying to improve the entire community and we need the entire community involved," says Pascale.
Making change possible
Organizers confirmed that Toronto mayor John Tory has agreed to meet with #BlackLivesMatterTO. Activists plans to attend the meeting wielding a list of demands including:
1. The immediate release of the names of the officer(s) who Killed Andrew Loku
2. The immediate and public release of the video footage from the apartment complex where Andrew Loku was murdered
3. A public apology from the Mayor John Tory, Mark Saunders and the Toronto Police Department for their actions and the trauma that they have inflicted on the Black community
4. The funeral of Andrew Loku to be funded completely by the Toronto Police department
5. Charges to be laid against the officers who killed Andrew Loku
6. Monetary compensation for the family of Andrew Loku for the damages caused by the Toronto Police department
While there is no foreseeing how the meeting will conclude, on the topic of real institutional change organizer Yusra says, "Honestly, I don't think that I can walk around with the mentality of doubt; of thinking that [change] isn't possible. Anything is possible with people coming together. I've seen it. People have power. I believe that we can create change."
The role of allies in #BlackLivesMatter
On the role of allies, Yusra suggests that education may be key. "I think if allies can see us as just people who are not being afforded the opportunity to just live out our humanity [and] educate themselves about the system we are in, they can use their privileges to support us."
However, Yusra also states that most allies in the #BlackLivesMatterTO movement are individuals who often use time, energy, and resources to help support organizers.
"When it comes to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we have kickass allies. They're willing to put their privileges aside in order to cushion the amount of violence that is being perpetuated against Black people. […] So, when it comes to the march, our allies are guarding us from the police. And, by [allies] standing between the police and the Black marchers, our allies are making a very clear statement that they're about that life! The people who do that -- they're working to ensure that the people who really need support are getting that support," Yusra states.
Allies campaign and fundraise for a variety of circumstances from #BlackLivesMatterTO initiatives to funeral costs. The Black Lives Matter -- Canadian Solidarity Network is open to Black-identified individuals and allies as means to connect to #BlackLivesMatterTO and solidarity partners.
In addition, the Black Lives Matter -- Toronto Coalition Page is open to all individuals. It provides #BlackLivesMatterTO-specific events and initiatives.
Moving forward in the movement
Questioning the narratives surrounding Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement is often necessary because these deaths are occurring on a consistent basis.
Presently, the unrest occurring in Ferguson, MO., due to the killing of 18-year-old Black teen Michael Brown last August, and subsequently, the shooting of another Black teen on the anniversary of his death, is proof of this. The Black teen, Tyrone Harris Jr., was allegedly wielding a weapon. Yet, during some protests, self-professed white male "Oath Keepers" have been patrolling Ferguson during the anniversary of Michael Browns death, possessing military-style rifles.
#BlackLivesMatter organizers describe the work as necessary and traumatizing, yet often rewarding and healing. However, the power and resilience of the individuals in the movement is what most media coverage of the movement lacks.
Yusra describes this resilience as, "a testament to Black people. I feel as if, we are magic. It's almost like we're not from this time or place whatsoever. Because through centuries of colonialism, slavery, genocide -- all these things are consistently being waged on our bodies and yet, we still keep coming back."
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has evolved into a global movement with almost 30 chapters world-wide, and growing.
"Black people are magical. We are resilient. Anything that is being put in front of us -- we will overcome it. We will keep coming back. We will win," Yusra adds.
Donate to Black Lives Matter - Toronto through Interac at [email protected] question: what chapter answer: toronto
Ashley Splawinski is a student at the University of Toronto. Previously, Ashley worked as a producer and host of News Now on CHRY 105.5 FM covering Canadian social, political, and environmental issues. You can visit her personal blog www.lionpolitics.tumblr.com and follow her on twitter @asplawinski.
Photo used with permission from George Talusan.
*These paragraphs were added to the article at the interviewee's request. **the phrase: "may be perpetuated" was changed to "is being perpetuated" and "are trying to" was changed to "are working to."
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