by Sam Eric
Three activists from Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLM-TO) were snatched off downtown Toronto streets on Saturday, July 18, by an enraged Toronto Police Service (TPS). The abductions occurred around 11 a.m. after a peaceful protest and art install, which included pink paint being thrown on symbols of Canadian colonialism and white supremacy. Shortly thereafter the official twitter account of @BLM_TO described the situation and issued a call for accomplices to converge on TPS 52 Division to free the activists.
After failing to kettle the crowd at Queen’s Park, and thwarted in their efforts by BLM-TO event marshals, the cops settled on abduction of three Black activists that they could get their hands on. An hour after the abductions took place BLM-TO was not even able to ascertain the whereabouts of the arrested attendees of the event, let alone ensure they had access to counsel. It was subsequently revealed that after driving around the city for three hours with the hostages the cops brought them to 52 Division on Dundas Street West. It was at least another two hours later before the activists were granted access to legal counsel.
By this time the crowd outside of cop house #52 swelled into the hundreds. At 6 p.m. a large rally was held to clarify the situation, charge the TPS with gestapo and intimidation tactics, and again demand not only the release of the activists that day but also to defund, disarm, dismantle and abolish the Toronto Police Services. Participants asserted that the protest and budding encampment would continue until all of the taken activists were released by the cops. The line was drawn when one of the speakers emphatically stated “If they [TPS] take one more of our people we will burn this station down”.
Festive music, dancing and food-sharing, interspersed by speeches, chants and cultural displays of Indigenous song and music, continued into the night. In one tense moment a police supervisor emerged to discover that his officers had allowed the protestors, who were loud and militant, too close to the door. He took it upon himself to start pushing on the line of protestors at the front lobby, which solicited the entire crowd of hundreds outside 52 Division quickly to push back and corner the half dozen cops. In what was a made-for-TV Canadian Heritage Moment, Saron Gebresellassi, lawyer and mayoral candidate, with a shaky NDP MPP Chris Glover beside her, argued with the cop supervisor to let her have access to her client(s), patiently explaining that the police had already lied about two of the activists being released in a previous press release to the media. The supervisor could not give a satisfactory answer. The cops were then driven inside the station completely, not to return for the rest of the evening. At almost 3 a.m. BLM-TO organizers announced that all three activists had been freed from police custody.
“Black Lives They Matter Here!”
“Who Keeps us safe? We Keep us Safe!”
“We keep each other safe. We are abolishing police today, we are abolishing prisons today.”
At a news conference held the next morning at Gould Street on Ryerson University Campus, just next to the repurposed and pink- painted statue of the residential schools architect Egerton Ryserson, a cohort of BLM-TO organizers debriefed the corporate media on the events of the previous 24 hours.
“They are criminalizing dissent, and we will not let them do this” said Ravyn Wings, BLM-TO.
No less than three police divisions and soon-to-retire Chief Mark Saunders, went into overdrive to coordinate the crackdown, lies and propaganda over the act of throwing paint on statues. These were not engineering students on frosh week, but Black artists and activists targeting symbols of racism, colonial violence and white supremacy. In this context, these acts elicited a response from the security forces of the white middle class and upper bourgeoisie, to show that attacks on white heritage will not be tolerated. Except that the victory and news conference showed that these cops are no longer in total control of the streets or the narrative. Their attacks, lies and propaganda were countered by a strongly organized response and by hundreds of accomplices showing up at 52 Division, driving the cops inside, and demanding, and obtaining the release of the three hostages — but not without a fight.
Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of BLM-TO, broke down the previous day’s events when he stated “we have seen less action from the police when we die.” He identified nine people of colour who were killed in interactions with police since April of 2020. Diverlus then re-stated the demands around defunding the police which include first defunding, demilitarization, disarming and dismantling. They pointed to a billion-dollar police budget in the City of Toronto and the immediate need to redirect a minimum of 50% of it to social services and community needs. Related demands includ the end of mass surveillance, cops out of schools, an end to the special constable program, cops out of the TTC, the end of paid policing programs and the end of plainclothes officers.
Diverlus and BLM-TO voiced to the TPS: “We’re not going anywhere, and this will only, the pressure will only grow, and we won’t stop until you are defunded, until you are dismantled.”
Another BLM-TO member stated: “This art-based peaceful protest was drawing attention to the genocidal violence and racist histories of these statues, but also of the system of policing and prison in Canada.”
“Why was pink paint on that statue more important than Black Queer Women?…Her life did not matter more than that fucking statue” said a BLM-TO organizer.
The status and history of Egerton Ryerson, John A. Macdonald and King Edward VII were identified within the space of the colonial white supremacy they inhabit and represent. Peaceful activists engaged in an art installation, challenging the legacy of these royals, sycophants and technocrats, were brutally targeted by the state. But it turned out to be a complete failure on the part of TPS. Like the federal agents in the streets of the USA, the cowardly reaction of the security forces of the ruling class only made the people’s resolve stronger. These statues will be taken down, and so will the TPS.
Note: The 3 Artist/Activists have been charged with mischief under $5000 and conspiracy. We call for the immediate dropping of all charges and an investigation into the TPS and their gestapo-like intimidation tactics, along with their immediate disarming, defunding, dismantling and abolishment!