Dudley Laws – always there for community


Dudley was there when White supremacist culture in Toronto, forced on its back feet to retreat, morphed into anti-Black racism; and which, wrecking havoc on Black communities, morphed into Black self-hatred to create the criminally absurd phenomenon in which homicide became the leading cause of death among young Black men.

Dudley was there to publicly condemn the killing by Metro’s finest of unarmed, innocent Black people: Buddy Evans (1978), Albert Johnson (1979), Anthony Griffin (1987 Montreal), Lester Donaldson and Michael Wade Lawson (1988), Sophia Cook, paralyzed (1989); Raymond Lawrence (1992) resulting in a mass demonstration that led to “the Yonge Street riots”.

And after the iniquitous procedure of police investigating police accused of these killings, and when rarely charged, maintaining a 100 per cent acquittal with all-White juries – even to the point of police officers publicly smoking victory cigars – Dudley was there, calling for the creation of a Civilian Review Board to investigate police killings.

Dudley was there in the Jamaican Canadian Centre in its then downtown location when, after the killing of Lester Donaldson in his home a decision was made to create a mass organization, and among other names suggested, Clem Marshall and Sherona Hall’s was chosen: the Black Action Defense Committee (the BADC).

Dudley was there when, in 1990, Ontario became the first province in Canada to have a civilian oversight agency on policing – the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) – and one of the few jurisdictions worldwide with an independent civilian agency. As a result, the SIU is a model of civilian oversight for other jurisdictions in the light of the international movement towards greater civilian accountability of the police. http://ca.mc358.mail.yahoo.com/mc/l cite_note-4

Dudley was there when, in order to force the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to change its policy representing the racist views of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, members of the Black community – Odida Quamina, Jean Augustine, Olaogun Adeyenka – met with the CBC brass, resulting in a series by Barbara Frum’s The Journal, and in the hiring of Black journalists.

Dudley was there when the Black community, led by educators such as Enid Lee, Hilroy Thomas and Charis Newton, confronted the North York Board of Education’s policy of streaming Black students into basic, dead-end programs – programs in place in every other Board – and predicted a dire future for Black youth prophesying that the Board was “sewing the wind” and our youth would “reap the whirlwind”.

Dudley was there when Black History Month was Black History Weekend, organized without official proclamations, by “radicals” who could have been raided by Metro’s finest, arrested, handcuffed and taken away. He was also there when Black officers rose to the highest ranks in the police.

Dudley was there when in 2008, by a vote of 11-9, the Toronto Board of Education established an African-focused school. It was a struggle that had ensued from the 20th Century with people like Ed Clarke and Gwen Johnson to the 21st with Karen Brathwaite and Owen Leach among others. The first principal of this school, Thando Hyman-Aman is, not surprisingly, the daughter of Bryan and Nomvuyo Hyman, founding members of the BADC.

Dudley was there (1973) when then Prime Minister Trudeau, peeved because of the vigorous opposition to his Green Paper on Immigration by Toronto’s Black leadership – Margaret Gittens, Rosie Douglas, Marlene Greene, Akua Benjamin, Dari Meade, Peter Paul et al – referred to them as people with “distinct and unusual features”.

Dudley was there when, after struggling against racist immigration policies, efforts that brought relief to other ethno-cultural communities saw these communities become the new gatekeepers and joined forces with Whites to successfully oppose the Black community’s efforts to get the province to recognize a specific form of virulent racism, “anti-Black racism”.

Dudley was there, his white beard and voice out front, leading members of the Sri Lankan community who, denied the rights of refugees fleeing a civil war in their country and desperate to reverse Canada’s policies against them, sought out his leadership in a demonstration on St. Clair Avenue between Bathurst and Yonge streets against Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.

Dudley was there when programs, still incomplete, were discussed with church leaders in the urban core to consider rites of passage programs to assist our boys to become men and our men to become fathers.

On Dudley’s birthday, May 7, to assist in completing his dream still deferred, all Black men must take out their children and grandchildren, and other children without healthy male models. Take them, not to the movies, but to theatres, to museums, the zoo, to libraries. Have their photographs taken with their library card. It might be that if more of our boys had such pictures framed and prominently hung on their bedroom walls, that fewer of them would later have their photos taken in line-ups by the police.

Toronto, Ontario and Canada are so much more because of the efforts of people like Dudley Laws. To me, my spouse Joan, and our family, he is the essence of humility, dedication and decency.

He reminds me of a visit I’d made to my native Trinidad in 1974, having been in Toronto from 1969. I realized then that there was something I’d missed, something so intimate I was unaware I’d even missed it. It was the continual sound of the sea washing the shore, and the presence wherever one is in Trinidad, of being surrounded, as if in a womb, by mountain ranges.

Toronto has no such mountain ranges. However, it has a mountain, one that has stood for justice, wearing a black beret and a resplendent white beard. There is also that fresh-water sea, Lake Ontario, its waves washing the shore, to and fro, and which to a listening ear says: “No Justice, No Peace … No Justice, No Peace … “

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