By LENNOX FARRELL
The Black Action Defence Committee in its formation and the reasons behind this is unique in many positive ways.
First, the BADC was formed by, for and from the grassroots of Toronto’s Black community. Absent from its birth were Black people who could be intimidated, in spite of knowing, from personal and other information that a vast iniquity was being visited on Black youth and their families by ‘Toronto’s Finest’.
It was therefore also formed challenging the most powerful public-sector organization in the city: Toronto’s Police Force. This challenge grew out of many communal concerns, acute concerns. These concerns include(d) at the most elemental, the arbitrary and humiliating stopping, searching and arresting of Black youth.
Background to these concerns are the police. However, they were and are the personification of official expectations had of Black youth and communities. These low expectations are front and center when, in reasonable and other instances, a police officer stops a Black youth. Unfortunately, whether or not this youth is law-abiding or lawless, when interacting with the police, the relevant issues are not between his being innocent and being guilty. The issues at play occur between his either being guilty, or being not guilty.
The differences here are not merely semantic. This is because, while Toronto, Ontario and Canada truly value ‘the rule of law'; and ‘the pursuit of justice for all its citizens’, Canadians do not come full-panoplied to justice issues with the same sets of expectations for Black Canadians. Particularly, for Black youth, it is possible that the only life forms considered as having a lower social status than they are African Killer-bees and Zebra mussels.
Therefore, when a police officer does his ‘due diligence’ stopping Black youth, the natural expectation from himself as a representative of other Canadians is that he is stopping someone expected to be an offender; someone expected to be a threat to civil society, or at least a boil on the body politic to be lanced.
According then to expectations is that for a police officer, one who might otherwise be a good father, a decent neighbour and an ardent church-attendee, is that the Black youth now braced before his authority is expected to be poor; to be poorly represented, generally an underachiever except in sports, rapping, fathering children without caring for them, etc. The elemental expectation is that this youth of lesser expectations cannot, does not belong, regardless of how hard the youth may try, to ever be accepted as truly Canadian.
Even worse than having low expectations, Black youth are also expected to have lives and livelihoods which are lesser than. Therefore, the shooting and killing of a Black youth is not seen, even by some members of the Black community, as some vast tragedy affecting them. In fact, except to those ‘radicals’, such acts unless they affect one personally, are at worst, inconveniences … especially with rush-hour traffic made worse by demonstrations.
The BADC was therefore formed; in fact, enacted against what was an evolution of lowering expectations had for Black youth by others for them, and had by them for themselves. This experience of lowered expectations leads to a dangerous self-hatred. It is for this specific and horrific reason why so many Black youth so undervalue their lives and those of other Black youth and individuals. Self-hatred inexorably ends in self-murder!
Therefore, when put in a positive light, the BADC was formed to counteract this self-hatred, and instead replace it with vast value on Black life; life so valued, that if that is what it took, then, taking without official permit to the streets of Toronto at rush hour would have to lead to the discomfort of other Torontonians.
The BADC was also formed to commemorate the lives of Black Canadians who would not be celebrated otherwise. These Black Canadians included a man who was wont to read his Bible openly in a public park: Albert Johnson; shot and killed in his home by police charging up his stairs. The BADC celebrated a man suffering the ravages of Bipolar illness; a man who, eating supper in his bedroom, was there shot and killed by a cigar-chomping, cowboy-boots wearing policeman. This Black man was Lester Donaldson.
There were others, young and old, naturalized and native born, male and female who felt the sting of police bullets; bullets legal and illegal, and unpunishable. Justice in Ontario is a strange hybrid, operating easily in realms ranging between what is just for some, and what is justifiable for others.
In addition, the members of our community who formed the BADC did so knowing they would pay for this ‘temerity’. They would be stopped by police on mere whim, on one occasion nine times in one year; and even worse would be forced into hearings, judicial and professional to protect threatened freedoms and careers. Thus would suffer, Charlie Roach and Dudley Laws, the unalloyed architects and leadership of the BADC.
Today, these two stalwarts and others are gone the way of all flesh. However, they did not act the coward or the reckless. They were people of principle and compassion; intrepid, wily and strategic. Their actions, and those of the many others who followed and honour their leadership, were to create not only the BADC, but another institution, itself a child of the BADC. This was the Special Investigative Unit which, despite subsequently being compromised by politicians and police, was the first such organization formed in the British Empire and Commonwealth.
In short, before the BADC, there was no official organ in Toronto, in Ontario, or in Canada. In fact, nowhere in the British Commonwealth, that is, from Sydney, Australia to Port of Spain, Trinidad was there any organization that had the official responsibility to question the actions of police in instances where, interacting with the public, the police had injured or killed a civilian. Formerly, police investigated police. Incest had status.
Everywhere, the brotherhood and the power of police organizations closing ranks behind one of their own, and having other police investigate another police body led to results which were at best, incestuous. Thus, in the case of Toronto Police killing Black men, the police were adjudged, by coroners’ reports and jurors’ conclusions as justifiable 100 per cent.
The BADC, its leadership, history, courage and foresight would make the world safer, not only for Black youth, but also for other Canadians. Today, even with glaring examples of injustice to other Canadians, the issues of justice are still tied, generally, to those who understand the uses, but not the limitations, of power. These limitations are always tied to issues of morality. For Black communities, there is an added form of immorality. It is anti-Black racism; an old form of racism now morphing so widely that it can be practised without the practitioner fearing any consequences from being openly racist.
The BADC’s work is not done, neither can its leadership and community be undone. For justice, like iniquity, must not rest.