By TOM GODFREY
Some 500 community activists staged a noisy rally against the carding of Blacks outside Toronto Police headquarters last Saturday. The rally was also meant to show solidarity with Blacks in Baltimore who were protesting the death of Freddie Gray.
Demonstrators carried signs with anti-police messages and chanted slogans like “No justice, no peace, no racist police” during the event that was organized by Black Lives Matter Toronto.
The vocal mixed crowd of mostly young people lined the steps to 40 College St. and spilled out on the sidewalk and roadway.
A moment of silence was held for Gray, 25, who died last month while lying face down in the back of a paddy wagon while in Baltimore police custody. His death sparked weeks of racial unrests in Baltimore as Blacks and Whites there took to the streets in sometimes violent clashes with police that led to buildings being burned.
Six Baltimore cops, including three who are Black, have been charged in connection with Gray’s death. One of those charged is a female officer.
The Toronto coalition have collected about $1,000 in an online fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds to help groups in Baltimore fight for justice.
Protest organizers said people are outraged that new police chief Mark Saunders has refused to stop the carding policy, which he calls a “police investigative tool”.
Many in the crowd said they have been carded by police in exchanges in which their personal information was recorded in databases even though they did not commit a crime.
Rodney Diverlus, one of the organizers, said the event was put together after charges were laid and protests in Baltimore intensified.
“We’re coming right to the doors of Toronto police,” Diverlus said. “We are going to them (police) to let them hear and know how we feel about these policies.”
Toronto journalist and activist, Desmond Cole, said he knows what it’s like to be carded.
“There was no reason for police to interact with Freddie in the first place,” Cole told a cheering crowd. “We have the same problem in Toronto where police are questioning people that they have no reason to interact with.”
Cole said his name is kept with thousands of other young Black men in databases even though they have not committed any crimes.
“Chief Saunders says carding is necessary for police to do their jobs,” he said. “We will not stop demanding our rights to walk free in the City of Toronto.”
Cole said those carded have a hard time finding a job or apartment because they have been “criminalized” for being placed in police databases.
“My name is in that database and your name is in that database even though we have done nothing wrong,” he told the loud crowd. “The Charter of Rights does not say you can be arbitrarily detained if you are Black or live in a poor neighbourhood.”
He and others called for the Toronto Police Services Board to end the controversial Community Engagements Policy.
Both Board Chair Alok Mukherjee and Chief Saunders have refused requests for interviews by Share on the carding issue.
“The practice of police carding is illegal and immoral,” Cole told the crowd. “These criminal background checks are ruining people’s lives.”
Protestor Rufaro Ushe said the rally brought people together and was a humbling experience.
“It was beautiful to see people of all races and all walks of lives coming together to support such an important movement,” said Ushe.
Black Lives Matter is a coalition of Torontonians including students, activists, organizers and others who are working in solidarity with communities seeking justice from police violence.
An online account seeking donations for groups in Baltimore can be accessed at http://igg.me/at/8IGe9hUPsEw/x/10672872.