By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Mayor John Tory knows what is better for us than we do. Or so he thought. So when the young people leading Black Lives Matter-Toronto (BLM-TO) demanded a meeting with him to discuss issues affecting the Black community, he decided that they didn’t speak for us.
So he chose our leaders. Or tried to. He hand-picked a group of people from our community to discuss our issues. Of course, the BLM folks weren’t invited.
The Toronto mayor must have been more than a bit surprised when his hand-picked folks didn’t fall for his divide-and-conquer strategy.
Tory, who has said that he doesn’t believe White privilege exists, tried to exercise his own sense of superiority by deciding for us who should speak for us.
This is not new for this mayor. It is not the first time, and most likely won’t be the last time, that he has shown how little he respects Black people.
Good on the folks who attended the meeting for insisting that he can’t divide us and must speak with BLM. Better on the folks who told him where to stick his racist, divisive invitation.
This mayor continues to disappoint.
There are those in our community who might not like the strategies or tactics of the BLM movement, those who still feel the better way to get things changed is to work quietly from within. But that seldom gets us any traction. Think about it. Just about every gain Black people have made has been hard fought and hard won. Nothing ever comes easy for us.
Without the agitation of people such as Dudley Laws and members of the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), many of the changes that have been made, many of the achievements would not have materialized. While some working quietly on the inside would like to take credit for those gains, would they have been possible without the activists on the streets?
And even those gains are constantly at risk of being reversed.
There would have been no need for BLM if those in authority stood by their word to ensure that the changes promised in the past were fulfilled. We constantly have to be fighting the same battles over and over again just to keep up. It can be quite frustrating.
When our young people feel they have no alternative but to camp out for two weeks in the dead of winter in front of police headquarters in downtown Toronto to demand that the police stop treating Black people as second class citizens – decades after those battles were fought and believed to have been won – the last thing we need is for the mayor to be disrespecting them.
Who the hell does he think he is? Even the premier of the province came out of her office to meet with the protesters when they marched to Queen’s Park.
Another thing. How come our police chief, the first Black police chief in this city’s history, couldn’t take a few minutes to step out of his office during those two weeks the BLM protesters were outside his front door to have a chat with them? I am sure that even some of his own cops might have found that puzzling.
The reason people such as the members of BADC and BLM take to the streets or raise their voices in various fora to decry the treatment of Black people is because there are real problems; identifiable and demonstrable issues that need to be addressed. There are people in our society who are – or believe themselves to be – under constant threat because of the colour of their skin, where they live and their economic circumstances. And there are others, especially young men, who – in spite of where they live and their better economic circumstances or those of their parents – feel the same angst because of the colour of their skin.
The most identifiable source of this angst is the police service and how some police officers view and treat people of colour in this city. That is why the focus of most of the protests has been on the police.
There have been many attempts – by the police themselves – to address some of the community’s concerns where policing is concerned. The hiring and promoting of more minorities of colour, for example. And the training or retraining of front line officers in dealing with a diverse public. We also now have a chief who is Black. But there is a cultural shift that still needs to be made. Police officers have to stop seeing Black people as ‘the other’ and instead be able to see us all as equal members of this society who need to be respected and protected equally.
When these issues are raised, the question of crime among Blacks – especially Black youth – is always presented as some kind of counter-argument. What does one have to do with the other? The job of the police is to fight crime and no right thinking person in our community will have a problem with the police fighting crime in the Black community as we expect them to do in all communities. What we do expect and demand is that they don’t treat us all as criminals or see us all, first, through race-biased lenses.
Tory says he will now meet with the members of Black Lives Matter. We will wait to see if and when that happens. We are, however, not holding our breath.