By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
When we read about any group witnessing or being subjected to violent acts, there are counsellors available for those who might need them.
There have been no counsellors for the children and adults who witnessed or were subjected to police violence on June 13, 2013 in the Dixon Road area in Etobicoke when Toronto police swarmed the neighbourhood before dawn. The mainstream White media reported the distressing details in very matter-of-fact terms. Perhaps they did not think of the trauma that those adults and children experienced when their doors were broken down by “battering rams” and they were startled awake at 3: 00 a.m. by “flash-bang devices” to find masked and armed men in their homes pointing guns at them. Maybe they did not think of the devastation those adults and children experienced at witnessing their homes being destroyed by masked, armed men.
At a press conference held five days later on June 18 some members of the Somali community who were targeted during the June 13 raid spoke out about the distress and the trauma they experienced. The press conference allowed the human faces of those victimized by the raid to be seen and heard. Members of the community spoke of destruction of property and the trauma of being awoken at 3:00 a.m. to find masked men pointing guns at them.
The story told by members of the Somali community at the press conference on June 18 was different from the one told by police after the June 13 raid. The press conference was organized after the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) was contacted by members of the Somali community. Leaders of the Somali community had heard the distressing stories from residents at a Town Hall meeting held on June 15 at 320 Dixon Road, one of the five Dixon Road buildings which had been targeted by police in the June 13 raid. At that June 15 meeting, the horrifying stories of police abuse of even elderly women while carrying out the raid were heard for the first time.
The press conference provided an opportunity for the stories to be told by the people who were victimised during the police raids. A Somali woman in her 60s was in the midst of her morning prayers when the door to her home was violently broken open. An incendiary device was thrown into her home causing her to think her home was on fire. But that was the least of her problems.
Imagine the shock this woman must have felt at what came next as masked, armed men invaded her home, pounced on her, pinned her to the floor and handcuffed her hands behind her back. She pleaded with them to allow her to cover herself as her bottom half was exposed when they threw her to the ground. They refused. She pleaded with them to allow her to get her blood pressure medicine and some water. They refused. This woman in her 60s thrown to the ground, handcuffed, refused the dignity of covering herself, refused her medication and water to drink said that she was also kicked in the face and told to “die” by Metro’s finest. As if that was not enough trauma at 3:00 o’clock in the morning, her 96 year old mother who lived with her was crying out in another room. Of course she could not offer her mother any comfort as the frail 96-year-old was confronted by the armed, masked men. She was so terrified she fell out of bed after an officer attempted to put handcuffs on the 96-year-old and she had to be hospitalised for a few days from the injuries she suffered to her head, arms and legs. The police have denied the brutality charges and police spokesperson Mark Pugash has said that the women can file complaints with police or the office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD.) Pugash is quoted as saying: “I do not believe that an officer kicked her in the face. If any of our officers haven’t lived up to the standards that we demand then we will hold them accountable.”
With the many recent stories of police committing perjury we can take that remark with more than a grain of salt.
Quotes from the press release of the June 18 press conference included this from Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of the ACLC: “This is particularly hurtful to a community already reeling from systemic barriers to services due to the combined impact of anti-Black racism and Islamophobia. The community has been further stigmatized by the careless actions of some officers involved in the raid, and the irresponsible conduct of Toronto’s disgraced mayor.”
From Mahad Yusuf , the Executive Director of Midaynta Community Services: “In the aftermath of the raids, many community members feel victimized, vilified and traumatized as a result of the reckless manner in which officers forcibly entered their homes. Community members are angered by the destruction of property and disrespectful remarks made by some officers and the police brutality that they were subject to.
“Instead of providing additional resources, or hiring trauma counsellors from within the community to heal the collective wounds caused by the raid, an increased level of policing has been deployed in the community. This only serves to further perpetuate fear in an already victimized and traumatized community.”
At least the chief of police has acknowledged that the police action was traumatizing for the community: “We will have officers positioned in that neighbourhood to answer the questions the community has. We know how traumatic it can be when those raids take place in the dark of night, when doors are going crashing down and when flash-bangs are ignited, so we want to be there to reassure residents and restore their sense of safety and control.”
Obviously, the community does not need more police to remind them of the traumatizing invasion of their homes. A study done in the USA about the effects of trauma on children 10 to15 years old includes this information: “The theoretical underpinnings are based on cognitive – behavioral theory (CBT) regarding anxiety and trauma. In short, traumatic life events lead to impairment (including psychological reactions, behavioral problems and functional impairment), which in turn leads to long-term adjustment problems such as PTSD, depression, violent behaviour and substance abuse. These adverse outcomes, consequently, increase risk for exposure to more traumatic events and life stressors, compounding vulnerability in the future and creating a cycle. The program addresses risk factors for developing chronic disturbances following trauma, including poor coping skills, cognitive factors, and low levels of social support.
Symptom reduction is accomplished by CBT practices – reducing maladaptive thinking that can drive depressive and anxious moods, reducing anxiety directly through relaxation training, reducing anxiety through behavior therapy (exposure to anxiety-provoking stimuli and habituation of anxiety), and processing the traumatic experience to reduce both anxiety and traumatic grief.”
Some of the victims of the June 13 police raid in Etobicoke are 10 to 15 years old. They were traumatised by police violence in their homes and instead of more police presence these children need counselling and therapy. At the press conference on June 18 there was troubling information about the lack of programs for the youth in the community. Instead of police presence the elders were asking for programs for the youth in the community especially with many of them out of school and with the closure of schools for the next two months.