By DERRICK A. SHAW
I came to Toronto from Ottawa in 1987. I had just completed my university degree in political science and History. I came to the Ontario capital with high hopes and dreams, expecting to experience what it would be like to live in a city that is totally committed to the ideals of multiculturalism. Here, everyone would be treated equally, regardless of skin colour, religion, nationality or gender.
It wasn’t too long before I was forced to face reality: Toronto had its share of discrimination and injustice with respect to issues of equality and respect for all regardless of ethnic background.
The Black Action Defense Committee, with Mr. Dudley Laws, Charles Roach, and Lennox Farrell at the forefront, helped me to gain an important consciousness to the solemn truth that racism existed, not only in South Africa under Apartheid, (which I had studied intensely during my studies at Carleton University); not only in the “Deep South” of the United States of America; nor did it exist only in faraway places like the U.K. where I was born and raised, but it was here, right in Toronto (The Good), Canada.
There were a number of police shootings that took place in the late ’80s and early ’90s in Toronto and people were mad. Black people in particular, as these shootings involved Black men as victims. Who was there to vocalize and channel much of that anger? It was BADC.
BADC was there to challenge the police and their supporters by making provocative (but true) statements on TV and other media, about the police and their overly aggressive approach to policing when it came to Black people – young Black males in particular. Dudley Laws, Charles Roach, Lennox Farrell and other members of the Black Action Defense Committee where there, comparing the Toronto police to the police actions in the States during the ’60s and ’70s where police brutality had become almost commonplace in the media, and even provoked hit protest songs such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s going on?”
Yet, BADC was not the Black Panthers. They were unarmed, and did not advocate the picking up of arms.
When I read about BADC in the newspaper, or saw a protest rally they would organize and lead on TV, I would feel aglow with a keen sense of Black pride. Here was a group of intelligent, conscientious and, yes, radical brothers and sisters who were not afraid to stand up, and confront the powers that be in the noble cause of defense. Defense of the Black population. Defense of our dignity. Defense of our BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS to be treated as human beings, and not simply as Black Targets – menaces to society.
Well, that was then. This is now. Times have changed. Right? Have they? Maybe we don’t hear about police shootings of Black men as much today.
“It still happens, but it’s not as bad as it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” you say. O.K. But this seems to beg the question: WHY? Could it be a direct result of the agitation and consciousness-raising efforts of BADC back in “those days?” I believe it is. I believe that because of BADC, the police have become more willing to think first, and maybe try to negotiate with a suspect before pulling the trigger. I believe that the presence of the Special Investigations Unit, a BADC-inspired body which investigates incidents in which civilians are shot or injured by police, has made the police a little more circumspect and more cautious when in confrontational situations with Black people.
More accountability: that’s good. That’s VERY good. I believe in my heart of hearts that we owe a great debt of gratitude to those brave and fearless leaders of BADC for their tireless efforts in defending and promoting the human rights of our Black brothers and sisters in this part of the world.
So, do we still need BADC today? You bet. We need them today, because the struggle for equality in the judicial system that includes policing and detention is still ongoing. We haven’t “arrived yet” in terms of achieving Martin Luther King’s “Dream” of being judged not by the colour of our skin, but by the content of our character. We still need BADC and other champions of justice for all to keep standing and challenging “the system” so as to keep it more transparent, honest and true to the ideals of a real democracy where all are valued equally regardless of race, nationality, religion or gender.
BADC, I salute you and pray for your continued presence and advocacy on behalf of our people.
Derrick A. Shaw is a licensed paralegal in Ontario. He welcomes feedback to this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.