In Canada, its never about race

A black immigrant in Toronto waves a household object in a “threatening” manner. Police are called. The man is described as disturbed, unruly, unstable, and most-importantly — dangerous. Concerned police plead with the man to drop the weapon but their cries are ignored. Finally, they are forced to shoot him. He dies. A familiar tragedy.

In 1979 the man was Albert Johnson, a Jamaican immigrant who was killed in his Manchester Ave. home on a Sunday morning holding a lawn edger. His death led to protests from the black community, a high-publicity trial and the acquittal of the two accused officers. The trial of the two officers would eventually result in the establishment of the SIU. In 2015 the man is Andrew Loku, an refugee from South Sudan, who was killed holding a hammer. His death was investigated by the SIU; the officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing.

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Separated by nearly forty years, both men died unnecessarily at the hands of Toronto police. What is particularly haunting about both incidents is not merely the horrors of police violence nor the similarities of their deaths, but rather the virtually identical responses to both deaths in the white Canadian media. In both Johnson’s and Loku’s cases white Canadian law enforcement, media, and judiciary frame the killings as unfortunate incidents & sad tragedies rather than as the racist behaviour of a racist society. The identical responses to both killings demonstrates very clearly how anti-black racism is at the heart of Canadian public discourse.

Black Lives Matter? Multiculturalism & Race

This post originally appeared in Now Magazine:

The shooting death of Andrew Loku by a Toronto police officer on July 5 is hauntingly similar to the killing of Albert Johnson by police in 1979.

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The shootings are separated by nearly 40 years, but both men were shot in their homes on a Sunday morning. Both were wielding household objects, Loku a hammer, Johnson garden shears. Both were black. And in both cases mental illness was cited as a contributing factor in their deaths.

Fierce Departures: Albert Johnson

Quickly checking some facts for the manuscript, and I stumbled across this headline describing Albert Johnson’s killing. Part of the historical basis for Dionne Brand’s thirsty, Neil Bissoondath’s Innocence of Age, and large sections of Austin Clarke’s MORE. Officially forgotten by the selective memory…