Black Lives Matter Protests on the Allen Expressway
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Black Lives Matter Protests on the Allen Expressway

Yesterday, Black Lives Matter took over Allen Road to share their message, and some people chose to focus on their tactics.

Hundreds of protesters took to Eglinton Gilbert Parkette yesterday evening to demand justice for Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku, who both recently died at the hands of local police. The protestors eventually took to Allen Road, and shut down the arterial as they shared a refrain, “Black lives matter.”

Much of the reaction to the event focused on tactics and tone rather than the underlying message. On social media and online forums, people decried the Allen Road shutdown with comments like this one on Reddit from ToxicixoT: “Every person stuck in traffic, you just lost as a supporter. This doesn’t help. It’s just ignorant, and honestly counter productive.”

In an appearance on 104.5 CHUM FM, John Tory said that the protest amounted to “civil disobedience” and added that he didn’t think it was the most effective way to encourage change.

He addressed legitimate criticism of policing only in reference to one action, and ignored the context that motivated a large group of people to that point.

Carby was shot dead by Peel Regional Police in Brampton in September 2014, and Loku was shot dead by police in Toronto. Both men were black.

Loku, a Sudanese refugee with a history of mental illness, was killed after police responded to a call in his apartment building. He was holding a hammer, and reportedly expressed frustration with the loud neighbours in the apartment above him. He was shot twice by police, and died in the hallway. At age 45, he leaves five children.

The Toronto Police Service has urged patience in the Loku case so that the Special Investigations Unit can conduct their inquiry into the matter.

Given the experience with Carby, there is skepticism among #BlackLivesMatter supporters that the police’s requested patience and trust has been earned. In Carby’s case, the 33-year-old was pulled over and questioned about outstanding warrants in British Columbia. He was then shot seven times by police, including in the chest, forearm, and back. Police claim he was wielding a knife; no knife was found on the scene, although a 13-inch serrated kitchen knife was produced in a paper bag hours after the incident. Last week, the SIU ruled that no charges would be laid, though potential “tampering” had “cast a pall over the integrity” of the investigation.

This is in addition to carding in Toronto, where police disproportionately collect the information of black and brown people who have not been suspected of a crime. Critics overwhelmingly argue that there is no evidence this information aids policing, that the technique erodes trust, and that it effectively criminalizes people of colour, who must constantly justify themselves to police.

Anyone who has attended Toronto Police Services Board meetings is familiar with scenes of thoughtful deputations and formal consultations. Sometimes these speeches are delivered through tears, and for others there is a sense of frustration that their concerns, in spite of their best efforts, are not heard. After all, it was only when a group of mostly white and affluent Torontonians rallied against carding that the mayor changed his mind.

Being stuck in traffic on Allen Road is an inconvenience. But consider that there is a greater context beyond individual cars and destinations, and why a group of people would be so motivated to share their message that they would be willing to take over the road.