With the meeting at capacity, activists and parents staged a protest in the hall calling for uniformed police officers out of Toronto schools.
Protests erupted in the hall outside a Toronto Police Services Board meeting last week after attendees who were kept out became fed up with the situation. On the agenda was a debate about police in Toronto high schools. Parents, students, activists, and concerned citizens on multiple sides of the issue as well as some members of the media were physically barred from entering. Police said the room was at capacity. Officers blocked the door first with bicycles, then with rows of their bodies.
Activists are calling the meeting a logistical failure. “They knew from the last meeting that this would be well-attended, so in hindsight they should have chosen a different venue,” says Akio Maroon, a parent of two, who arrived later in the day because one of their children was in the hospital. Maroon says the Student Resource Officer “adds the school to prison pipeline. We look at the Google Maps that show where police are located in schools and it’s always communities that are predominantly black or brown.”
The SRO program places 36 officers in 75 schools throughout the public and Catholic Toronto secondary schools. Amanda Ali, a mother with a child in a Toronto school, was one of the parents kept in the hall outside the meeting. “When they’re in the schools, they have racialized children who are not comfortable with having them there because the police have not done a good job in their community,” says Ali.
Ali says schools never used to be like this. She remembers a time when police just visited. They did not maintain a permanent presence in schools.
“When we went to school, [officers] came, they did their presentation, they gave their phone number, and talked about the services they do, they left their little stickers, and they left. But that’s not the case now. It seems like they’re having the children become accustomed to a police presence and turning it into a police state from a young age,” she says.
Tensions came to a head when Pascale Diverlus of Black Lives Matter Toronto came out of the meeting and began a formal protest, leading activists in the hall in a chant—noise that shut down the meeting inside for about 15 minutes. Their chants included “Black kids, you matter here!” and “Let us in! Let us in!”
“I was inside. There are cops taking places that all of you should be inside,” she said, referring to the uniformed officers listening to the debate inside the meeting room.
“This program targets our families. They target our children. Not only are the police in our communities targeting us, they go to our children’s schools,” Diverlus told those waiting outside.
When asked by journalist and activist Desmond Cole if the officers could leave so that community members could take their spot, the request was ignored.
“TPSB knew the day before that 74 deputations were registered but still booked a room at TPS that couldn’t hold them all . . . The room had at least 22 armed and uniformed officers present,” Facebook group Education Not Incarceration posted on June 16.
“We got here on time and we’ve all been locked out,” says Ali. She says the attendees in the room were “majority middle-aged white people.” She says many deputants who spoke inside the meeting pointed out that for about the first half of the deputations most speakers were in favour of the program, and most toward the end were not.
Amid accusations from attendees that the meeting had been stacked in terms of order and access in favour of deputations in favour of the program, city councillor and police board member Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) asked, “Do we know who arranged to bus a large collection of very pro-SRO program folks down, actually bus them down, and how they all came to be first on the list?” Superintendent David Rydzik denied that the Toronto Police Service knew of anyone being bussed in, and said deputations were put in the order of their signup. Carroll then suggested the police board inquire with the school boards.
— BlackLivesMatter TO (@BLM_TO) June 15, 2017
Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), who is not on the police board, had heated clashes with activists when twice he came into the hall to be interviewed by CP24 outside the meeting. He told CP24 that Cole “makes money by calling people racist.” Cole recently ended his Toronto Star column, when it was made clear to him that his activism and journalism were not compatible.
The second clash happened when Mammoliti told media that the activists kept out of the meeting “should have just gotten out of bed on time,” implying the crowd outside, mostly people of colour, were too lazy to have arrived earlier. After the interviews, he fled the hall to jeers and angry heckling. By around 5:30 p.m., the doors of the police station were locked, preventing anyone new from attending the building.
The meeting itself ended with a motion by board member Ken Jeffers to suspend the program pending a review, with specific attention to the program’s impacts on marginalized communities. The last review was done in 2011. The decision whether to scrap the program was deferred to December.