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Tasers: Should We Arm All Front-line Toronto Police Officers with Another Weapon of Compliance?

taser and stun guns imageYesterday, September 24th, 2013, the Toronto Police Services Board mental health subcommittee led by Pat Caponi and TPSB chair Alok Mukherjee convened at Toronto’s City Hall Council Chambers to listen to the voices of those concerned about the potential arming of all front-line Toronto police officers with Tasers, also known as CEW’s or Conducted Energy Weapons.   Deputations were received by those who have spoken out previously as well as concerned citizens upset by the G-20’s use of force policing practice and the recent fatal shooting of Sammy Yatim.  Over 40 people, including myself, spoke out about their concerns regarding the addition of another weapon in the hands of Toronto police.

Sakura Saunders of Disarm Toronto Police asked everyone in council chambers to raise their hand if they thought that if Toronto police had been armed with Tasers during the G-20, it would have resulted in a better outcome.  Not one person raised their hand in a room full of concerned citizens including police officers in attendance who were members of the city’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams – teams consisting of 2nd responder police officers and a mental health nurse who respond on a limited basis to crisis calls.

John Sewell, of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, asked why we would arm police with an additional weapon when there are issues with police use of force that we have not yet resolved.  Sewell added that Tasers would not reduce fatalities and injuries as has been suggested because Tasers would not be the weapon of first choice by Toronto police in a situation where guns would be the first choice.  Tasers, Sewell stated would be used as a tool of compliance and would actually increase the number of injuries.  The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also denounced the imminent arming of all front-line Toronto police officers with Tasers, reporting that the UN has declared the Taser a tool of torture.

Consumer/survivors of the mental health system weighed in on the decision to add Tasers to the arsenal of weaponry already at the disposal of Toronto police.  More than one member reported having positive experiences with Toronto police while in crisis to which they were thankful, yet added that if they were in a crisis where they were unable to respond in a way that Toronto police commanded, they feared being Tasered and asked that Tasers not be given to all Toronto police officers.

The most moving presentation was given by a front-line caregiver from a mental health drop-in.  She delivered her message through tears, and apologies that this was close to her heart.  She said that in the 12 years that she has worked at the drop-in, she has never experienced any acts of violence by members of the drop-in who range from those who have been diagnosed, those who have not and those who are homeless.  She said that the one time she did dial 911, it was because a member of the drop-in spoke of harming herself.  When police arrived, the member was beaten up and tasered.  She said that as a result, the injured member of the mental health drop-in lost her children and was never the same again.  This front-line caregiver said that she will never call 911 again and implored the board to recommend not allowing Toronto police to have Tasers.

Deputy chief of police, Mike Federico was in attendance.  It has been reported that he is in favor of arming Toronto police with Tasers.  Federico has stated that, “Our position on the expanded deployment is that the CEWs offer one more option, and police should have as many options as possible to help defuse situations”.

taser trentlist imageThe resounding theme among all who spoke out against arming Toronto police with yet another weapon of compliance was that consistent use of de-escalation techniques, employing appropriate communication measures both verbal and physical by Toronto police to those in crisis would result in the best outcomes for everyone, for citizens and police, by reducing injuries and fatalities alike.

Toronto Police Services Board chair, Alok Mukherjee ended the Council Chambers meeting with assurance to all in attendance that the words of those present would be considered in any decision regarding arming all front-line Toronto police officers with Tasers and would be discussed at the next meeting of the TPSB on October 1st.

Below, you will find my deputation:

My name is Darlene Marett.  I am a Registered Practical Nurse with experience working in long-term care with vulnerable members of our community – vulnerable people – many of whom have dementia, acquired brain injuries and other diagnoses that compromise their ability to comply with verbal instruction, requests or commands made upon them.  I have spoken before the Toronto Police Services Board prior to this date on issues of police accountability in use of force situations where commands made upon those who are in mental health crisis may lead to poor outcomes.

 

The recent lethal shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim by a Toronto police officer followed with use of a Taser, is an example of the poorest outcome.  It also seems to be an example of the poorest use of judgment by more than one Toronto police officer.  But, I am just a nurse.  Please Chief Blair, tell us if this is poor judgment.  Or is it poor police training?  Or is it a lack of empathic response by police officers?  How do we begin to resolve this issue?  Because it seems that we are at odds – us the vulnerable community and the Toronto Police Service that commands compliance or else.  And for those of us who are able to comply, an interaction with Toronto police may result in only fear of police and mistrust at its worst.  But for those of us who are unable to comply, the result can be death or injury.

 

And this is precisely what happened recently when an 80-year-old woman with dementia met up with three Peel police officers.  Non-compliance was dealt with by use of Taser, incapacitating her immediately, causing her to drop to the ground and breaking her hip.  Did you know that for the elderly, fracturing a hip can lead to such a dramatic decline that it becomes lethal within one year?  So, we may not say that someone died directly from the use of a Taser, but, certainly use of the Taser, caused the fall that broke the hip, and contributed to someone’s death at least indirectly since it was the catalyst.  It was the initial action, use of the Taser that caused the poorest outcome of all – death.

 

The Alzheimer’s Society reports that 1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s or a related disease.  Our aging population is growing and increasing in number.  It has been reported that our health care system will be unable to accommodate such a rapidly expanding number of elderly citizens.  More seniors with dementia will be trying to continue to live at home.  Due to the expanding senior population, police may encounter more citizens in the community with brain impairments – citizens who will have a compromised ability to follow orders from police to comply.

 

What we need Chief Blair is a police force who understand that non-compliance may mean inability to comply.  What we need Chief Blair is a police force who serve the community with humanity and care – and compassionate response using de-escalation techniques versus escalation techniques and ammunition.  I fear that arming the Toronto Police Service with another weapon, will result in a greater number of injuries and death to our citizens, not a reduction as has been proposed.

 

If we give the Toronto police officers more weaponry by arming them with Tasers, the message we are sending is loud and clear.  And the message is this:  ‘A potential reduction in lethality now allows us to continue to use force to gain compliance with Tasers’.

 

Today, I am asking the Toronto Police Service to consider reframing this statement: ‘A reduction in lethality and injuries is a positive outcome that will gain positive public recognition, enhanced public trust, and a greater level of public support for police officers who have been given the power to serve and protect us through the focus on, promotion of and expanded use of de-escalation techniques.’

 

What I’m asking Chief Blair, is to consider putting down the weapons.  What I’m asking Chief Blair is to consider promoting the use of effective communication techniques built on a foundation of humanity and dignity for those unable to follow orders. 

What I’m asking Chief Blair is to say NO to arming all front-line police officers with Tasers.

 

And for those unable to communicate due to dementia or crisis, and speaking on their behalf, please don’t harm us.  No additional weapons please.

 

Thank you

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Sammy Yatim: Another Unlearned Lesson in The Life Saving Value of De-escalation Techniques

sammy yatim on 505On July 27, 2013, 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was a passenger on the 505 Toronto streetcar.  According to other streetcar passengers as reported in the media, Sammy’s expression and actions drew a mixture of concern and fear.  Passengers left the streetcar.  Sammy Yatim remained, alone, with a knife in his hand.

A witness captures on video, the moments before Sammy Yatim’s death.  Even from the distance that the video is shot, it is clear that Sammy Yatim is in crisis.  As a Toronto police officer aims his handgun he yells, “Drop the knife right now.  You heard me say it.  If you take one step in this direction, I’ll f***ing do it.  No doubt about it.”  Sammy slowly backs up and repeats a mantra of four words, in a cadence that if it did not sound so baleful, it could be the lyrics to a song, “You’re a f***ing pig…You’re a f***ing pig.”

Does Sammy understand what the officer is saying?

Is Sammy in a state of mind where he can absorb fully what is being asked of him?

Does the officer understand this?  Does the officer believe that Sammy has the capacity to understand the command, is capable of following this order and has the capacity to comply?

Does the officer consider other options before drawing his gun?  Has the officer considered de-escalation?  Do any of the other officers attempt to assist in a way that could de-escalate the situation as the shooting officer aims.

Many police officers have arrived.  But, are they assisting or are they simply disengaged, mesmerized and chaotic?

It seems as if the shooting officer is on his own with one very frightened officer also aiming who is at his side.

One police officer moves casually to the side of the streetcar, talking into his shoulder communication device.  Other officers arrive and casually enter the scene and stand behind the shooting officer.  Other officers seem to mill about, directionless.  A few officers move back and forth erratically, but it is not clear what their goals or intentions are.  Some officers seem energetic but disoriented.  Passersby, seem undaunted and walk by.  Do police direct or ensure the safety of the civilian onlookers?

Before passengers exited the streetcar, according to one passenger, Sammy moved down the aisle of the streetcar with jaw and fists clenched, eyes wide.  The knife was in an upright position.   When Sammy neared, the passenger did not feel threatened, he reported to media because Sammy was moving slowly and seemed to be looking past him.

Following commands from the Toronto police officer, Sammy has backed up from the front TTC streetcar doors.  He is noted in the first side window, with his arm at a 90 degree angle.   A figure darts past on the opposite side of the TTC streetcar.  Sammy notices, but not with the expectation of imminent danger. He seems to move in a dream-like manner as though the knife he is holding and moving slowly through the space in front of him has an ethereal or mystical quality. He turns to follow the movement outside the streetcar to his right with a floating quality, not the startle response and darting action of someone in a heightened state of arousal due to danger.  His slightly delayed response is longer than would be expected from someone who has 22 police officers watching and waiting for him to decide not to comply.  His delayed response is longer than one would expect in someone who is alert, capable and in a coherent state of mind. Does Sammy have the capacity to make appropriate choices?

Sammy makes the inappropriate choice as determined by Toronto Police Service’s protocols, training and guidelines for ‘use of force’ in situations where an offender has a weapon.  Sammy drops his arm and deliberately moves one small step forward.

Nine shots, pop, pop, pop…then 6 more slow and deliberate…pop…pop…pop…pop…pop…pop.

Sammy immediately drops out of sight after the first shot.  Moments later Sammy lays twitching.  Is he still clutching the knife?  “Drop the knife.  Drop the knife,”  the Toronto police officer commands.  They move forward together in a pack, bodies taut, nervous.  Someone arrives quickly and moves in front of the pack of officers and enters the TTC streetcar deliberately, confidently.

Media reports state that Sammy was stunned with a Taser after being shot.  Did Sammy drop the knife after the first Taser deployment?  Did Sammy ever drop the knife?  Did someone pluck the knife from his hand as he lay dying on a cold TTC streetcar floor?  After the first shots, was Sammy in a conscious state of mind to let go of the knife?  Was Sammy conscious?

Had Sammy already dropped the knife as he dropped his arm just before taking that first deliberate step?

Eventually, CPR is applied.  Thirty minutes later Sammy is transferred by ambulance to hospital.  Sammy dies.

Sammy Yatim's mom at casketAs Sammy’s mom, Sahar Bahadi weeps for the loss of her son and requests for no retributive action against the TPS, the community asks, how can this happen?

funeral goers

How can police training advocate for the use of repeated lethal force in a situation where a young man could have been easily contained to maintain the safety of police and civilians alike?

After closing the TTC doors to contain Sammy, if de-escalation had been the first or even the intervening choice by any other officer, Sammy might be alive and we would have all learned the value of effective de-escalation techniques.

Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin has stated that he is watching the outcome of this SIU investigation and may intervene if proper measures to make sure that another Sammy Yatim tragedy does not occur.  Andre Marin has the authority and power to direct changes in Toronto Police Service training.

sammy_yatim_march On July 29th, a march for justice for Sammy Yatim brought hundreds of Torontonians to the streets from a variety of cultural backgrounds.  A second march is scheduled for August 13th, the date of the next Toronto Police Services Board meeting.

Sammy Yatim

In support of justice for Sammy Yatim and to support the Yatim family as they grieve for the loss of a son, brother, friend, join the march on August 13th and help bring about effective change to policing services for those in crisis.

The Ryan Russell Tragedy: A Letter To Nolan Russell

ryan russell

Dear Nolan,

On January 12, 2011, the unspeakable happened.  It is the nightmare of every child – to lose a parent.  On this day, you lost a most precious piece of your soul, your father, Ryan Russell.

I want you to know how deeply sorry I am for your loss.   There are not enough words of gratitude that could be said for the service your Dad provided in keeping our city safe.  While on duty keeping us safe, he lost his own life.  No one can replace what has been lost to you and your mom, Christine.  My heart aches for you – for the both of you.  I wish I could bring your dad back home to you.  I wish this tragedy had never happened, at all.

Sometimes reaching for some small measure of understanding, can eventually bring a small measure of peace.  It will be some time before the grief begins to subside enough to reach for this understanding.  This is understandable.  Pain is immeasurable.  Grief for the loss of someone so dear can never fully fade, only subside enough to carry on and find purpose.

Explanations for the reasons why your Dad died will not bring relief from pain, cover his loss, ensure that it doesn’t happen again or close the wide and empty space in your heart.  Explanations about the judicial system, mental illness, and being deemed not criminally responsible, will do nothing to resolve your pain now or ever.  You have lost a precious person in your life.

Is there ever a justification for this loss?

We accept the loss of our loved ones grudgingly and try to tell ourselves it was their time when they have lived a full life.  It does not ease the pain.  It does not soothe.  And your father had so many plans for you and he, as fathers do.  I wish I could somehow give this to you.  We all do.

You will hear that a person with mental illness found NCR – Not Criminally Responsible, section 16 of Canada’s criminal code, means that Richard Kachkar is not responsible for your father’s death.  Richard Kachkar is responsible for your father’s death.

Let me say this to you, again.  Richard Kachkar is responsible for your father’s death This cannot be disputed.  Richard Kachkar, agrees with this statement.  And, Richard Kachkar will live with this knowledge for the rest of his life.  And while many may speak of retribution and incarceration as the remedy for your father’s death, I believe there is no remedy great enough for the death of your father.  Removing the life of Richard Kachkar from himself through incarceration for 25 years to life feels like retribution and remedy for what you have lost.  But, retribution will not return to you what you need.  And, what you need is your father.

And, it seems as though Richard Kachkar is not paying a big enough price, doesn’t it?

It seems as though we have absolved him of wrong-doing.  It seems as if we have given him a free-ride ticket.  It seems as though we have said that the mentally ill are not responsible for their actions because they are sick.  And, this make us angry.  We don’t know how to understand this.  We don’t know where to place our overwhelming anger and feelings of helplessness.  What should we do, just wait for another person with mental illness to kill again?

Is there no remedy for murder?

Yes, Nolan, there is a remedy.

To prevent another tragedy we must require better services and assistance to everyone in mental health crisis.  To those who are mentally ill in our current prison system, we must demand better mental healthcare and treatment so that when returned to the community following incarceration those in mental health crisis are in a state of health where they are safer for not only us to be around but for themselves, too.

Nolan, know that Richard Kachkar has lived a life not nearly as full as your father’s short life with you.  Richard Kachkar lives each day now with the knowledge of what his mental illness has lead him to do.  And, he lives with the burden of an unforgiving society, who does not understand the complexities of mental illness – a society that does not want to know or understand it either.  A society that believes those in mental health crisis must be incarcerated for any wrong-doing as though they have capacity to reason during mental health crisis as you and I do.

During the event that lead to your father’s untimely death, Richard Kachkar was not in a state of mind where he could fully appreciate his actions.  He must get the assistance and treatment he needs to help him become a safer member of society.

Know that there is no greater punishment than the punishing aspects of a mind you cannot count on; a mind that leads you to do things you will regret later.  Know that there is nothing more punishing than an entire society knowing your ailment, despising you for it and believing it is not an ailment at all, denying you help.

This, a fate worse than death.  Death would be sweet release.

This is Richard Kachkar’s world – his mind – a  jail from which he cannot escape without treatment and a society he cannot escape from who sees him as an outcast to be forsaken.

Nolan, you have your mom and you had a wonderful dad.  With your mom’s help, the greatest tribute to your dad is keeping his memory alive.  And, your mother has you, Nolan – something wonderful – a gift from your dad, Ryan Russell.

Ryan Russell.  RIP.

 

Wishing the very best for you and your mom,

Darlene Marett

Black Daddies: Myths, Stereotypes or Truth?

brandon hay with sonWe all know the stereotypes about black fathers…..unavailable, disinterested, flees at the first sign of trouble, leaving their baby mommas to single motherhood.

It has been said that there is some truth to stereotypes.  But, is it that we seek to confirm what we suspect or do we try to refute the obvious and find reasons why?

Can we find some example that this stereotype has a measure of truth, yet has been misunderstood?

I listen to a group of white boys and one black boy.  The white boys are full of excitement, bravado, teasing and jousling for advantage.  The black boy is measured and distant.  Introspective.  This is a group of children invited to a birthday party.  A baby enters the fray and the black boy looks towards the baby.  His face softens as he gazes at the baby.  The baby smiles in return.  He blurts out, “Can’t you just wait to have a baby of your own?”  The white boys halt, go quiet.  Deadpan.  One speaks with a heightened sense of incredulity, “No.”  The black boy answers, “I want to have a family of my own one day.”

I see a young black father crossing the parking lot at Jane and Finch.  Mom pushes empty stroller as Dad cradles his sweet baby daughter not more than 2 months old in an adorable yellow sunsuit.  His strong arms gently hold her in his arms as she sleeps.  An interesting  image; juxtaposition between strength and fragility.  He strides with pride and calm assurance together with his baby’s mom.

I see a young black activist at our meeting.  He gently cradles his beautiful toddler girl when she climbs into his lap and releases her as she runs away with excitement to adventures of discovery.  Between attending to his daughter and leading the meeting, I notice the fluid transition to attentive fatherhood and back to passionate rebel leader as she runs away giggling.

At a meeting at the Black Creek Community Health Centre, I see a young black woman, 17-years-old, trying to contain the exuberance of her 8 month old son as he struggles to climb up, then sit down in her lap.  He flops down and hurls himself backwards against her chest.   He begins to wail.  She tries to place him back in his stroller to lie down.  She recognizes his need for sleep and struggles to accommodate him as he fights, trying to place a blanket over his taut body.  His overtiredness and frustration assume an indignant pose.  He stiffens and cries out, arms and legs flailing.  She lifts him out of the stroller, her own frustration apparent as she tries to speak to the crowded room on issues of teen sexuality as she tends to her boy.  Her friends begin to help and outstretched arms gather him.  They pass him from one to another in an attempt to soothe him.  Exhausted, he cycles between amused giggles to anxious wails.  Another set of outstretched arms, ‘Give him to me, I’ll take him.”  Another black teen lifts the crying baby to his chest.  He smiles at the boy and plays with him for a minute.  Then he cradles him in his arms and rocks him.  The baby struggles, twists and flails.  The teen lifts the baby to his shoulder and stands up to walk around and pats the baby’s back.  Soothed, baby coos and relaxes.  The young man holding him relaxes too and continues to wander around the back of the meeting room with the baby.

I speak with a 27-year-old black activist fighting with Justice Is Not Colour-Blind to end racial profiling and carding of black men.  Beside us, a senior black man who writes for Contrast News listens.  The 27-year-old man tells me that he wants to finish his education and be able to support a family before starting a relationship.  Right now he is staying single and on his own so that he can stay focused on his plan.  The senior reporter chuckles and tells him that he’ll see a pretty black woman and he’ll fall in love and that will be it.  He’ll forget all about his plan.  The 27-year-old laughs good-naturedly and says, “Nope, I’m sticking to my plan.”

In a piece written by Valerie Hautch, a staff writer for the Toronto Star, reports on Brandon Hay, founder of the Black Daddies Club.  Hay says, “There’s the stereotype that we don’t exist, that we don’t want to play a role.”  Hautch reports that Hay believes a transition is underway in society about the role of black fathers, “…we have fathers who want to be financial providers but can’t find that long-term work for whatever reason.  We have Dads who are parenting but can’t be fully engaged.  Sometimes there are issues around employment and housing.”

brandon hay black daddies clubThe Black Daddies Club is a support group for black fathers.  Research on the experiences of black fathers seems to be non-existent.  The Black Daddies Club plans to collect data and assist in a research project with University of Toronto’s OISE associate professor Lance McCready and York University professor Carl E. James to better understand how black men are dealing with the issues of parenting.

To find out more information about the Black Daddies Club click on this link below:

http://www.blackdaddiesclub.com/

Black York Region Police Officer Charged With Failing To Report Racial Slurs Against Himself?

york region police logoUnder the Police Services Act, York Region PC Dameian Muirhead has been charged with insubordination, discreditable conduct and neglect of duty related to two separate incidents involving complainant, Rheal Duguay.  In a public hearing at York Region Police headquarters yesterday, details were revealed during testimony provided by two other York Region police officers.   York Region police had been called to a domestic dispute on May 21st, 2011.  York Region police were dispatched following a 911 call where it had been reported that a woman had been struck by an off-road vehicle.

During testimony PC Lasseter, who responded to the domestic call with PC Muirhead, described the scene when they arrived to the farmhouse located on Bathurst St. in York Region.  Both constables were met by approximately 15 people who appeared to have been drinking.  With beer bottles in hand, slurring their words, angry outbursts, taunting and shouting to both officers to leave were met with an explanation by York Region constables that they were responding to a 911 call for assistance and to investigate a criminal offence.  The angry crowd refused to offer any assistance, or provide either the name of the woman or her boyfriend.

PC Muirhead continued to investigate taking note of vehicle license plates lined along the long farmhouse driveway to determine who was on the property and locate the whereabouts of those involved in the domestic dispute.  Enraged party goers continued to shout and swear at police calling them ***** pigs and telling them to leave and that they needed a warrant.  While PC Muirhead  continued collecting license plate information, PC Lasseter kept an eye on the angry mob, who were becoming increasingly more angry.  When asked by defense counsel, Courtney Betty whether the scene resembled a war zone and if they were concerned about weapons on the property, PC Lasseter agreed stating that the beer bottles themselves in the hands of those at the party could easily become weapons in the hands of angry people.  And, due to the property being in a rural area PC Lasseter agreed that hunting rifles could potentially be available to those who were becoming increasingly hostile.

During the collection of plate information, Rheal Duguay noticed that his jacket had fallen to the ground from his motorbike and he demanded that police pick it up.  Duguay could be heard on a recording played during the hearing demanding repeatedly that the jacket be picked up.  PC Muirhead did not respond to these demands, continuing to collect license plate information.  When questioned by defense counsel, Courtney Betty, regarding de-escalation training, PC Lasseter stated that non-response to taunts and demands were a de-escalation method.  Engaging an angry mob with a response could lead to increased anger leading to a physical confrontation, creating an unsafe situation for police officers as well as the crowd itself.

The fallen jacket was the basis for Rheal Duguay’s complaint registered with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).  Duguay maintains that the fallen jacket not retrieved amounted to disrespect by York Region police constables.

When found, the domestic assault victim, had shoulder injuries requiring transfer to hospital.  After EMS and ambulance arrived, she was transferred to Southlake Regional Health Center for care.  York Region police constables also noted that her vehicle had been rammed by the same off-road vehicle that had hit her as she attempted to flee.

As York Region Police Constables Muirhead and Lasseter were leaving the property, swearing, and taunts ensued.  Someone shouted, “I would love to see that guy hanging from a tree,” making reference to a lynching.  PC Lasseter gave testimony stating that PC Muirhead just shook his head and continued to walk away saying nothing in response.

Charges of misconduct, were brought against PC Muirhead in response to Rheal Duguay’s original complaint and a second complaint registered against York Regional Police following a threat by Rheal Duguay to PC Muirhead while both PC Muirhead and Rheal Duguay were purchasing gas at an Aurora gas station.  The second complaint was registered against PC Mac Gregor, the York Region police officer who responded to assistance from PC Muirhead following the verbal threat.

Charges of misconduct are levelled at PC Muirhead in reference to a lack of investigation following the comment referring to a lynching.  Officer Muirhead is thought to be a discredit to the force due to not further investigating who made the comment.

Public hearing resumes at York Regional Headquarters on Yonge St. in Newmarket on March 18, 2013 at 1000am.

Nurses and Patients: Should Nurses or Patients Choose Who Provides Care?

black nurse HurleyRecently, the Hurley Medical Center in Michigan accommodated a request by a white supremacist that no black nurse care for his infant after revealing what appeared to be a tattoo of a swastika.  For approximately a month, no black nurses provided care for this infant and a written note clearly stating the request was observed by nursing staff.   This request brought shock, and distress to Tonya Battle, the first nurse to encounter this discrimination and other black members of the nursing staff and a lawsuit against the hospital was initiated.

It is understandable when patients prefer a healthcare provider of their own ethnicity or religion when they visit hospital, particularly when they are new immigrants to our country.  Comfort and reassurance from the provision of care from a care provider who understands culture, religious practice and language can reduce patient stress and lead to better health care outcomes And, it is also understandable when preferences for certain genders is requested.  Many women now choose a female general practitioner as their family doctor.  In long term care, elderly women or their family members may prefer a female care provider to provide bathing and perineal care.  This is intimate care.  A woman may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed with a man washing her perineal area.

But, is this the same as a white supremacist requesting that a black nurse not care for his infant in acute neonatal care?

Some would argue that it is exactly the same.  Some would say that patients or their family members should be able to choose their care providers at all times.  But what if the request is based on discrimination?  And how would we proceed if the request was based on any other kind of discrimination not based on colour?

How would we react if  patients wanted to chose only thin nurses, or pretty nurses, or young nurses?

When we look at discrimination for what it is – an ill-conceived, pre-determined value based on hate-filled stereotypes that brings pain, shame, and discomfort to certain groups based on oppressive practice such as dislike of overweight people, average looking persons, the older population or those of color, we can see that this kind of request is clearly different.  Do we want to create a society that alienates certain groups?  Do we want to create a society where some are considered more valuable than others?  Have we already done so?

And if we create a society where some are considered more valuable than others, do we also want health care providers to be able to chose who they provide care to?  Would we want a nurse to refuse to provide care to a white supremacist, a patient who had committed a crime, those in mental health crisis, or the elderly with dementia who in their confusion may physically or verbally lash out?  Perhaps a supervisor may believe that a black nurse may be at risk of harm by providing care to a white supremacist`s baby, so may wish to choose to protect the black nurses.  But, in doing so, we also allow racial discrimination to flourish.

Perhaps a better solution would be a meeting between the white supremacist and an ethics committee which includes representation of a variety of racial groups.  Whatever the outcome, it must be understood that discrimination based on race must not be tolerated in a public institution.  If fear of white supremacy backlash takes precedence over ethics and the greater societal good, race based discrimination will only increase.  It has been 60 years since the civil rights movement began to bring significant change to how people of colour are treated.  We must not regress backwards to a time when acceptance of racial discrimination was the norm.

This blatant display of white supremacy must be observed for what it is –  an ignorant, arrogant viewpoint guided by assumed beliefs of superiority and privilege whose time has come to be eradicated.   White supremacy and racial discrimination must not be tolerated due to fear.  As a white nurse, I call on all other white nurses to stand up for your black sisters and fight against requests for alternative care providers based on racial discrimination.  If we all stand together as nurses both black and white, the power of white supremacy will fade and become a distant memory.  Let us all stand together and bring an end to the ugliness of white supremacy.

Our society is only as strong as it is inclusive.  Division based on ridiculous assumptions serves only to weaken and impair what could be accomplished as a whole society with respect for all.

When Temporary Staff Lack Training: When Healthcare Faulters

malton ltcAn 87-year-old resident was confined to a broken elevator for 29 hours due to a faulty assumption that she was with her family, the Toronto Star reported February 5th.  How is this possible?

Resident, Rosalie Rowsell signed back into the Malton Village Long Term Care Centre on December 23rd, then went outside to smoke a cigarette.  On returning to her floor, she became stuck in an elevator.  Staff noted that the elevator was not working and put the elevator out of service, the Star reports.  Rosalie Rowsell used the emergency phone in the elevator to no avail – missed messages and phones connecting her to staff were not set correctly.

Because of this event one nurse has been fired and three other staff have been suspended.

And many would consider this just.  A nurse is responsible for those under her care – all 32 residents on her unit.  She must know where they are to ensure their safety.

It could have been much worse than a nurse losing her job.  This is a small price to pay for justice in the name of excellent elder care.  And this is what we want don’t we – excellent care for our loved ones when we are no longer able to safely care for them ourselves?

It could have been much worse.  Rosalie Rowsell might have needed medical assistance beyond hydration, sustenance and a decent place to sleep and not a dirty elevator floor.  What if Rosalie had become short of breath, anxious, suffered a cardiac event?

It seems that communication broke down somewhere along the way.  I suspect Rosalie’s unit charge nurse did not know she had returned, nor did any of the PSW staff.  Temporary staff?  When usual staff are on shift, they may notice a returning resident, or not.  If they are in a resident’s room providing care they are not able to see what is going on in other areas of the unit.  The unit charge nurse may also be providing care such as medication administration or dressing changes and these usually take place in resident’s rooms.  It may have happened that when Rosalie returned to her unit, she signed in with a paper sign-in sheet.  It may also be true that staff were not expecting Rosalie to return on the 23rd.  Without expecting her return, without recognizing who she was, if they saw her at all, and without looking at the sign-in sheet, these circumstances could have conspired to bring us to this unfortunate end where an elderly woman is stuck for over a day in an elevator.

And it does seem just that someone must pay the price for this error.

Unfortunately, if the communication issues do not resolve, firing a nurse will only result in another mishap and another firing.  And this only serves to punish, but it does not serve the greater concern of keeping resident’s safe and free from harm.  Is that not the mandate of every nursing home?  Is this not what we expect of the nursing home we choose to take care of our loved ones?  Do we feel better, safer and have confidence in a nursing home that remedies a poorly managed situation with showing an employee the door?

And perhaps this employee should be let go.  Perhaps she did not take the most care in managing the broken elevator situation and perhaps she should have considered whether anyone was stuck in the elevator.  But then I wonder who put the elevator on service?  Temporary employee?  Did they wonder if anyone was stuck in the elevator?  Did they request a head-count on each unit to make sure no one was missing?  If they did, and they assumed Rosalie was with family, and everyone else was accounted for, then they would believe all was well and no one was stuck in the elevator.

With shift changes, understaffed nursing homes and staff run ragged, temporary employees who work on a unit for just one shift that can’t be expected to understand all the subtle nuances and intricate workings of the long term care home they are working in, it is not hard to see how mishaps can occur.  And, with the current systems of communication in many nursing homes that are written or verbal and do not centralize information into one database, it is easy to see how important information can be overlooked.

And time is always running short for front-line staff.

Sure, fire a nurse.  This solves the problem of who should shoulder the blame for this.  We can all rest easy now.  Everyone will be safe now.  Or will they?

Every elderly resident of the Malton Village Long Term Care Centre will be safe when a few more important changes take place.  Among these should be something beyond a paper sign-in sheet for resident’s who are not expected to return but do so at their own discretion.  Perhaps this could be a swipe card that families are expected to swipe with their returning family member.  This swipe card should then send an alert to both the computer and to the mobile phone that the charge nurse and PSW’s carry with them alerting staff to the fact that a resident has returned and is now under the care of the facility once again.  Additionally, the phone service from the elevator should not be alerting only nursing staff, it should also send an alert to a security firm or upper management who can then contact the unit nurse and the manager in charge, ensuring the safety of those stuck in the elevator.  This should be followed up with a call from the security firm or management to make sure the resident was assisted out of the elevator.

If Malton Long Term Care Centre does not wish to consider these changes on their own.  And they may not, believing that firing a single nurse will resolve future potential lawsuits, then I hope that all families of resident’s will push for these kinds of changes.  Perhaps CUPE Local 966 will want to strengthen their position by lobbying the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for effective change to nursing home security safeguards, so that they need not defend fired employees in the future.  Better served, will be the residents whose safety is much more important than the loss of employment for one nurse who certainly will find employment at another nursing home.

A family can not replace their loved one.

Sign me – another CUPE member working towards effective change in nursing home care for our elderly residents.  If you agree, contact me at this Blog – leave me a message.

Arming Special Constables: Will We Be Safe?

special constablesPorter Airlines would like to bring U.S. customs to the Toronto island airport.  Under federal aviation regulations, the Toronto Port Authority will need armed officers to operate a preclearance area for US customs, Patty Winsa reported in the Toronto Star recently.   To achieve this, it seems there are two options – one available and one that needs tweaking:  1)  Hire Toronto police officers   2)  Hire special constables.

Unfortunately, special constables do not carry guns in Toronto.

Police Services Boards have the power under the Police Services Act to consider use-of-force methods for special constables.  The Toronto Port Authority has approached the Toronto Police Services Board for their consideration in this matter.  Not surprisingly, Toronto Police Chief, Bill Blair has vetoed it.  Not surprisingly, Scarborough city counsellor and vice-chair of the board, Michael Thompson wants to look into it.

And there is much to consider.  Oversight and public confidence are two of them.

With Toronto police officers carrying guns, they are overseen by the board, the Special Investigations Unit and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.  And, with this level of oversight the public continues to be skeptical.  Special constables can be approved by the board, but not overseen by them.  Likewise, the SIU and the OIPRD do not have authority to oversee special constables either.  And that means they are not able to investigate or hold special constables accountable for their actions when they discharge their weapons.

So who does?  The chief of police only?

And how then, will the public be protected when there is a question as to the integrity of special constables?

With the somewhat shaky confidence in the SIU and the newly appointed and supposedly ‘independent’ position of the police review director in question, paired with Toronto police officers who seem to be protected and immune to fault when discharging their weapons, how can we trust that special constables, armed with guns will discharge them honourably?

My thoughts.

We better get this accountability thing right before we start giving out any more guns, weapons, or Tasers to anyone else with the authority to shoot us.

Two Conversations With Former Toronto Police Officers

I had the opportunity to speak recently with two former Toronto police officers.  Both conversations were unique, candid and surprising.  Due to the candid nature of the conversations and concerns about publicly announcing viewpoints that may bring repercussions to both former Toronto police officers, I have chosen to keep their identities anonymous so that they would feel free to disclose. One of the officers now works in health care. The other continues to work in law enforcement.

Officer #1:  Male, married, 40-something

PO #1:  So what’s this blog about?

Me:  I write mainly about social justice and civil rights issues for racialized, marginalized and vulnerable persons.

PO #1:  Hmm.  Why, do you get paid to do this?

Me:  No.

PO #1:  So you just do this for fun?  What, do people write to you and say stuff like ‘good writing’?

Me:  Not really.  The blog is pretty controversial.  Not everyone agrees with my point of view, and …..you might not really like   what I’m going to say next.

PO #1:  (taking a deep breath, shifting position and straightening his back)  Go ahead.  You can tell me anything you want.

Me:  You know there have been a lot of shootings of black youth by the Toronto police since the 1970’s and I’m looking into it.  I also think the Somali kid who got shot in the alleged home invasion in Peel seems a bit unusual, too.  So I wrote about that, too.  That blog sparked a lot of hateful comments.  Many comments I could not approve and some of them were overtly racist so were inappropriate to publish on the blog.

PO #1:  You know, you don’t look like a cop-hater.

Me:  I’m not.  I just think that policing should be ethical.  There was a police officer last year that had to bring in another police officer who had been drinking and driving and..

PO #1: (he cuts me off – not maintaining eye contact, looking away to the side) So what do you care if some Somali kid got shot?

Me:  Because I do.

PO #1:  So you want your kind of justice.

Me:  (I’m beginning to feel quite anxious here, but I continue on) My kind of justice?  Shouldn’t justice be the same for everyone?  Tell me you don’t care about this Somali kid.

PO #1:  (maintaining eye contact with a great deal of effort, gritting his teeth)  I..Don’t…Care. (the corners of his outer eyelids droop in sadness)

Me:  You care.  I can see that you care.

PO #1:  (looking to the side, shifting position, sighing) No I don’t.  They shoot each other, too.  Didn’t you know that?

Me:  (sadly)  Yes, they do.  I’ve been writing about something else, too.  I witnessed a Toronto police officer shoot a black kid back in 1996.  I saw the whole thing from start to finish.

PO #1:  (he starts writing down what I say)  Okay, when was this exactly?

Me:  January 10th, 1996.  The black boy was Tommy Barnett.  They say he had a sword, but it was only a flag.  I saw the whole thing from my apartment window.

PO #1:  (sounding edgy, writing again) What was your address?

Me:  3 Claxton Blvd. apt #302.

PO #1:  Who was the shooting officer?

Me:  ( I tell him the officer’s name)

PO #1:  (sounding angry)  You’re talking about my friend.  I worked with that guy.  And that kid was a man.

Me:  That kid was 22-years-old.

PO #1:  That’s a man. (spoken emphatically) I can’t deal with this.  I’m not talking to you about this.  I’m getting someone else(He begins to walk away)

Me:  Does your friend know I’m writing this blog?

PO #1:  No. And he’s not gonna know.  I don’t want him to know.

Me:  How is he doing?  Is he still working as a police officer?

PO #1:  (still upset, edgy) Yes.  He’s doing just fine.  And yes, it was a flag, but there was also a sword.  You should read the entire inquest before you write these things.  It’s not as if you..well, yes you did see it, so…(with some sarcasm) okay, so tell me all about it.  So you heard the sirens and you went to the window.

Me:  Actually, I don’t know what brought me to the window, I don’t remember sirens but anyway…I went to the window and I see a cruiser in the middle of Bathurst St close to what was originally Haber’s pharmacy.  The cruiser was parked on a diagonal across Bathurst St.  The officer was standing outside the cruiser on the driver’s side and moved along the length of the vehicle until he was closer to the back near the trunk.  With his back to the cruiser he took aim and shot.  It happened pretty quickly. It seemed like just a few minutes between him watching Tommy and the shooting taking place.  The other officer didn’t seem to want anything to do with it.  He was standing on the other side of the cruiser, sideways, looking over.

PO #1:  (stated matter-of-factly) There wasn’t another officer there.

Me:  Yes, there was.

PO #1:  (less matter-of-factly, more casual) Oh yeah, that’s right he did have a partner sometimes.  Well, you don’t want to know what I think of him, ratting Ben out like that.

Me: (I don’t know if this is true or not, but I want to see the officer’s reaction) He didn’t.

PO #1:  (visibly taken aback, pulls his head back and straightens up quickly).  You know it was snowy that night.  The ground was icy.

Me:  The shot was from at least 15 feet.  That’s quite a distance.

PO #1:  It was icy.  You know I’ve gotta give you credit for looking into this, but you’ve got a lot of nerve doing this.  (incredulously) And, you put your actual name on your blog and your picture?  That’s not a good idea.  If you were my sister, I’d tell you to..

Me: (cutting him off) You’d tell me not to do it, right?  It’s dangerous to write about this, isn’t it?  I want people to know who is writing this so that it can be verified.

PO #1:  Listen. I’m not gonna tell you not to do this but do it by proxy, okay?   You’re writing about this stuff, but you don’t know how it is.  You don’t know what its like when you’ve got someone pointing a weapon at you and you have to protect yourself.

Me:  One black teenager was shot in the back.

PO #1:  (emphatically)  I’d shoot someone in the back, too.  If I’ve got a person who was a threat to my partner, I’d shoot him and I don’t care what my supervisor says or the chief of police.  You got that?  And if someone was running towards you with a weapon in their hand, I wouldn’t worry about whether I was shooting centre mass or not, I’d ram them with my vehicle if I was in it.  (sarcastically) You want to sit at home in your nice little house and watch tv after dinner with your nice little families while we’re out here dealing with all this stuff so that you can feel safe.   So, you can feel safe.

Me: (thinking to myself:  I don’t feel safe with ‘police justice’) That boy who was shot in the back didn’t have a weapon, wasn’t threatening anybody.

PO #1:  That guy you saw shot.  Did you know he was giving us a hard time?  Did you know he was giving us trouble?

Me: (dumbfounded, wondering what kind of hard time Tommy gave the police that deserved being shot in the head)

PO #1:  I’ll bet for five bucks you can get a copy of the whole inquest.  You need to read the whole thing.

Me:  I’m going to do that.

————————————————————————————————–

Officer #2:  Female, separated, 40-something

Me:  I had an interesting conversation with a former Toronto Police officer the other day.  We were talking about my blog and the shootings by Toronto police officers of black youth.

PO #2:  Shootings of black youth?

Me:  Well, there has been quite a few shootings since the late 1970’s and nothing has changed.  I saw a black guy get shot from my apartment window by a Toronto police officer in 1996.  I didn’t speak up back then, but I’m writing about it now on my blog.  I started after Michael Eligon was shot last year.  He was wearing only a hospital gown, toque and socks when he was shot by Toronto police.  He was holding blunt-ended scissors in each hand at his sides walking towards police when he was shot.

PO #2:  What?

Me:  When I talked with this former Toronto police officer, he said that he’d shoot a kid in the back if he had to.

PO #2:  (incredulously) In the back?  How can you shoot a kid in the back?  That kid better be facing you and he better have a weapon in his hand.

Me:  Nope.  No weapon.  And, the police officer who shot that kid in the back was not charged.

PO #2:  What?  If I had to shoot a kid, he’d have to have a weapon and I’d have to be in danger and I’d wait until I absolutely had to.  It would be a hard decision.

Me:  How do you’d think you’d feel afterwards?

PO #2:  I’d want to quit.  I think any officer who shot someone would find it difficult to work after that.  That’s how much it would affect someone.

Me:  The officer who shot the guy I saw shot, is still working.  Others are, too.  How long did you work for Toronto Police?

PO #2:  Two years.

Me:  That wasn’t long.  What happened?

PO #2:  I was always getting into trouble.

Me:  For what?

PO #2:  I wasn’t hard enough on people.  I’d feel bad for someone if they were upset and I wouldn’t give them a traffic ticket sometimes.  I was also kind to the people we took into custody.  My supervisor didn’t like that.  So, I quit.

Me:  Do you think it might have something to do with being female or male?

PO #2:  No.  There are female officers who are just as bad as the guys.  You know, arrogant, tough, cynical, suspicious.  Some are tougher!

Me:  Do you miss policing?

PO #2:  Yeah.  Thinking of applying for OPP.  You know, there are police officers who haven’t drawn their gun in thirty years of service.

Me:  Wow, that’s good to know.

Tommy Barnett: January 10th 1996 – The Day Faith Died

January 10, 1996:  Tommy Barnett, a 22-year-old black man was shot at the corner of Claxton Blvd. and Bathurst St. in Toronto by a member of the Toronto Police Service. 

Today, I think of Tommy Barnett.  It is not only today on this very important date that I think of him.  I have thought of him every day since I first started this blog in March 2012.  Tommy was the reason for this blog.  When I blog, I think of him.

I also thought of him every day for several weeks after his shooting death.  How could I not think of him?  I witnessed his death in its entirety from his first encounter with the Toronto police that evening to the moment he fell to the pavement.  This, from my apartment window.

Although I have been witness to many things in my lifetime, witnessing the death of another by gunshot from one we would not expect to shoot to kill unless it is absolutely necessary – a police officer,  has affected my life in a way that supersedes all other trauma and is indescribable.  How does one explain the moment when faith has been lost?

Funny, this sentence – ‘ ….when Faith has been lost.’  Yes, Faith with a capital F.  Or, faith with a small f.  My faith in the Toronto Police Service and Tommy, who was also known as ‘Faith.’

black action defence committee logoRacquiah Topey of the Black Action Defense Committee knew Faith.  I didn’t.  Racquiah told me Tommy’s nickname was Faith.  Funny, how another’s life event can have a huge impact when you didn’t really know them.  Your only frame of reference is the moment of their death, but not only their death by natural causes which I have witnessed and this, too, leaves its imprint on your soul – the moment of passing from one state of being to another – like birth really, but with solemn poignancy, not glee.  Quiet reflection on what was a human being’s life and their value to those who knew and loved them.

Tommy was loved.  His mother wept with a ferocity and anguish I have never heard as I shared the news of her son’s last moments.  I did not know Tommy’s mother either, but I thought she should know the truth of her son’s death.  I thought she should know that the ambulance that carried Tommy to the Sunnybrook Trauma Unit, waited for 30 minutes before transferring him.  It had been reported the following day in the news that Tommy died in hospital, meaning that he had arrived alive.

Why the delay in transferring him?

And why had Tommy been shot?  This was unclear to me.

As Tommy’s mother wept, raged, cried out in pain, I asked her why the police would shoot a young man marching with a flag in the middle of Bathurst St.  Reporters must have been fed details from TPS who said that Tommy had a Samurai sword.  There was no mention of flags.  Why no mention of flags?

I had become increasingly anxious as I read details in the news that did not match details I had observed.  Had no one from the media spoken to any of the residents of my low-rise apartment building to fact-check?  Certainly no one had spoken to me.  I must contact the newspaper and discuss what I had observed.  Certainly, they will thank me for my efforts in reporting the truth.  I think they will be shocked to find out the truth.  This is a major story and I need some help in telling it.  I can’t tell this story alone without back-up.

Why?

Because, we’re talking about the policing system in our city.  The policing system that is hiding facts.  The policing system that just shot a guy walking with a flag from at least 15 feet while his policing partner who clearly wanted nothing to do with the shooting at all, stood on the other side of the police car near the door, standing sideways, watching.  They didn’t mention him, either.  What did he say about this incident, I wondered?  Why is this being hushed up?  And how could such brazen action by police – those who we trust and have faith to serve and protect us be covered up?

What did the newspaper guy say when I told him the truth about the story?

I don’t remember the exact words because fear like a tidal wave washed over me as I listened.  Like those movies where our character hears only the sound of his own heart pounding and the muffled backdrop of indecipherable angry backlash, I too found myself shutting down instantly into stunned silence.  The gist of the conversation was that I had no right to interfere as I was yelled at over the phone.

Funny, they didn’t want to verify anything.  They didn’t want to know.  Funny, that they didn’t want to know.

This, all before I spoke to Tommy’s mom.  I hadn’t expected to speak with Tommy’s mom.  Being a mom myself, imagining how utterly life-changing an event such as your own son’s death would be, paired with the news that it didn’t have to be at all would be greater than grief itself.  It would be the greatest pain any mom could endure – 1000 times the pain of natural childbirth.  The last person I wanted to inflict this level of pain on was Tommy’s mom.

And, I wanted Tommy’s mom to be the last mom to endure it.

Outing the TPS’s little secret would change everything.  I had been reading in the news about police shooting young black men for years.  At least one to two had been shot each year since the late 1970’s.  I thought this was odd, but had never really questioned it.  I believed in the Toronto Police Service, policing in general and all I had read in the news.  I had believed that Toronto police must have had good reason to shoot.  And, I had reasoned that had anyone witnessed any differently, the media would certainly unveil the truth.  That if the details didn’t add up, someone certainly must have tried to inform the media.  I had assumed that the media always wanted to get the authentic story, regardless of who may be offended.  So, even if something seemed amiss, media would uncover it, gratefully.

Really.  Naive.  And dead wrong.

Fear.

After calling everyone with Tommy’s mom’s last name in the Toronto white pages, I find her.  My heart pounds, and sinks all at once.  What if I just avoid this.  I don’t have to tell her.  She could live in quasi-bliss not knowing the final moments of her son’s life.  She could go on, believing that the police had a reason to shoot.

This, too, naive.  A white mother does not know what fear a black mother lives with when her son leaves through the front door.

I am learning, now.

I leave my phone number with Tommy’s mom.  Should she want to pursue this, I will help her.  I tell her I’m scared, but I want to help her.  No mother should have to face this alone.

We talk for 20 minutes.  She tells me that I shouldn’t try to help her.

Why?

“You have children.  You have no idea what the police will do to you once you try to help me.  I’m not going to do anything about it,” she blurts out between baleful sobs.  “But, thank you for your call.”

Wow.  And I’m getting thanked for this horrific news, too.  I shudder with the weight of my own emotions, Tommy’s mom’s emotions plus what knowledge I carry.  What I must bury, Tommy’s mother must bury twice with a heavily laden heart.

For a few weeks, I talk to others in my apartment building about it.  No one saw anything.  I talk to a black retired school-teacher in the neighbourhood I know.  At first she says I should report it directly to the police, and I feel hopeful.  Then she suddenly asks me if I’m talking about a black man.  She too has a son who is a young man.

“Oh no, don’t say anything.  I thought we were talking about a white man who was shot,” she admonishes, “You have young children, you don’t want trouble with the police.  Black man shot. That’s different.”

Not knowing where to turn, no internet access to information in 1996 like there is today, not knowing that the Special Investigations Unit that begun in 1990 as a result of the Black Action Defense Committee with civil rights lawyer Charles Roach and civil rights activist, Dudley Laws pushing for public oversight of Toronto policing, could be contacted or that the Black Action Defense Committee existed….I stopped trying to bring justice for Tommy’s death.

I hoped that Tommy’s mom would contact me.  I hoped she would pursue it.  Or, maybe I hoped she wouldn’t.   I was frightened that pursuing it would lead to my own demise.  That someone would silence me.  But, how could I live with this truth and not reveal it?  How could I just say nothing and allow others to die?

Tommy’s mom never called me for help.

And I silenced myself.  And I tried to forget about it.  And I did mostly forget, or at least stay silent, for 16 years until Michael Eligon was shot by Toronto police February 3rd, 2012.

If I had followed up on Tommy’s homicide somehow I would have found out that an inquest had been held and Tommy’s mom had secured a lawyer to help her.

I spoke with her lawyer recently.  He sighed and wondered how things might have been different if I had spoken up back then.  He’s working on the James Bishop case now.

A reporter at the Toronto Star sent me some information in April of this past year.  It was the judges closing comments at the end of Tommy’s inquest.

I spoke with a Toronto police officer, recently too.

Bluntly, he told me that I don’t have all the facts straight.  With a mixture of amused disbelief and unapologetic candor, he also told me that he’s got to give me credit for this but I have a lot of nerve taking this on. He told me I should look at the entire inquest which I can get at the court records office as a transcript.  What do you think this is, some kind of conspiracy?

I asked him if he knew the significance of the name of the coroner who took part in this inquest.

He looks at me blankly.

Charles Smith, I say, just as bluntly.  You know, the same Dr. Charles Smith who gave expert opinion in the baby battering cases that sent parents to jail, then it was discovered that all these parents had not done anything to harm their children at all?  The same Dr. Charles Smith that avoided legal repercussions by resigning his position as Chief Coroner of Ontario. And the same Dr. Charles Smith who accepted kick-backs from the company who produces Tasers so that Tasers could be endorsed and introduced smoothly into Canada?

Same blank stare, eyes averted.

You know what made me dig deeper?  The discrepancy between the coroner’s account of the distance the shots were fired at and my eye witness account.  I wondered if forensics was an exact science.  I had thought it was.  How could the coroner get this distance so wrong?

With each finding, I tried to find others to support me and help.  I have been working on investigating this since April. I still am.  Slowly.  Taking in a deep breath and a break with each discovery.  It’s frightening and sad all at once.  There is a part of me that does not want to know the truth.  I want to believe that those who have taken the oath to serve and protect, will do so.

I have recently been reminded that people are well, simply human.  Cops, too.  Coroners, too.  There are many cops who haven’t fired a shot or removed their gun from their holster in thirty years of service.  I’m grateful for this, buoyed by the knowledge that there are Toronto police officers who take the oath to serve and protect seriously.

Maybe I should give up this fight for truth and justice.  Maybe we all know what the truth is… about everything, but are too afraid to speak up.  The cost too high. But, then where does that leave us as humans collectively?  What will that say about humanity if I give up this fight for the sake of personal safety like everyone else?

I think of the holocaust.  People were afraid to speak up for those who were taken away.  The cost to personal safety too high.

Tommy has a sister.  A picture of her standing beside Dudley Laws fighting with him for civil rights and social justice hangs in the office of the Black Action Defense Committee where Racquiah Topey answers the phone.  I have asked since April if I can somehow get in contact with her.  Everyone goes quiet and says it’s not a good idea.  Calls have been made and I hear that it’s not a good idea.

I don’t know if anyone has actually asked Tommy’s sister if she would like to speak with me.  If you know her, could you please send this blog her way.  Tell her I’m still working on slowly uncovering the truth about the events of her brother’s death and she is not alone in thinking of her brother Tommy today.  If she would like to contact me in any way, ask her to send a message through this blog in the comments section.  I will not publish her comments or her contact info, but I would like to speak with her.

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