Date: Tue, 20 Feb 1996 16:09:12 -0600
> S * IN ACTIV-L --> Database ACTIV-L, 7990 hits.
/** headlines: 149.0 **/
/* Written 7:48 PM Feb 12, 1996 by web:pvoice in igc:youth.activism */
Racism Alive and Well in Metro
By Elizabeth Rowley, Toronto, The People's Voice, 15 February 1996
Toronto - Two reports and a covered-up police murder last month have again pulled back the covers on the raw racism that saturates the police, the institutions, and much of the populace in Canada's most culturally and racially diverse city.
The murder of Tommy Barnett
First came the January killing of 22 year old Tommy Anthony Barnett, shot to death by Sergeant Ben Troina. The officer had stopped his cruiser after seeing the Black youth walking down the centre of Bathurst Street, swinging a metre long sword. When Barnett refused to drop the sword, and instead began to unsheath it, Troina shot him four times in the chest with the hollow-point bullets recently approved for police use.
Witnesses say Troina deliberately put himself in a position of danger. Black Action Defence Committee lawyer Charles Roach said there is sufficient evidence to lay a first degree murder charge against Troina. Roach added there seems to be an "unwritten directive" that when police officers are confronted with someone who has a weapon they can "kill the person outright."
The cops' own Special Investigation Unit (SIU) went to work on the case, investigating everything and everyone - except Sergeant Troina, the shooter.
A week passed without Troina being interviewed. Then a slip of the tongue to a Toronto Sun reporter by James Harding, head of the SIU investigation into Barnett's death, was reprinted the next day. The Sun reported that Harding had said he intended first to send a letter to Chief Dave Boothby clearing Troina as a suspect, and then to ask that Boothby direct Troina to appear before the investigating team for a first interview.
A public uproar ensued, and SIU Director Graham Reynolds told a hastily organized press conference that the investigation was still underway and that no decision had been made about charges against Troina.
"It is perhaps a little known fact that the SIU has been much more effective in disposing - well I shouldn't say disposing - but in concluding investigations that are referred to it in recent months," said Reynolds.
The SIU's record of investigations in 1995 certainly bears out the first statement - and Harding's statements to the Sun. Of 176 occurrences across Ontario referred to the SIU for investigation last year (including two firearms deaths, eighteen firearms injuries, twenty custody deaths, sixty-eight custody injuries and ten sexual assaults), not a single charge resulted against even one police officer!
Under the past NDP government, suspect police officers refused to cooperate and escaped culpability in investigations that were permanently stalled. Now, under the Tories, suspect officers are first guaranteed freedom from prosecution, and the investigations proceed quickly and efficiently.
Systemic racism in the justice system
On January 16th, the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System released its findings and seventy-nine recommendations for change. Among these is the recommendation that police be required to cooperate with the SIU or be suspended without pay.
The Commission shows powerful evidence that systemic racism pervades the criminal justice system in Ontario: * From 1986-87 to 1992-93, the number of Blacks admitted to Ontario's prisons increased by 204%, compared to the 23% increase for whites.
Metro police and other forces around the province have publicly announced that the report will be ignored, because it was commissioned by the defeated NDP government!
"Toronto's Amazing Vanishing Racism"
Also in mid-January, the Institute for Social Research at York University released a study finding that "in general, white Torontonians cannot be viewed as having racist views."
Critics immediately charged that the results of the study, a series of agree/disagree questions about attitudes, do not match the conclusions drawn by the authors. For example, the statement that, "it's got to the point where visible minorities often get better treatment than other Canadians" was supported by 58% of whites, and opposed by 75% of Blacks and 74% of people of Chinese origin. Likewise, employment equity was not supported by the majority of whites, while receiving widespread support amongst Blacks and other visible minorities.
A Toronto Star story by Ali Sharrif, Toronto's Amazing Vanishing Racism, made the point that studies like these will be used to develop government policy. At least one of them will.
Civilian control of cops is needed
The election of the Harris Tories sets a frightening stage for the Black population, visible minorities, and especially Black youth who are increasingly the victims of neo-conservative, racist and reactionary policies and institutions.
Wilf Szczesny, spokesperson for the Ontario Committee of the Communist Party, said in a recent interview, "Democratic civilian control of the police is crucial and central in the fight against racism and for racial equality, and in the fight to protect and extend democratic and labour rights.
"We support the recommendations of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. But we know the Tories will not implement them without a tidal wave of pressure. As the police increasingly flex their muscles against the Black population, aboriginal peoples, and other visible minorities, they are also flexing their muscles against the labour and peoples' movements - on picket lines, at demonstrations, at the front doors of Queen's Park. Unity and solidarity are needed today more than ever," he said.
The People's Voice is published monthly by New Labour Press. Editor: Kimball Cariou
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