Monthly Archives: June 2017

Inquest Rules Policing Killing of Andrew Loku Homicide, Highlights Anti-Black Racism

Andrew Loku (45), a refugee from South Sudan who suffered PTSD from experiences of torture, was shot and killed by Toronto police officer Andrew Doyle on July 5, 2015. On Friday, June 30, 2017, jury members in a coroner’s inquest into the killing ruled that his death was a homicide. Unfortunately, the Special Investigations Unit, the oversight body that examines cases of police harm to civilians had already decided, in March 2016, that Constable Doyle would not face criminal charges

The month long inquest headed by Dr. John Carlisle had gone beyond previous coroner’s inquests into police killings by actually addressing, at least in part, the role of racism in policing as influencing the actions of Constable Doyle and his partner Haim Queroub and contributing to their lethal use of force. During the inquest officer Doyle admitted to having almost no experiences interacting with Black men (Perkel 2017). Neighbors described Mr. Loku, a father of five, as a sweet man. Doyle and Queroub responded to him as something else. Lawyers argued that the officers’ fear of Black men contributed to their violent actions. It seems the inquest jury agreed.

 

The 39 Steps

The inquest jury made 39 recommendations which were read into the record by by coroner John Carlisle Among the recommendations are these:

Training police on implicit bias and anti-black racism.

Collecting race-based data, to be made public, and funding research to analyze the data.

Equipping police cars with less lethal means of force, including shields and helmets.

Allowing front-line officers to be equipped with Tasers.

Additional training for 911 operators to elicit more information during a call that can help aid in de-escalation.

 

Canadian Mental Health Association executive director Steve Lurie noted: “You have to pass a test on whether you know how to fire a gun, but you don’t have to pass a test on whether you know how to de-escalate” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017a).

The inquest ruling said that police officers should be exposed “to the perspectives and lived experience of racialized communities, the Black community and individuals with mental health issues and/or addictions.” Among the recommendations provided by the jury was that police be required to measure the effectiveness of training related to “anti-black racism and persons in crisis” through means of written and oral examinations. Officers should also be tested for implicit racial bia, and re-attend the training if they fail any of these.

Loku family lawyer Jonathan Shime said to reporters afterward that Andrew Loku should not have had to die for recommendations like these to raised and implemented. In his words: “To be frank, Andrew’s not here, and this whole inquest was necessary because somebody died and children are now without their father and sisters are now without their brother” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017a). This is the underlying truth in this.

On the whole the recommendations are not remarkable and some have been raised too many time before. They do not address the structural role of police and policing within state capitalist political economies and do not address their ongoing systemic measures as upholders of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and exploitation. But, that, of course will not be addresses through any state venue such as an inquest. The community groups and mobilizations around police racism and violence have shown the real possibilities for change and the necessity for change.

 

Institutional Racism and Police Violence

Observers of the inquest have commended the fact that finally an inquest has highlighted intersections between racialization, racism, mental health, and police violence. In Shime’s words: “The reality is a disproportionate number of black men are dying at the hands of police, and it’s time for that to stop. We need to reduce that to zero” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017a). As Shime and others have noted, the inquest made very clear that racism contributed to the police killing of Andrew Loku and officers did not need to use lethal force against him. The recommendations address, if insufficiently, issues of explicit, conscious, as well as implicit, subconscious, racism.

The inquest had heard how six people in the apartment complex had interacted with Loku ahead of the arrival of police. Neighbors said that they said they had been able to calm Mr. Loku down and that, in fact, he was about to hand over the hammer he was holding when the police officers charged onto the floor and confronted him (Perkel 2017). Within around 20 seconds of their arrival Constable Doyle fired twice, hitting Mr. Loku on the left side of his chest.

Shime argued that the officers panicked, in part because Andrew Loku was Black. In his words: “I don’t think Andrew needed to die. There were a number of failings with respect to the training and the handling of this situation that precipitated his death” (quoted in Perkel 2017). The issues go well beyond training of course.

Kingsley Gilliam, with the Black Action Defence Committee, identified systemic racism. In his words, following the inquest: “They recognized that anti-black racism, racism and institutional racism are problems and that racism permeates society” (quoted in Perkel 2017). Gilliam, went further, calling Loku’s death “an execution” (quoted in Perkel 2017).

Lawyer Selwyn Pieters, also with the Black Action Defence Committee, called out the stereotyping of Black men as aggressive and violent. In his words: “When you stereotype black people, particularly men that way, it is more likely to lead to very unfortunate outcomes for black men” (quoted in Perkel 2017). For Constable Doyle it seems that the stereotypes were all that he drew on in the encounter.

 

Black Lives Matter: Community Mobilization is Key

Pieters further said that there will be community mobilization if the recommendations of this inquest are not implemented. Clearly community members will we watching to see what happens with the recommendations. Pieters told reporters that the BADC wants to see all 39 of the inquest recommendations implemented within one year, along with those of an ongoing police oversight review by Justice Michael Tulloch, or there will be an active response. In the words of BADC member Kingsley Gilliam: “We are going to hold their feet to the fire” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017b).

The significant role of Black Lives Matter and other community organizers has to be acknowledged and lauded, both in initiating the inquest and in seeing issues of racism addressed. They also have to be lauded for broadly reframing public perceptions of policing in general. As Pieters suggests:

 

“There’s advocacy in the court and there’s street advocacy. You’ve seen Black Lives Matter were outside of police headquarters for two weeks to get this Loku inquest. I’m sure they’ll be watching this inquest with interest and they will respond appropriately if the recommendations aren’t implemented. They fought for this” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017b).

 

Friday’s ruling is not a criminal one, as the Loku family’s lawyer Jonathan Shime explained outside of the inquest Friday. In a coroner’s inquest, the word is used to mean a death was the result of someone’s action.

 

Further Reading

Coroner’s Jury Verdict. 2017. http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/3883244/Andrew-Loku-Verdict-of-Coroners-Jury.pdf

Ghebreslassie, Makda. 2017a. “Andrew Loku’s Police Shooting Death Deemed ‘Homicide’: Coroner’s Inquest.” CBC News. June 30. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/andrew-loku-inquest-recommendations-1.4185715

Ghebreslassie, Makda. 2017b. “’We Are Going to Hold Their Feet to the Fire’: Advocates Want Loku Inquest Recommendations in Place in 1 Year.” CBC News. June 30. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/andrew-loku-inquest-recommendations-1.4185715

Perkel, Colin. 2017. “Inquest Jury Makes Anti-Racism Suggestions in Police Killing of Black Man.” Winnipeg Free Press. June 30. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/police-killing-of-andrew-loku-in-july-2015-in-toronto-ruled-a-homicide–431803453.html

 

Advertisements

Racism, Poverty, Mental Health, and the Montreal Police Killing of Pierre Coriolan

An intersection of racism, poverty, mental health distress, and police violence has once again had a  deadly outcome. The 58-year-old man shot multiple times and killed by Montreal police has been identified as Pierre Coriolan, a Black male of Haitian background who was know to suffer mental health issues. It has now been further revealed that Coriolan was facing eviction from the apartment he had been living in since 2008 on July 1, 2017, and that this had understandably greatly distressed him. The eviction order was issued against Mr. Coriolan by the Quebec rental board on June 1 according to Claudine Laurin, director general of la Fédération des OSBL d’habitation de Montréal, an organization of subsidized housing apartments. That a subsidized housing association would evict someone over mental health issues is troubling.

Police were supposedly responding to a call that Mr. Coriolan was breaking things in his apartment when they showed up and shot him. It has not been stated publicly why police chose to shoot someone multiple times for smashing his apartment but the earlier mentioned intersectional factors offer something of an answer, particularly the engrained violence of police. When Urgence-Santé arrived at the scene of the shooting around 7:30 PM, Mr. Coriolan was in cardiac arrest. He was taken to hospital and died at about 9:45 PM.

Neighbors have said that they sometimes heard Mr. Coriolan screaming and plates breaking in the apartment but insist that he did not bother them and they understood that he was not well. They did not fear him and were not disturbed by him. Neighbors expressed shock over the police actions.


Montreal Police Kill Another Black Man (June 27, 2017)

The Montreal police have a terrible history of killing Black civilians. The names of some of the victims, such as Presley Leslie, Marcellus Francois, and Alain Magloire, give testimony to that fact. That is only part of the story as Black residents regularly speak out against racial profiling and violence directed against them by Montreal police. It is important to note, then, that the 58-year-old man shot multiple times and killed by Montreal police on June 27, 2017, has been identified as a Black man by the BEI (Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Bureau of Independent Investigations), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Quebec. The victim has not yet been named.

The killing again raises many questions about the Montreal police force (though racism and regular deployment of lethal force are standards of police forces across Canada at municipal, provincial, and federal levels). As Fo Niemi, the executive director of Montreal’s Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, suggests: “It raises the question, ‘where do we go from here?’ Is this a case where race plays a role in this incident? Is it mental health? I think there are a lot of questions here that need to be asked because this is not a situation that should occur too often in this city” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

Before being shot the man had only been suggested to be breaking things in his apartment. Surely not a capital, or even particularly harmful “offense.” As community activist Will Prosper, a former RCMP officer, puts it the man appears not have been “presenting a menace to anyone except to his apartment” (quoted in CBC News 2017). Yet police moved to coercive, then lethal means. Questions must be asked about the role of racism, or implicit bias, in this.

Critics note that police use of threatening behavior and the display of weapons will only make the situation worse in a case of someone experiencing mental distress or already feeling anxious and defensive. As Prosper suggests: “That’s not what you need to preserve the life of the citizen. It’s going to do the [complete opposite], and I think that’s probably what happened in this case” (quoted in CBC News 2017). In Prosper’s view, the man could have benefited from someone talking to and calming him down without the presence of weapons. In Prosper’s words: “If you’re saying ‘calm down’ and you have the gun pointed at his face, that’s not going to work” (quoted in CBC News 2017). This is why police should not be sent in such cases in place of health care providers (if anyone needs to be sent for smashing dishes at home at all).

Police racism and the killings of Black men have received too little public attention and ire. These realities have been ideologically downplayed by governments at all levels. They have also been distorted and denied by police officers, forces, and associations. Criminologists in Canada have also done too little to expose and challenge these issues, too often playing the part of police apologists. Black Lives Matter activists and movements have done much work to shift understandings in the Canadian context.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “’Where do We Go from Here?’ Fatal Shooting by Montreal Police Raises Hard Questions.” CBC News. June 28. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-police-shooting-mental-illness-1.4181469

 


58-Year-Old Man Shot Multiple Times and Killed by Montreal Police (June 27, 2017)

Montreal police shot and killed a 58-year-old man in the mid-evening of June 27, 2017 outside his home. The man was shot multiple times by police at about 7:19 PM after they were apparently called out because the victim was said to be committing the high crime of destroying things in his own apartment near the corner of Robillard and St-André streets. Police claim they used a taser and rubber bullets on the man before deciding they needed to kill him.

City ambulance services have reported that the victim was in cardiac arrest when he was transported to hospital. The BEI (Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Bureau of Independent Investigations), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Quebec, is investigating.


Austin Eaglechief (22) Dies After Being Shot by Saskatoon Police, Crashing Vehicle

On June 19, 2017, Saskatoon police shot 22-year-old Austin Eaglechief. The young man then crashed the vehicle he was driving into another vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy suggests the gunshot was not the cause of death but it does not speak to the part that being shot played in the fatal crash. A 33-year-old passenger was also injured in the crash. Critics of the police suggest that officers were too quick to shoot the young man. The Saskatoon police force has a history of racist treatment and violence against Indigenous people in the city and nearby locales.


IIO Determines RCMP Killed Man the Force Claimed Killed Self

There has long been a concern, a suspicion, that police claim victims of police shootings have died of self-inflicted wounds when, in fact, they were killed by officers. (That suspicion has been particularly strong in cases where police investigate police.) One such case was confirmed on Monday, June 26, 2017 when the Internal Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia, the oversight agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians overturned an RCMP claim that the June 18, 2017, death of a Lower Mainland man had died of a self-inflicted wound despite police firing shots at the man. The IIO has determined that the man killed in Port Coquitlam, in fact, died from a police bullet.

In a media release on Juen 26, IIO spokesperson Marten Youssef declared: “Initial reports made to the IIO … by the RCMP, suggested that a distraught male may have shot himself following an exchange of gunfire with police. Following an autopsy, it has been determined that the male’s death was not self-inflicted.” In the initial, confused, report from the RCMP the force had made it seem publicly that the man had killed himself. That was the impression they shaped for the public.

The IIO  reported that it had interviewed six police officers and 30 witnesses over the past week. They have additionally reported that in the hours after the police killing a male relative of the man killed also received “serious injuries.” That situation is still being investigated. No police officers were injured.

While recognizing the numerous problems with the IIO, one can speculate how the initial RCMP claims might have been treated had another police force investigated the present case. RCMP distorting facts for public management after killing someone is not unique in the province as the killing of Robert Dziekanski showed.


IIO Investigates after Man Dies During Police Encounter, Shots Fired

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in British Columbia, is investigating the death of a man during an encounter with police in which shots were fired by police. Publicly available details are sketchy at the moment but it is suggested by the IIO that RCMP responded to a report of a distraught man threatening to harm himself outside a home in Port Coquitlam, Metro Vancouver, Sunday June 18, 2017. The IIO statement is unclear and suggests only that the man fired shots  into the air, yet there is an investigation into whether his injuries were self-inflicted. Police are said to have fired weapons during the encounter and the victim was found dead after RCMP fired.