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.
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