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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

 

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Institutional Racism Finally Addressed at Inquest into Toronto Police Killing of Andrew Loku

A report published by the Toronto Star In August 2015, one month after Andrew Loku was shot and killed by Toronto police officer Andrew Doyle, found that, of the 51 fatal shootings involving the Toronto police between 1990 and 2015, at least 18 involved Black men (Gillis 2017). This represented 35 percent of fatal police shootings (Gillis 2017). In another 17 cases, or 33 percent, the racialized background of the victim of the police killing was deemed not identifiable with certainty (Gillis 2017). The population of Black people in Toronto over that time was approximately nine percent. Despite this fact there had been reluctance by some, including the coroner, as well as expected opposition from police, to address the issue of institutional racism among police head on and by name in the inquest into Andrew Loku’s killing by police.

Marianne Wright, the lawyer representing Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, said parties to the inquest “should stick to the notions which are within the scope of the inquest. I’m struggling with the emotional content of the word racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Others struggled with the emotional content of racism itself and the racist actions of killer cops in Toronto.

Howard Morton, the lawyer for community group Across Boundaries, a mental health organization working for racialized communities and the organization that called McKenzie as a witness, argued that there was “nothing wrong with confronting a live issue like racism. To deprive me of the use of the word racism . . . it just confounds me and I’m flummoxed to the nth degree about why we’re all afraid of that term” (quoted in Gillis 2017).

The discussion of institutional racism centered on the looming testimony of Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist and the director of health equity at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, who was set to address organizational practices and racism. His work argues that organizations need to acknowledge that racism exists in their institutions in order to effect change.

Coroner and inquest head Dr. John Carlisle ruled late Monday, June 19, in the third week of the inquest, that “questions of the witness will not explore the topic of racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). That decision led to an application from Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) lawyer Selwyn Pieters requesting a reconsideration. Pieters’ application asked that McKenzie “be permitted to testify in respect to racism…particularly systemic and institutional racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). In his words: “It is a manifest error in the context of this case to speak of implicit bias and exclude racism. Racism is the elephant in the room in this case” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Implicit bias had been addressed by psychology professor Dr. Nicholas Rule in the inquest’s second week, but institutional racism itself had not been explicitly discussed.

Dr. Carlisle’s ruling was not overturned but council reached an agreement that discussion of institutional racism would not be prohibited. In Pieter’s words: “Today, the witness was able to be questioned unimpeded and to delve into the issue of racism, and anti-Black racism, and I think we made some headway” (quoted in Gillis 2017). He continued: “Dr. McKenzie was able to give us evidence unimpeded in respect to racism and what institutional structures need to be changed in order to foster a culturally inclusive environment that is free from racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017).

For his part, when questioned about institutional racism at the inquest, Dr. McKenzie noted that “training by itself won’t make the difference…more has to happen throughout the institution” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). Yet policing in Canada is founded in colonial and racist violence. Policing institutions have had generations to change but no impetus to do so.

Idil Abdillahi, a former board chair for Across Boundaries, concluded: “We can’t ignore that this man was a Black man. This active refusal to engage race and racism is what we see playing out here” (quoted in Gillis 2017). It is the racism at the heart of policing in Canada.

 

Further Reading

Gillis, Wendy. 2017. “Final Witness Prompts Debate over Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” Toronto Star. June 20. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/06/20/11th-hour-motion-says-racism-must-be-discussed-at-andrew-loku-inquest.html

Shahzad, Ramna. 2017. “Expert Psychiatrist Testifies on Institutional Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” CBC News. June 20. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/loku-motion-racism-1.4169115

 


Haim Queroub, Cop in Andrew Loku Killing, Tries Bogus “Suicide By Cop” Claim

Haim Queroub, the second cop in the Toronto police killing of Andrew Loku, finally spoke publicly during the coroner’s inquest into Loku’s death. Queroub, had been on the force only 11 weeks when he and shooter Andrew Doyle encountered and killed Andrew Loku in the hallway outside his apartment on July 5, 2015. Queroub used his time on the stand to hint that Loku’s  death was a “suicide by cop.”

Queroub testified that when he and officer Doyle shouted at Andrew Loku, the distressed man said, “What ya gonna do … Come on … Shoot me.” Here Queroub is trying to plant the notion of suicide by cop, a bogus excuse that killer cops and their police associations routinely use to be let off for killing civilians under a range of situations which are not suicides. Yet, as lawyers at the inquest pointed out these words could well have been spoken as questions (asking if the cops were seriously going to kill him for standing outside his apartment with a hammer). Queroub said he could not clarify whether the words he believes he heard were actually a question. Clearly in raising this, though, he is attempting to present the possibility of “suicide by cop.”

Queroub’s testimony did confirm that the two officers had no discussion about nor plan to pursue de-escalation or to address someone potentially in distress. Incredibly both officers testified that they talked about how to get to the scene but not what they would do once they got there. There was no dialogue with Loku. Instead he was shot and killed within 21 seconds of police encountering him.

Clearly, as critics have suggested, police training is not the issue. Queroub testified he had received training both on interacting with people with mental health issues and on implicit bias when dealing with racialized people and communities. He even testified he had received de-escalation training. Yet none of these came into use when officers Queroub and Doyle encountered Andrew Loku and chose to shoot him within a mere 21 seconds. Queroub testified he did not even consider the man’s  distress or how to deal with it appropriately.

And he concluded that if he had to do it over again, he would not change anything. Police do not need to because they will not be held to account for killing civilians. And they know it. Instead phony “suicide by cop” claims, or other measures, will be used to get them off or help them to sleep at night.


Andrew Doyle Identified as Toronto Killer Cop who Shot Andrew Loku

Finally, nearly two years after Toronto police gunned down Andrew Loku, Constable Andrew Doyle has been identified publicly as the officer who pulled the trigger. Doyle took the stand Wednesday, June 14, 2017, during the second week of testimony in the coroner’s inquest into Loku’s killing by police. Doyle and Haim Queroub had only been identified as the officers involved in Loku’s killing during a previous session of the current inquest. The one who did the shooting had not been identified.

Doyle raised his firearm, pointing it at Loku, almost immediately upon encountering the man, a refugee from South Sudan. Evidence presented previously at the inquest, including the surveillance video of the encounter, shows that Loku was shot within 19 seconds of officers Andrew Doyle  and Haim Queroub encountering him. Earlier testimony from psychology professor Nicholas Rule shows implicit bias against Black men in Canadian and US contexts, including increased perceptions of threat. Community groups want the inquest to address issues of racism in the very quick deployment of lethal force against Andrew Loku, who witnesses and video suggest was not actively threatening the officers.

On the stand officer Doyle said coldly: “We’re trained to stop the threat. Two rounds stops the threat. He immediately fell to the ground. There was no need for anything else.”  Doyle said he had no training in alternative methods to disarm the man. Despite the blood pooling under Andrew Loku’s body, Doyle said his main concern was to make sure the dead man did not have another weapon.


Implicit Bias, Racism, and the Police Killing of Andrew Loku: Expert Testimony at Inquest

Coroner’s inquests in the Canadian context never get to the heart of issues like racism and policing let along fundamental structures of policing like policing and white supremacy or policing and colonialism. Such inquests are generally limited to the specific actions of a particular event. The coroner’s inquest into the Toronto police killing of Andrew Loku, a refugee from  Sudan who suffered PTSD as a result of being kidnapped and tortured there, will likely be no different. Still community groups like the Black Action Defence Committee, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Empowerment Council, and Across Boundaries, a group that provides mental health support for racialized communities in Toronto, are working to ensure larger issues of racialization, racism, and mental health are at least addressed. They have secured participant status.

On Monday, June 12, 2017, at the beginning of the inquest’s second week, the jury heard testimony from Dr. Nicholas Rule, an associate professor of psychology, and Canada Research Chair in social perception and cognition at the University of Toronto who carries out research on implicit bias. Rule was designated as an expert in social perception and cognition for the inquest. Dr. Rule’s testimony focused on issues related to implicit bias involving race or mental health status, and how this might impact the decisions made by police officers in the course of policing. According to Rule’s research, as given in his testimony to the inquest, implicit bias can make a young Black man appear taller, heavier, and, thus, more dangerous. According to Rule, this distortion of reality can affect both white people and Black people.

Rule presented results of research undertaken with two American academic colleagues examining the impact of race on the often very quick judgments people make in assessing others whom they encounter. That study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology earlier in 2017, examined people’s perceptions of Black men in terms of their size and, presumably relatedly, their threat level. The study, which included Canadian and American participants of a variety of racialized identities presented with a series of tests, concluded that regardless of their own “race,” participants perceived Black men as taller, heavier, more muscular, and more physically threatening than white men.

According to the researchers: “Black men tend to be stereotyped as threatening and, as a result, may be disproportionately targeted by police even when unarmed. Here, we found evidence that biased perceptions of young Black men’s physical size may play a role in this process” (Wilson, Hugenberg, and Rule 2017). Rule noted at the inquest that the participants in the study were not identified as police officers. The researchers did not examine possible intersections of racism and presence of a weapon.

It is likely that the notion of implicit bias is as far as the inquest will get in terms of addressing issues of and related to racism. The ongoing histories of white supremacy and colonialism in Canadian policing will likely not be on the agenda.

During the first week of the inquest, Toronto Constables Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub were finally identified as the officers involved in killing Andrew Loku, thought which one pulled the trigger has not yet been revealed publicly. Both officers are expected to testify later during this second week of the inquest.

 

Further Reading

Wilson, John Paul, Kurt Hugenberg, and Nicholas O. Rule. 2017. “Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability: From Size to Threat.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspi0000092.pdf


Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub Identified as Toronto Cops who Killed Andrew Loku

The Toronto police officers who killed Andrew Loku on July 5, 2015, have finally been identified as Constables Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub. They were named as the officer’s involved on July 9, 2017, during the coroner’s  inquest into Loku’s killing when police lawyer Gary Clewley asked the men to rise from their seats to be identified by a witness. Even now, however, it was not said which of the two officers shot Loku. That identification is, after all this time, expected to come during the second week of the inquest when the officers are set to testify.

Video surveillance footage of events prior to the shooting of Loku in the hallway outside his apartment shows that he was not threatening his neighbors as he has been accused of. The neighbors do not appear afraid of him and some speak with him though there is no audio in the footage. Neighbor and witness Robin Hicks claimed on the stand that she was afraid for Loku not of Loku when police arrived. The footage also shows Loku holding a hammer in a manner that does not appear to be threatening (not fully by the handle).

Still, police shot and killed Andrew Loku within 19 seconds of encountering him and within only five minutes of the 911 call that apparently brought them. Because the state protects the state, the killer cops Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub have already been cleared by the Special Investigations Unit.


Toronto Police Killed Andrew Loku within 19 Seconds of Encountering Him

The coroner’s inquest into the police killing of Andrew Loku began in Toronto on Monday, June 5, 2017. Loku, a 45-year-old refugee from South Sudan who struggled with mental health issues after having been kidnapped and tortured there, was shot and killed by Toronto police as he stood in his apartment hallway on July 5, 2015. On Thursday, June 8, 2017, the 911 call that preceded his killing was released as part of the inquest.

The call reveals that police waited no more than 19 seconds after encountering Loku before shooting and killing him. He had stood in the hallway without harming anyone for at least four minutes and forty seconds before police arrived. The two officers, one a coach and the other a new recruit with only a few months on the job, are immediately heard on the tape telling Loku to drop his perceived weapon, a hammer he held at his side.  Indistinct noises, mostly yelling by police, follow over the 19 seconds. And then. Two very distinct gunshots.

 

The 911 caller, distraught: “Oh, my god. Oh, my god.”

The 911 operator: “What was that?”

The caller: “That was gunshots. Gunshots from the police officer.”

A male voice then breaks through telling everyone to stay in their apartments. This is repeated by the operator.

Then the caller, in pained recognition: “They killed him?”

The operator: “Oh, my. What?”

Then, sadly, a child, softly: “He’s dead?”

 

Clearly, violent force was first and foremost on the officers’ minds. There was no, even minimal, attempt to interact humanly with Andrew Loku. Never mind de-escalation, because the police were the only ones to escalate in the first place. Nineteen seconds was all they gave him.