Groups want police practices to change in light of fatal shooting
Representatives of various advocacy groups called for change by police in light of the police-involved shooting death of 45-year-old Andrew Loku on July 5. (CP24)
Chris Herhalt, CP24.com
Published Thursday, July 9, 2015 1:45PM EDT
A coalition of advocacy groups says that the death of a 45-year-old black man suffering from mental illness at the hands of Toronto police on Sunday is proof that police practices when dealing with racialized people suffering from mental illnesses need a rethink.
“There’s a dramatic overrepresentation of racialized people who are killed by police in this city,” Anthony Morgan, policy and research lawyer with the African Canadian Legal Clinic, said at a press conference on Thursday. “It has to stop and we’re here today to say enough is enough.”
Andrew Loku was shot dead after an interaction with police overnight on July 5 after officers were called to a low-rise apartment building on Gilbert Avenue, near Eglinton Avenue West and Caledonia Road. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is probing the circumstances of Loku’s death.
It was later revealed that some of the apartment building’s units are rented out to tenants by the Canadian Mental Health Association, and used as affordable housing for those suffering from mental illness.
Some speakers on Thursday went so far as to say the death is an example of anti-black racism by police.
“Today I don’t question whether this is anti-black racism,” said Aseefa Sarang, executive director of Across Boundaries, an organization that offers assistance to racialized people suffering from mental illness. “This sort of action is a clear and deliberate act of anti-black racism and the SIU, the Toronto police and the community need to acknowledge this and seek accountability.”
Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said that while he could not comment on the circumstances that led to Loku's death, the accusation of anti-black racism on the part of police is a "broad brush statement," especially when as of the end of June 2015, close to 24 per cent of Toronto police officers belong to a visual minority.
"I'm looking for some understanding of what was beneath those statements," Pugash said.
Family members and friends said that Loku arrived in Canada in 2004 after fleeing South Sudan as it fought a brutal war to attain independence. He had a wife and five children living in South Sudan and recently graduated from a construction program at George Brown College.
“We’re hoping that the SIU investigation provides us with some recommendations, solutions, and that the police services will take those recommendations and engage in reflect practice, because we know what happened perhaps wasn’t the intended outcome,” Garfield Bembridge of the Canadian Mental Health Association said.
Morgan called on the Toronto police or the SIU to release statistics on how many racialized Toronto residents or individuals suffering from mental illness have been hurt or killed during interactions with police.
Morgan says his organization’s research suggests more than 50 per cent of people killed during interactions with Toronto police since 1988 were black, despite black residents not accounting for more than eight per cent of the city’s population during that time.
Pugash said he could not confirm how many of those killed during interactions with Toronto police since 1988 were black.
Meanwhile, Nigel Barriffe of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations questioned why a firearm was discharged during the interaction with Loku.
“Why weren’t de-escalation techniques and communication used in the place of force in this case?”
Pugash said police continuously review and update their use of force techniques and have implemented much of what was recommended by Justice Frank Iacobucci's 2013 Police Encounters with People in Crisis report.