What do the names Sammy Yatim, Byron Debassige, Trevor Graham or O’Brien Christopher-Reid mean to you? To some they may be a vague memory of a GTA headline while for others they are a constant reminder of why they distrust the police.
The aforementioned are people who were killed by Toronto Police. Their stories may not have received much media coverage but each is equally telling as to why a rift between the Toronto Police and the communities that they serve exists.
Cops are supposed to serve and protect citizens from legitimate threats while working hand in hand with communities to help improve the lives of others. They aren’t supposed to be unjustly killing people or stopping them for questioning based on a stereotypical description they fit.
As a young man of colour who grew up in some of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, I’ve experienced this firsthand.
I’ve been stopped by Toronto Police a handful times simply because of my colour, clothing and living in an area where a crime occurred. It didn’t matter if it was Chalkfarm, Weston-Mt. Dennis, Malvern or even the Rexdale area. It was clear to me that I fit the bill for the police as someone who committed a crime regardless of where I was or what I was doing.
All the police saw was my colour and my clothing and that was somehow enough to justify stopping, identifying and questioning me.
I’m not saying that all police are bad or that this abuse of power happens to everyone for illegitimate reasons. I am saying this happens to a lot of people like me and the results have created a toxic relationship with the police.
Many youth no longer look at the cops patrolling their neighbourhoods as friendly individuals who are keeping the area safe. Instead they view them as just another gang who are looking to unjustly question them for crimes they did not commit or know anything about. Families are finding it harder to come forward with information when they fear those who are supposed to be protecting them.
How do you tell the family and friends of people like Sammy Yatim it’s okay to trust in the police? How do you tell the youth living on Dixon Rd. that they won’t be randomly stopped and questioned about crack?
The answer is simply by reaching out and creating a dialogue.
Community leaders and members of the police need to legitimately reach out to each other in an honest effort to try and rebuild their damaged relationships.
Fortunately, that process has already started in organizations like the Policing Literacy Initiative. PLI is a group that features 25 young leaders from across the GTA who are bringing new ideas to improve police services and community safety in Toronto and abroad.
Jamil Jivani, a 26-year-old Brampton native and recent Yale Law School graduate founded PLI in 2013 after conversations heated up about the practice of police carding in Toronto and the death of Sammy Yatim.
Since then the organization has met and worked with community leaders and Toronto Police to help create dialogue and aid in rebuilding their relationship.
PLI has also filmed a documentary where they spoke with community leaders, police officers, youth, and members of the media to help find solutions into fixing the problem between the police and the public.
The documentary will be screened at Toronto’s City Hall on April 26.