Canada

To serve and protect and sometimes shoot to kill

Warren Gerard September 24 1979
Canada

To serve and protect and sometimes shoot to kill

Warren Gerard September 24 1979

To serve and protect and sometimes shoot to kill

Canada

Toronto

Warren Gerard

The ugliness erupted one quiet Sunday afternoon on a small street in mid-Toronto when a 35-year-old black Jamaican immigrant, Albert Johnson, was shot in his own house by a policeman. He died 6½ hours later in hospital.

What followed was an outpouring of rage from the leaders of the 175,000-member black community about what they believe is racially motivated harassment and ill-treatment of their people at the hands of Toronto’s tough police force. And there was no letting up. Even more than two weeks after the killing, the issue wouldn’t go away.

In fact, it intensified. More than 2,000 blacks marched in protest and, almost nightly, various black groups held meetings to heap abuse on “Toronto’s finest” and to demand firings and reforms in the force. Even Oswald Murray, consul-general for the Jamaican government in Toronto, registered his protest^ in a letter to Metro Toronto

Police Chief Harold Adam-g son, saying: “The Jamaican consulate-general is pro-H foundly disturbed by what seems, from accounts we

have received, to have been

a callous and unnecessary killing.”

Johnson was shot after three police cruisers answered a call that a man was acting in “an abusive and disorderly” manner in a laneway off Manchester Avenue, a treelined street of 52 small houses occupied for the most part by Italians, Portuguese, Greeks and West Indians—immigrants, working-class

people. When police tried to arrest Johnson outside his house, he ran inside and eventually to an upstairs bedroom where he armed himself with a lawn edger.

There are two versions of what happened next. The police said Johnson came back down the stairs swinging “what appeared to be an axe.” Constable William Inglis, in his 20s, fired a warning shot, then he fired a second shot from three or four feet hitting Johnson in the chest. The other version

was told several times to reporters by one of Johnson’s four young children, seven-year-old daughter Colsie. “They hit him and blood was coming down his head. He went upstairs and the cops told him to come down. They came up to get him and told him to kneel down and when he kneeled down they shot him.”

It came out after the shooting that Johnson, who wore funny hats and liked to preach in his garage, had been involved in several confrontations with police. He was facing a charge of assaulting police, although he had filed a complaint with the Ontario Human

Rights Commission alleging that police had beaten him and called him “nigger” and “black bastard.” Two days after Albert Johnson died, Chief Adamson, under pressure from black community leaders, decided to do what had never before been done by the Toronto force. He asked the Ontario Provincial Police to take over the investigation. They’re still at it. But that move didn’t stop the black, anti-cop rhetoric. The rift between many in the black community and some policemen, especially in the precinct known as 14 Division, where Johnson died and a large number of other blacks live, was too

deep. Only a year earlier Andrew. (Buddy) Evans, 24, black, pushy, a loudmouth, was shot to death by a policeman in a tavern after he hit the cop with his own billy club. A controversial inquest into the death was making headlines even as the Johnson case erupted.

Evans’ shooting, and especially Johnson’s, may have sparked the black outcry against the police, but more at issue, perhaps, is the day-by-day treatment blacks say they receive from the police. And for the blacks—unlike the Irish, Jews, Italians, Greeks, whatever the newcomers over the years were called — it doesn’t seem to get any better, even though cops have learned a lot about cultural differences: that, for example, a group of Italians in a frenetic discussion on a street corner doesn’t constitute a riot.

Bromley Armstrong, an Ontario Hu-

man Rights commissioner, came to this country from the West Indies almost 34 years ago. He still doesn’t feel accepted. “It is the attitude of the police towards minority people and the minority includes blacks, native Indians, south Asians, homosexuals, hippie types, the poor that live in Ontario Housing,” he told Maclean’s. “As long as you don’t fit the norm, you’re not in a three-piece suit, or you don’t look like a businessman, they treat you like that. If I’m dressed up, I never have problems with the police, but let me take off my suit and wear a windbreaker and I’ll guarantee that I’ll get stopped by the police. But I personally don’t feel that the majority of policemen in the force are after blacks. I feel that there are elements within the force that are antagonistic towards blacks—and not only blacks but minorities generally.”

Adamson knows he has a problem: “We’ll have some members on the force [which totals about 5,500] who are ‘anti’ whatever they’re dealing with, but that can only go on for so long. If we continue to get complaints about them, we either correct them or get rid of them. It’s certainly not to our advantage to have people here who are ‘anti’ anybody. But on the other hand, we’re not going to overreact and hang some policeman or charge him with murder when the facts have not been established.”

It has been a bad year for Toronto’s cops. Killings by policemen have come at a much higher rate—eight in the last 12 months, compared with just seven in the previous 6 xk years. The cops and the police commission have been under assault for alleged racism, even sexism.

Toronto’s homosexual community says policemen call them names. Now the homosexuals are demanding homosexual cops. (The force won’t say how many black officers it has; Bromley Armstrong thinks there may be 135.)

In one incident after a raid on a homosexual steam bath resulting in charges being laid against 23 men, a police officer called local school boards to give them the names of four teachers among those charged with being found in a common bawdy house. Adamson, although it wasn’t his job, had to apologize publicly for two articles in the police union’s magazine. One article called homosexuals “queers, fruits and weirdos” and another said blacks think of little but their color, and Jews of their Jewishness.

As the issue boiled last week, Toronto city council’s legislation committee voted non-confidence in the police commission; the city’s mayor, John Sewell, called the police commission “irresponsible”; and Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey recruited Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter to act as an informal mediator between blacks and police to cool the situation.

For his part, Ontario Attorney-General Roy McMurtry announced that the provincial government will bring in special legislation this fall creating a pro-

cedure for civilian review of complaints

against police—special in that it will apply only to Toronto.

Still, the question remains: what has gone wrong? “In my view these guys who are running things cannot understand that the day of a white police force is over, that it will not wash anymore in Toronto,” says Clayton Ruby, a Toronto civil rights and criminal lawyer. “I’ve had clients who are black police officers and they tell me that they hate the goddamned force, that it is racist, that there are slogans in the mess rooms—‘nigger go home.’ There are gay policemen on the force who I’ve talked to and they are deathly afraid someone will discover they’re gay.” Ruby believes the only effective way to change the cops is from within. “You pass the word to the sergeant on the desk and he can tell his men, ‘Any of you guys call anybody nigger, you’ll be washing cars for the next six months, or you’ll be directing traffic in the dead of winter at the Exhibition.’ That’s what counts in terms of education.” Meanwhile, last week, the Metro Toronto Police Association—the cops’ union—spent $8,000 on newspaper ads entitled: “We Can’t Do It Without You.” The ad calls for public support by writing to newspapers, politicians, or the police. The last line reads: “We need to know because more than a few of us

h~e died fw~you."