Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Police cleared in 2 shooting deaths"

The headline above is from today's Toronto Star. It seems every month or so, a headline like this comes up again. These days, I don't even bother looking into the story. Why? Because the story never changes. Police officer kills civilian with gun. SIU (Special Investigations Unit) investigates. SIU finds officer innocent of any wrongdoing. The SIU has never found a police officer guilty of wrongdoing in any shooting in Toronto. Isn't that wonderful?

A couple of years ago, I supported the Justice for Jeffrey Campaign, asking for justice in the case of high school student Jeffrey Reodica, who was shot to death by a plainclothes police officer. The facts in that case were disturbing. Just a few:
- witnesses stated the plainclothes officers never identified themselves as police
- the police claimed Jeffrey had a knife, which is why he was shot
- Jeffrey was shot in the back at close range, when he could have been shot in the legs
- the officer who shot him claimed that he thought he had been stabbed by Jeffrey, but the officer had no wounds
- Jeffrey's friends and family assert he had never had a knife
- a knife was found at the scene; it would have required two hands to open it
- the knife had no fingerprints on it

Despite these troubling facts, and more, in this race-related case, the SIU chose to believe the testimony of a minority of witnesses who supported the dubious police claims.

Aside from the tragedy of Jeffrey Reodica's case, there is a larger issue here: that of trust in our police, and especially in the SIU. When a lawyer, teacher, or doctor is accused of wrongdoing, the law, teaching, and medical communities, respectively, make a quick and intensive investigation of the allegations, and may distance themselves from the accused. But the police always rally around their accused, and refuse to accept even the possibility of guilt. And despite the SIU being decribed as a "civilian" group, its behaviour is suspect; the Reodica case is only one example.

When a shooting occurs in a non-white community and witnesses refuse to come forward, there is often a plea from the chief of police. But how can people be expected to have trust in the police when we see case after case in which police behaviour is suspicious, and the SIU never has so much as a criticism? One of the shootings which the title of this post refers to was that of a man who was shot dead for stealing some lemons from a variety store. Why didn't the officers shoot the man in the legs? The report which cleared the officers said it was icy and the officers were afraid of slipping.

Our police may continue to kill under suspicious circumstances. And the SIU will no doubt clear the officers involved. Just don't expect race-relations between non-white communities and the police to improve, and don't ask us to trust the police until there is real change.


L-girl said...

Excellent post. Toronto likes to think of itself as a smaller New York. In this respect, sadly, it is right on target.

Now I'm all caught up on your blog. I hope you've been enjoying having an online home for your thoughts. I'm enjoying reading it. I feel like I've gotten in on the ground floor of something important.

Kim_in_TO said...

Thanks a lot! I'm glad you're enjoying it. Also, I wouldn't have gotten this far without your example.