By Abeer Khan
CONTENT WARNING: This story contains mentions of blood
Last week on Friday, before making my way to my office, I stopped to get lunch with my friend at Blaze Pizza. As we were leaving and making our way to the Eaton Centre to kill time before her class, I witnessed something that even three days later, continues to make my stomach sick.
There was a man lying motionless on the ground in front of the 10 Dundas Street East building (where the Starbucks, Subway and Cineplex is) with a gush of blood pooling around him. And while there was one person tending to the man before the paramedics arrived, it was the behaviour of the others around the scene that disappointed me the most.
Many people, some with backpacks thrown over their shoulders looking like they were headed for Victoria Street on campus, were taking videos of the incident. Instead of helping and making sure the man was alright, they decided this would be a good time to document the horrific scene before them.
The Eyeopener’s news team later reported on what happened. Toronto Police Services (TPS) said in an email to The Eye that a man fell to the ground while being arrested outside the building by security at around 1:15 p.m.
However, witnesses at the scene say differently. One student said there were three building security guards and a Black man who spat at them. The white security guards then allegedly pushed the man down “really aggressively,” according to the student.
This month, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) said in a Toronto Met Today news release that they would be increasing security guards around campus starting this semester. “Additional TMU security guards were positioned visibly throughout the campus to monitor activity,” the Community Safety and Security website reads.
This decision came following a sexual assault that occurred in Kerr Hall East last month. Following news of the incident, just over 12,000 students—out of over 48,000 enrolled students—signed a petition for increased security. But while about 12,000 students did sign, it’s important to recognize who those signatures represent—and who they don’t.
According to the 2019 Student Diversity Self-ID Report released by the university, only seven per cent of students identify as Black.
It’s important to understand who security and increased policing protect and who it ostracizes. For Black students and community members especially, increased security presence and policing can be uncomfortable and unsafe—and something many student leaders fought against just a few years ago.
In 2020, TMU proposed for designated employees to have special constable status, which was approved by TPS. However, the school announced just two weeks after the program’s approval, that it will not be moving forward with the program.
This decision came at a time of worldwide protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd. In Toronto, there were protests and calls for justice after Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman, fell to her death after police entered her apartment in May 2020.
In May 2019—before the proposal of special constables—the Black Liberation Collective Ryerson (BLC) called on the Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union to diminish the presence of TPS on campus.
Heightened security and policing on campus today will harm Black students the most. In the city and Greater Toronto Area, law enforcement already does not have a good relationship with the Black community and racialized people.
In 2020, it was found that TPS used force on Black people about four times more than the rest of the population and Black Torontonians were five times more likely to experience force from police than their white counterparts, as reported by the Toronto Star.
They said, “In cases where force was used, a police officer was more than twice as likely to draw a firearm on a Black person they thought was unarmed than a white person they thought was unarmed.”
Just this month, Peel Regional Police tasered Abdullah Darwich, a non-verbal teen who has autism, in what his father said was a “very big failure,” on part of the police.
With all this data present, how then can we argue that increased security will help? What we need instead are better community supports.
It’s our job as allies to advocate for our peers and ensure that campus is safe for us all, without the presence of increased policing. The university and the city need to invest in community-based alternatives and infrastructure.
For the American Friends Service Committee, a social justice organization and blog, author Mary Zerkel writes about different alternatives to policing that can be implemented in communities. These can include urgent response teams ready to intervene in mental health crises, trauma-informed crisis intervention teams trained to de-escalate situations and more investment in infrastructure that addresses the root causes of violence, including better education and community programs to keep youth and adults engaged and active.
And it’s programs like these that are proven to work, especially community-based alternatives to policing.
In the city of Eugene, Ore., they implemented the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets Program (CAHOOTS) 31 years ago. According to their website, CAHOOTS mobilizes two-person teams, which include a medic and an experienced crisis worker who deal with a wide range of mental health-related conflicts. They aren’t accompanied by law enforcement and have proven to de-escalate many situations. In 2019, CAHOOTS responded to about 24,000 calls and only requested police backup 150 times, according to an article in Harvard Magazine.
It’s not enough to just increase security on campus because they are not equipped to deal with the complexities that accompany crisis situations. We need to help people with care, compassion and understanding—not violence and increased surveillance.
What I saw last week outside 10 Dundas is something that will stay with me forever. A situation like that could have been prevented if the right community supports were available in the area.
In 2021, the city launched the Toronto Community Crisis Service as “part of their commitment to treat mental health crises as a public health problem, not a public safety issue.” The service can be accessed by calling 211 or 911, at which point crisis teams will respond to calls. But this service is not widely known, advertised or utilized as much as it should be.
I hope every TMU community member understands the dire precedent TMU’s recent announcement sets. The response to crime on campus does not have to mean more policing, it can be so much more effective and safer than that.
Instead, let’s fight for more community resources. Let’s advocate for more shelter space and affordable housing in the city, especially as winter nears. Intervene when you see acts of violence against those who are vulnerable in our community. Seek education on the impacts of policing and take an intersectional approach to understanding its consequences.
And most importantly, advocate against increased policing on campus and urge the university to do better and invest in our community.
Because that’s what we really need.
With files from Manuela Vega and Valerie Dittrich
That is an extremely short-sighted approach to campus safety. “Don’t hire more security just do other things!” Yeah maybe that would work somewhere else but this school is right in the middle of downtown Toronto. There’s street violence around every corner of the campus as soon as you walk off the campus grounds you’re potentially standing somewhere that within the past month has seen a shooting or stabbing or assault.
There’s a problem with loitering homeless people vandalizing campus grounds, I especially don’t walk around the far side of the pond area even though it’s right next to security office there’s just too much of a risk in that back alley area. I’ve dealt with homeless people trying to attack me outside the journalism school and since the start of this campus have seen homeless people in that campus building’s washroom on more than one occasion.
I myself have been a victim of police brutality having been assaulted by police severely in public more than 3 times in the past. I’ve never had a problem with Ryerson security mislabeling me or overreacting and I know what that looks like. Sorry but if you spit at anyone you can be detained for a citizens arrest. Maybe you’d like to see how that sort of incident plays out with someone spitting at a bystander and people having to get their hands dirty to ensure their gross behavior is held accountable for.
Also on the subject of de-policing the “radical politics” US cities that have taken that approach are having severe issues controlling the public. Here’s what downtown Toronto will turn into if you insist on not having unarmed security guards to stave off sexual assault and trespassing – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11322615/Shocking-video-crime-ridden-Minneapolis-shows-crowd-harass-swear-POLICE-HORSE.html