Black Lives Matter protesters say they were pushed, shoved by police

(Courtesy of Rodney Diverlus via Black Lives Matter Toronto)

(Courtesy of Rodney Diverlus via Black Lives Matter Toronto)

A peaceful demonstration turned violent last night when protesters clashed with Toronto police about the recent decision to not charge an officer, who fatally shot a black man in his apartment last summer.

The protest started in Nathan Phillips Square on March 20 and moved outside of the Toronto police headquarters the following night, where protesters clashed with police.

Approximately 100 protesters set up tents and fire pits just outside of the police headquarters on College Street to protest the death of 45-year-old Andrew Loku. Loku was fatally shot by a member of the Toronto Special Investigations Unit in July 2015.

The situation escalated after the fire and police departments entered the courtyard where the protesters were gathered. The fire department put out the flames that the protesters had lit to keep themselves warm, according to Pascale Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto and a Ryerson journalism student.

Mark Pugash, director of corporate communications of the Toronto Police Services, said Toronto police have no problem with peaceful protests and will even work with protesters to facilitate the protest.

Pugash said the protesters were told their tents and fire pits were against the law and that officers had to remove them, but they did not.

“Their response was defiance, they linked arms to prevent the police, to obstruct police from enforcing the law and under those circumstances police have the authority of using minimum force to move people so they can enforce the law,” Pugash said.

Rabbia Ashraf, vice-president internal of Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, said she was there and witnessed a different story.

“Police were pushing people, they were shoving people, they were throwing people down to the ground and trampling them. They didn’t care,” Ashraf said. “They didn’t care about peacefulness; they just wanted the protest to be shut down.”

Protesters like Ashraf are saying that the police used more than minimum force. Pugash, who was not present at the time of the protest, denied these allegations.

“I certainly saw no evidence of that whatsoever, but what I did see was a lot of pushing, shoving, defiance and obstruction from people in the crowd,” he said.

Diverlus said that this is simply the police’s denial of their gathering

“(It) is just proof of what anti-black racism looks like in the city,” said Diverlus.

“We are here peacefully, we were not doing anything, disturbing anyone. It is our right to meet together…People do this all of the time. The big difference is the fact that we are black and we are sitting here. That is really the big difference.”

Many protesters had their belongings destroyed in the confrontation with police.

Protests continued throughout the day.

With files from Sarah Amormino, Nikolas Theodorakidis and Jenna Yun


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