Former Toronto police board chair Mukherjee joins Ryerson panel on police brutality

Two months after Black Lives Matter activists crashed Alok Mukherjee’s final Toronto Police Services board meeting, the former police board chair is starting his new role at Ryerson with an appearance on a panel addressing the anti-police brutality movement.

Mukherjee stepped down from the board in August after 10 years as chair, and is now a distinguished visiting professor for the criminology department at Ryerson. He’s also working with the university’s division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

Alok Mukherjee, former Toronto Police Services board chair, is now a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson. (Supplied)

Alok Mukherjee, former Toronto Police Services board chair, is now a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson. (Supplied)

The panel is part of EDI’s Soup and Substance series, where panellists address diversity-related topics. This time they will focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, which draws attention to systemic racism and police brutality against black communities.

Denise O’Neil Green, the EDI assistant vice-president and vice-provost equity, will moderate the panel, which will also feature social work professor Akua Benjamin and fourth-year Ryerson journalism student and Black Lives Matter activist Pascale Diverlus.

Diverlus was one of the members from Black Lives Matter Toronto who came to Mukherjee’s final board meeting to present the activist group’s demands. Diverlus said she plans to talk about the issues of policing on the panel and ask why these issues aren’t being addressed.

Students and other members of the public will be able to engage in a Q-and-A at the end of the panel.

Black Lives Matter began as a Twitter hashtag in 2013, after Florida man George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager. The movement has been gaining momentum ever since, especially after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last year.

The Black Lives Matter movement has also been influential in Toronto, with a local chapter protesting the Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) use of the tactic known as carding, where police stop people and collect their information, even if they are not suspected of a crime. The Toronto Star has reported extensively on the racial bias of the practice, which disproportionately targets young black men.

Black Lives Matter Toronto has also spoken out about the deaths of Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku, who were both shot by police in the GTA. The group crashed Mukherjee’s last meeting seeking answers about Loku’s death.

Diverlus was one of the members from BLM Toronto who attended Mukherjee’s last board meeting to read a list of demands for change. Diverlus says that this matter is very personal and important to her. She plans to talk about the issues of policing and bring up why these issues aren’t being talked about.

Diverlus said she’s frustrated to be on the panel with Mukherjee but is also interested to hear what he has to say.

“(Mukherjee) and the city are not doing enough to address the anti-black practices within the police force,” she said.

In Mukherjee’s new role at Ryerson, he will also be helping the criminology department by giving lectures about human rights and policing.

Kim Varma, chair of Ryerson’s criminology department, said Mukherjee’s high-calibre expertise in these areas will benefit students “in a huge way.”

“He (Mukherjee) is going to enrich students and faculty and will enrich our program,” she said.

Mukherjee has a record in academia and human rights that reaches back to the 1990s. From 1992 until 1994 he was vice-chair and acting chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. And in 1994, he was a professor in the continuing education program at Ryerson.

“I’m at Ryerson and not in any of the other universities and colleges in Toronto because I’ve been interested in the work that Ryerson has been doing for several years now in terms of giving back to the community — reflecting the needs and expectations of the Toronto community,” he said.

Mukherjee said that all students, not just those in the criminology department, should take an interest in human rights and policing.

“I think what students, young people, ought to learn or have the opportunity to learn is what constitutes good citizenship, and I think it would be tremendous if at the university they had a way to understand that through some kind of acquired course,” he said. “In my way of thinking, good citizenship involves knowing, in a very sound way, what the principle of human rights means.”

The EDI’s Soup and Substance panel will be held Sept. 29 at 12 p.m. in the Podium building, room 250.

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