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LAWS CHARGES METRO POLICE BIAS AGAINST BLACKS `WORSE THAN L.A.'

by
K.K. CAMPBELL

Dudley Laws is chairperson of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC). Laws, 58, is originally from Jamaica. He settled in Toronto in 1965.

The BADC made headlines recently by trying to introduce the "issue of race" in a coroner's inquest into the police killing of Lester Donaldson -- Donaldson was black, the policeman who killed him was white. Three days after Donaldson's death, the BADC was formed.

In the BADC's first protest meeting, Laws proclaimed: "Canada is a racist state. If you have a racist state, then you have racist police." He says nothing has changed in five years.

eye: Why was the BADC formed?

LAWS: Prior to the death of Donaldson, there were different committees for different police shootings. We decided it was practical to have one committee for all. [Eight blacks have been shot by Metro police in about four years.]

eye: What do you mean "defence" committee ... defending against the police?

LAWS: Mainly. We do work in education and immigration, but our focus is definitely policing.

eye: And you claim to speak for the black community?

LAWS: I don't claim to speak for anybody. The BADC collectively speaks for people who cannot speak for themselves.

eye: [Metro Police Chief William] McCormack has said troubles between blacks and police stem from a lack of black leadership in Toronto.

LAWS: [laughs] What is he trying to say: a lack of black leadership causes the police to shoot people? Because there is no leadership in the black community, the police had to shoot Sophia Cook? [In October 1989, Cook, 23, was shot when the stolen car she was a passenger in was stopped for a traffic violation in North York.] She had her seatbelt on, the door was closed, and they shot her. These guys make stupid statements, it's unbelievable.

eye: Officers themselves say they feel somewhat threatened by the black community because --

LAWS: Why would they be threatened? There are no blacks killing police officers. When Marlon Neal was pulled over, he was no threat to them. [In May, 1990, Neal, 17, was shot after his car ran a Scarborough radar trap.] He says when he saw the face of the police officer, it was so hostile, so red, he locked himself in his car. The officer fired one shot on the ground -- nobody had fired at him. He fired again and struck Neal in the back -- still nobody had fired at him. He fired again and shot Neal in the back a second time -- still no return fire. How can anyone seriously justify something like that.

eye: They say they feel hostility from the black community, a lack of trust.

LAWS: they are the ones that are supposed to create trust. They are public servants. They are also the ones with the guns ... as well as the truncheons, the handcuffs, the mace and the pepper spray.

eye: Well, would more black officers help relations?

LAWS: Putting another 100 black officers into the 7,800 we have now won't be any great improvement. It's not the answer.

eye: And what is?

LAWS: First, the recognition that there is a problem -- which the police still have not done. There are reports going back -- the Morand Report [1976] the Pitman Report [1977] the Carter Report [1979] -- all saying there is a racism problem in the Metro Police force. But police brass, after all these years, still won't accept it. Recognition would cause people to sit down with the police and talk about the problem

eye: Then what? You want racism made a criminal offence?

LAWS: Yes. If a police officer shoots someone because of the person's race or if you don't get a job because of your race, without a deterrent these actions will continue. There has to be some deterrent.

eye: But isn't something as subjective as racism hard to prove objectively?

LAWS: [sighs] I know. But I think more teeth have to be given to the Human Rights Commission and the Police Complaints Commission. These organizations have to be structured properly.

eye: Has the NDP government been responsive to your concerns?

LAWS: I think they've gone beyond being simply responsive. They are taking certain positive actions to remedy some situations. But the co-operation of police institutions is needed to actualize these initiatives.

eye: You find them an improvement over previous provincial governments?

LAWS: I would say a lot of improvement.

eye: The Metro Auditor's report [released Sept. 10] recommends collecting race-based crime stats, to allow better evaluation of police performance. Is that a positive step?

LAWS: No. Crime is not a matter of race. It's a community problem It should be dealt with in that manner. They should collect stats on crime in general -- not to say black people commit more crimes than whites. If they collected stats properly, they would find it is not blacks who are doing the mass murders or killing young kids.

eye: Why would the auditor want race-based stats?

LAWS: To target the black community, to say black people commit this crime and that crime. It will be used to defend police actions and support police budgets.

eye: The report does say that Metro police bias is not as extreme as L.A.? Would you agree with that?

LAWS: It's worse than L.A.

eye: Worse?

LAWS: Yes. At least Rodney King was only beaten, though the beating was brutal. In Toronto we have deaths, unnecessary killings.

eye: A necessary killing would be ...?

LAWS: If a police officer was shot at, or went into a building where someone pulled a gun on him. But we are talking about unnecessary shootings. WE are talking about Donaldson, Cook, Neal, Lawson. [in December, 1988, high school student Michael Wade Lawson, 17, died after being shot in the back of the head while driving a stolen car.] None of them had guns. No single jurisdiction across North America compares with Toronto's quantity of unnecessary shootings.

eye: Well, would you say Toronto cops are not as overtly racist as L.A. cops?

LAWS: Oh God, no. Toronto cops are openly racist. Speak to people in the black community. In this interview, we are just highlighting the shootings, but the everyday confrontations between black people and the police is very, very, very high.

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