Saying they want to “take matters into their own hands,” a group comprised of more than 100 Somali mothers pleaded with the Toronto police board to partner with them to stop the scourge of gun violence in their communities.
Wanting to work alongside police to combat mistrust between officers and their communities, the mothers — many of whom have lost children to gun violence — filled the auditorium at Toronto police headquarters Wednesday and asked the board to join them to act against what they called a “crisis” of youth violence.
“The graveyards are filling up,” said Shamso Mohamud, whose son Abdikarim Abdikarim was shot dead in Toronto on March 15, 2008.
“That was a day that had altered my life in its totality, it up-ended my family life and affected my community as well.”
For four years, the group of mothers has been meeting every Saturday morning to discuss ways to combat gun violence within their communities, break down walls with police and brainstorm ways to overcome difficulties they face as Black, Muslim and immigrant mothers, group members said.
The group asked for a formalized partnership with the board to act to provide adequate resources in combating youth violence, including changes to the Toronto police neighbourhood officer program and incorporating the mothers into community liaison work to help prevent deaths.
In response, the board passed a motion to direct staff to work with the group to pursue opportunities for partnership, including establishing a “memorandum of understanding” to have it approved at a September board meeting.
Minutes after the motion passed, a group of about two dozen chanting protesters filled the auditorium, prompting board members to leave the auditorium and delaying the rest of the meeting.
Holding signs — one saying “Dafonte we are still here” — the group walked into the centre of the room and criticized the board, saying too much time has passed since any action following the alleged beating of Black teen Dafonte Miller.
Miller, then 19, was severely injured after an interaction with an off-duty Toronto police officer, Const. Michael Theriault and his younger brother, Christian Theriault, on a residential Whitby street in December 2016.
The brothers are each accused of aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and attempting to obstruct justice in connection to the beating of Miller, who suffered severe damage to his left eye which required surgical removal.
The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 21.
“We disrupted this police board meeting in support of Dafonte Miller and the lack of action around this case,” Robyn Maynard, an academic and author of Policing Black Lives, tweeted after the demonstration.
“This was done in solidarity with and with the support of the Somali mothers who had done an incredible presentation beforehand.”
Coming to light in July 2017, the high-profile case raised questions about police transparency, in part because the Special Investigations Unit, Ontario’s police watchdog, was not contacted following the incident — despite the fact a police officer was involved in a citizen’s serious injuries.
In response to criticisms over his force’s handling of the case, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders called in the Waterloo Police Service to conduct an internal review. That review is currently on hold, pending the completion of the criminal trial.
In a statement issued earlier this year, the board said it was normal for such internal investigations to be put on hold until a related trial can be completed.
“The board takes this matter very seriously, as does the chief. We understand and appreciate the significant public interest in this case and also that limited information may create more questions than answers in the community,” the board said in a March statement.
Speaking to reporters after the board meeting, Saunders said there are “two very different stories as to what went on on that day.”
Saunders added that he looks forward to what the court finds, because “I think it will present the most truthful component as to what happened.”
Get more of today’s top stories in your inbox
Sign up for the Star’s Morning Headlines newsletter for a briefing of the day’s big news.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis