The organizers of a weekend demonstration that was interrupted by a violent altercation are accusing police of responding in an “aggressive manner” to a man dealing with mental health issues and then “removing by force” several community members who were working to de-escalate the situation.
Police have said that they responded to an incident just before 8 p.m. on Saturday in the area of Oakwood Avenue and Eglinton Avenue West, where people had gathered for a rally in support of Black-owned businesses affected by the construction of the Crosstown LRT.
Police say that at some point during the rally a man walked into the intersection and jumped on top of a car, at which point officers engaged him. Police say that the man “became aggressive” at that point and assaulted an officer.
He was eventually taken into custody but sustained unspecified injuries for which he was hospitalized, prompting the province’s police watchdog to open an investigation into the incident.
Police have said that a total of seven officers were also injured as a result of the initial altercation, including four that received treatment in hospital.
The organizers of the rally, however, are raising questions about the police response to what they say was a “community member struggling with mental illness.”
In a statement posted to Instagram late Sunday night, the organizers of the “BANA ON THE BLOCK” rally say that the man “was dancing on top of a vehicle” and causing only “minor damage” when police approached him in an “aggressive manner.”
They say that the man took a swing at an officer in response and was Tasered twice and taken to the ground.
“Prior to the arrival of backup police reinforcements and the paramedics orgnizers were succesfully soothing the community member while he was pinned to the ground by police officers but were abruptly stopped by the above mentioned reinformcements who claimed that they had better experience navigatig their care despite the community member asking not to be tocuhed by non-black responders. This resulted in an altercation where the community member resitsed,” the statement from the organizers reads. “In response to this police kneeled on his head, kicked and punched him repeatedly and the Black women from the community who had been soothing him were removed by force without resistance by police in an attempt to sever his ties to the community when he needed it the most.”
Police have said that they arrested both the man who jumped on the car and another individual who intervened in his arrest and charged both of them with numerous offences, including assaulting a peace officer.
In their statement, the organizers of the rally questioned the police description of the events that transpired and said that they only witnesseed two officers “sustain any kind of force” during the course of the arrests; not seven.
They also expressed disappointment that police did not consult with organizers who had “seen and interacted with the man” and had resources on hand to deal with “de-escalation.”
“There had been no prior disruption that police addressed with us that regarded this community member who was safe and of harm to nobody in the care of our Little Jamaica community,” the statement reads.
The SIU has said that they were notified about the incident at 1:45 a.m. on Sunday and are continuing to investigate.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto on Monday, Interim Police Chief James Ramer defended the actions of his officers.
“It was a very dynamic and difficult event and I think sometimes people need to understand that it is not television and when you are dealing with someone who is violent it is very dynamic and you are trying to cause minimal injury and trying to minimize injury to yourself and I think that was evident by what I saw on video,” he said.