Desmond Cole is a prominent Toronto activist who’s taken a special interest in the police. If you’ve been following the debate on the Toronto Police Service’s “carding” policy it’s likely you’ve heard his story claiming he’s been stopped by police and asked for personal details “50 times”. It’s a shocking story if it’s true, it would be helpful to his credibility if he’d make a police freedom of information request and share documentation to back his claim.
The day after Gregory Alan Elliott’s acquittal, Cole did an interview with one of Stephanie Guthrie’s friends on Newstalk 1010. I was shocked to hear him claim in the introduction that Elliott was charged with “online sexual harassment”. I listened to it again this morning and noticed that Newstalk had edited the mistake out- without noting there was a correction. Not very professional guys!
Shortly after his interview about Elliott, Cole moved on to his favourite subject of attacking the Toronto Police Service. He explained that they’d ordered barricades for their headquarters at 40 College Street. He assumed that the barricades were ordered out of fear protesters might storm the building after James Forcillo’s verdict- the cop charged with murder for shooting Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013. Cole took the opportunity to ridicule the cops saying there’s no way they’d need the barricades- oh, really?
Cole used two examples to discredit the police’s concerns. The first was a protest he attended in front of headquarters after the 2010 G20, speakers that day included Ryerson professor Judy Rebick and Naomi Klein. He claimed the protesters were peaceful, this was true.
It was interesting to see Rebick demanding that the arrested members of the G20 Conspiracy group be let go. It was only a couple days after she denounced the Black Bloc vandals, and a few weeks before she was on the stage with Alex Hundert in Montreal. Hundert was late sentenced to prison for his role as a G20 ringleader and for councilling protesters how to “de-arrest” people- a violent tactic where protesters use force or threat of force to free people being taken into custody.
The other example Cole used to discredit the police’s precautionary measure was the Sammy Yatim protests in 2013. He stated that, like the G20 protest, the crowd was entirely peaceful- unfortunaltely this wasn’t true. I was there that day, it was downright scary, as close to a riot as a protest can get without being one. The police were scared that day too.
The first protest was organized by Yatim’s family members who gathered together at Dundas Square. They were good people who were hurt and in pain- most people familiar with the case feel it was an unnecessary shooting. They were obviously inexperienced running protests and arrived there on their own- it was a genuinely grassroots protest for a serious cause.
Shortly after speaking with the media they announced that they were going to march down the street. Being good people, understanding that they were protesting the actions of a police officer and not the people of Toronto, they marched down the sidewalk heading south on Yonge St. All of a sudden Syed Husan of No One Is Illegal showed-up. Syed was arrested as part of the G20 Main Conspiracy Group- he was later let off the hook as part of the plea-bargain that put Alex Hundert in prison.
Syed ran up to Yatim’s family and started trying to convince them to move onto the street. They followed his lead about a minute later, and walked into the middle of traffic. Next, Husan convinced them to head back up north to Dundas Square. Syed had his own group of people waiting there, many seemed chomping at the bit for a riot.
Husan kept Yatim’s family hovering around Dundas Square waiting for more people to gather. They blocked the intersection of Yonge and College for a short time, few minutes later they headed west on College St. The crowd was nasty, yelling insults and expletives at the cops. I’ve always been impressed how the cops just stand quietly and take so much abuse, there are some amazing cops in this city- top notch.
While they were heading down College, Husan suddenly walked up to the front of the crowd and rolled-out a professionally printed banner that said “Sammy’s Fight For Justice”. It was fascinating how slick he was co-opting the protest- Husan is a true professional.
Next comes the part that shows just how wrong Desmond Cole was to criticise the banners. A small group broke out from the march when they reached 52 Division and stormed towards the front doors. Others followed and joined them, the cops locked the doors and the protesters started smashing their fists against them. This is exactly the reason the cops would need barriers, isn’t it?
Sammy Yatim’s family members stayed on the street, looking seriously disturbed how their peaceful protest turned into a mini riot. I walked up to them and explained who they were dealing with, the same people who organized riots in 2010. They thanked me for that and tried to get the crowd to move away from the police station and continue down the street.
Protesters were yelling insults and expletives at the cops when they continued down Yonge. Yatiim’s family were visibly upset, it wasn’t their intention to demonize the entire police force- the cops manning the protest were only helpful and friendly with them. Regardless of what people say about Sammy Yatim’s behaviour on the streetcar, his family are good people.
What happened next was truly impressive. One of Yatim’s family members started yelling at the crowd to stop abusing the cops. She yelled out that their protest was about the actions of one officer and not the entire force. She demanded that people act peacefully. It took a lot of guts to tell off an angry crowd, I had enormous respect watching her speak.
The protest continued heading west on College, protesters continued to yell at the cops, some chanted out “f##k the police”! It was clear that they didn’t give a damn about the family- opportunists who used the protest to get away with behaviour they’d otherwise get arrested for. In many ways it was a lot like the G20 where most people came to protest peacefully- and a small group used them as human shields.
A while later, when the march reached the intersection of College and Dovercourt, Husan tried to direct the crowd to march up to the 14 Division building. Yatim’s family didn’t want anything to do with another attack on the police, they made a short speech and then walked away. Husan then led the mob north on Dovercourt, the crowd was quite large by that point, at least a couple of thousand people.
The protester’s surrounded the building forcing the cops to create a makeshift barricade with their bicycles. The crowd was loud, angry, hostile, and yelling abuse at the bike cops- “no justice, no peace, f##k the police!”. One professional protester started yelling racist abuse at a black cop for blocking entry to the building- “you probably did that to your own people in Africa”. Once again, there was clearly an argument for why the cops would need barriers.
About an hour into the protest another well-known protester started writing on the side of the building. Trish Mills had recently been arrested and was on bail for locking herself up a protest against Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline. She’d also recently got into a physical altercation at one of her court hearings when she assaulted a peace officer.
One of the cops went up to Mills and tried to take her into custody. Her friends knew that she was on bail, and another arrest could see her stuck behind bars for a long time. Suddenly, one of the protesters started yelling out “let her go, let her go”. The crowd quickly joined in the chanting and pushed their way in towards the cop’s makeshift barrier.
Scared for their safety, the cop who was arresting Mills was forced to let her go. This was a classic de-arresting tactic, use the force of the crowd to intimidate the cops into letting someone free- it might not have gone that direction if the cops had barricades. I could see on their faces that they were genuinely scared for their own safety. I’ll never forget that moment, I later thought a lot about what would happen if Forcillo was found not guilty- we’d be likely to have had a genuine riot on our hands.
Desmond Cole is playing a dangerous game ridiculing the cops for taking preemptive safety measures. One would imagine that if there’s situation where the cops fail adequately prepare for violence in the future that Desmond Cole would be one of the first to people to criticise them.
Something doesn’t pass the smell test here. Is Desmond’s activism a crusade for the people of Toronto or is he on a crusade against the police. Or, perhaps there’s come connection with internal police politics? Is he, like Paisley Rae, also on “Team Sloly”? Time will tell, stay tuned for more reports on this subject in the future…