On July 21, the City of Toronto deployed Toronto Police Service officers (TPS) to violently evict homeless people from Toronto’s Alexandra Park and Lamport Stadium, and beat back community members who protested. The following is an eyewitness account of what we heard and what we saw as we joined the community to defend the homeless.
Starting at 5:00am, hundreds of TPS officers and security forces marched into the parks to clear out homeless people who were living there. The city has seen an expansion in tent cities over the past year, as hundreds of thousands were thrown into unemployment by the crisis and as shelters have seen waves of infections. And they’ve been met with a complete lack of compassion from the city, which has sent officials to drive them from park to park at the behest of business owners.
After community organizers stopped police and city officials from violently driving away the homeless residents of Trinity Bellwoods earlier this month, the city increased its police presence. The TPS itself noted that it “pulled resources from other areas of the city” in order to beat back resistance from encampment residents and community members. Mayor John Tory promised a “firm” response to protesters.
At Lamport, community members who’d peacefully placed themselves between police and the homeless residents linked hands and demanded that the encampments be allowed to stay. Police responded by destroying tents, smashing the faces of protesters and homeless residents with truncheons, and kneeling on necks.
The TPS violently arrested nearly 30 people in total at the park and stadium.
Indigenous revolutionary, Skyler Williams who came up to Toronto in solidarity, was hit in the head with a baton for simply trying to help someone else off the ground.
After a round of arrests and successful clearings by the police, which have now forced dozens out of the park and onto the streets, we began to regroup. Those of us that remained headed to the 14 Division police station to demand those arrested be released.
That demonstration began with 200 of us facing roughly 35 police officers blocking the entrance. We began chanting for the release of those who were arrested, and insisting we would not move until they were freed. As our numbers grew to nearly 700, the police presence increased as well. Before long, over 250 tactical unit officers were staring down the community with shields, truncheons, horses and what looked like rubber bullets.
As subsequent video has confirmed, police began provoking the crowd—shoving a demonstrator and soon deploying pepper spray and further violence. Suddenly the line between the police and us erupted. Police then started to selectively drag community members to the ground, shove organizers and more. On our side, people had nothing more than a few water bottles.
Children were among those pepper sprayed. Young women were punched, pushed and dragged on the ground. People trying to help others were attacked from behind with batons. The police were clearly beating up the crowd to break it apart.
Dozens of us were pepper sprayed and we began to use water and milk to help wash people’s eyes out. Police started to encircle us, forcing us to make an exit up Ossington with the threat of further police violence present.
The brutality at 14 Division:
Crowd pepper sprayed:
Battered, bruised, some hardly able to see, we were pushed back from the police station and forced to retreat with what was left of the crowd. We went over to Christie Pits Park a short distance away to catch our breath and check on people. Community medics gave further assistance and direction on how to deal with the pepper spray that had affected almost everyone.
What we witnessed yesterday and what many have witnessed over the past period is a graphic demonstration of who the Toronto Police Service and Mayor Tory’s office serve, and who they don’t. The same municipal government that allows poor people to die as shelters overfill somehow found the resources to militarize the city’s parks and deploy riot police against families. The mayor’s office and Toronto Police are on the side of the wealthy property owners who have complete freedom to exploit everyone in the city, while the most vulnerable are violently pushed out of the way.
Hundreds of thousands of workers in this city watched the police brutality in disgust. They need to be reached out to and mobilized.
For the movement against police brutality and for affordable housing to be bolstered and successful, we need the labour movement involved. While this inactivity from trade union leaders and federation leaders continues, activists will continue to mobilize in their workplaces to connect the evictions crisis to the general capitalist crisis in society and involve more in the movement.