CityNews stoops to victim-blaming in coverage of Toronto #BlackLivesMatter protest

Yesterday afternoon and evening, a few hundred protesters organized under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter stopped traffic on an on-ramp to the Allen Expressway at Eglinton Avenue.

The protest started just metres away from the spot where Andrew Loku, a local man originally from South Sudan, was gunned down by Toronto police just a few weeks ago, shot within a minute of police arriving on the scene at his home. Ever since Loku’s death, activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have been ramping up the pressure on both the police and the city government.

On Thursday, the activist group Black Lives Matter-Toronto occupied a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board. They demanded the mayor and the police chief apologize for Loku’s shooting. “Every single day, black bodies in this city face violence,” said the group’s co-founder, Rodney Diverlus. “Whether it’s carding, whether it’s surveillance, whether it’s physical violence, and whether it’s death. This is life and death for us.” […]

The female officer was the first up the stairs, a thin double set that goes out and back with a landing in the middle. The male wasn’t far behind. “I went in and stood at the door because I heard a commotion,” said [Leslie] Colvin[, a building resident]. “And I heard ‘Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer!’ three times. And then ‘Bap! Bap! Bap!’ — two or three shots.”

[Susan] Schofield[, another resident,] was also standing in the stairwell. “I heard them yell at Andrew to drop the hammer,” she said. “Andrew didn’t have a chance to do anything. It was that quick.”

Loku was allegedly threatening his upstairs neighbours with a hammer. In the aftermath of his death, there’s been a lot of speculation about his mental health and emotional stability, none of which is in any way relevant.

A case in point is CityNews’s coverage of last night’s road blockade:

Neighbours described Loku has a helpful, sweet, non-threatening guy who had never an outburst like this before.

Twenty-two units in the building are used as Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) housing.

“It’s a very tragic incident for everybody involved, including the young man who lost his life,” Steve Laurie with the CMHA said.

Due to privacy issues, building officials would not comment if Loku had been renting his unit through the CMHA.

Which is legit, because it’s none of the media’s goddamn business who was paying Loku’s rent, who hooked him up with his apartment, or whether he’d been diagnosed with any mental illnesses.

Look, I don’t care whether Loku was a sweet guy or whether he was an opportunistic asshole. It doesn’t matter whether he was going through a crisis mental-health-wise or not.

He didn’t deserve to die.

The way he died is horrendous.

And he died because the first instinct of the cops on the scene was to shoot, and shoot to kill.

Which is to say, in their eyes, his Black life didn’t matter as much as any low level of threat to their safety.

To persistently raise the issue of his mental wellness is to imply that the behaviour of the police is understandable, forgivable even, if Loku was indeed mentally unstable. And this just compounds the prejudice and oppression – because if this is true, not only do Black lives not matter, but the lives of people who aren’t neuro-typical don’t matter either.

So shame on CityNews. Shame on every newspaper and TV station that keeps dragging Andrew Loku’s mental health into the picture, as though it’s a justification for what was done to him. Loku’s mental health isn’t the story – the police’s incomprehensible trigger-happy behaviour is the story, and any attempt to drag attention back to the alleged flaws of the victim is disgusting, irresponsible reporting.

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