|Rally for Justice for Junior Manon By Jesse Zimmerman Download MP3 audio podcast here. (7:16 / 6 MB)|
On May 9, 2010 (Mother’s Day) one hundred or so people, students, community members and activists, converged at Shoreham and made their way down the Jane and Finch area to the police station for 31 Division at 40 Norfinch Drive. They arrived at the station around 2pm where mainstream media reporters awaited their arrival; a cameraman from CityTv and a reporter from the Toronto Sun. Once there, the crowd chanted in front of the station, keeping a fair distance on the sidewalk, conveying feelings of frustration and anger. Some bore signs, others roses. Their chants were directed at the station’s exterior walls, shouting things like “No Justice, No Peace”, “Nobody has the right to take a baby from his mother” and “Touch one, touch all”. Various signs read “Justice for Junior” and “Time 4 Change” while others had pictures of Junior Alexander Manon.
Junior Manon died on May 5th near Steeles Ave. West and Founders Rd. right at the far Northern end of the sprawling Keele campus of York University. He had allegedly been running from police who had pulled him over. The police officers alleged that the 18-year old collapsed during the ensuing chase and the claims followed that he had suffered a heart attack. A witness on the scene and the other passenger in the car though claimed that seven police officers jumped him and continued to beat him until he died. “They beat him up, he was on the floor, he wasn’t resisting. Two officers on him, punching him in the face, one kicking him in the ribs… And then five more come and jump on him… He’s not that big for seven boy’dem [cops] to be on him like that.”
Many members of the community became outraged and this rally was one of many events that have followed and one of many more to come. Members of Junior’s immediate family were present in the youth-dominated rally, many of whom addressed the crowd on speakerphone in Spanish. They clapped as the speaker finished and an activist speaker took over the mic and passionately stated: “People who are supposed to uphold the law; break the law…the whole community needs to mobilize! [It] could have been any of us!”
“We have to stick together; together we are strong,” said a community member who was hesitant to give his name. During the speeches some members of the crowd slowly made their way towards the station, but backed off shortly after. There was talk of entering the station among people in the crowd, but the suggestions never germinated into action. Others were hesitant for fear of being arrested.
A few police cars sat across the street at a school’s parking way on the other side. I had the opportunity to approach one of the police officers sitting in one of the cruisers. The officer did not give his name, as it is generally not customary for them to do so with such a contentious issue at hand.
When inquired what his thoughts were on the rally he responded: “Their democratic right to protest”. He explained that an SIU (Special Investigations Unit) had been assigned to the case and that the outcome will decide what exactly took place on May 5th. When asked who was in the SIU the officer explained that they were trained investigators, mostly ex-cops themselves.
One member of the crowd, a freelance journalist and activist, was not satisfied with this response. He felt there was a direct conflict of interest, as police officers are inevitably a fraternity and may be more interested in ‘looking out for one another’. He felt an independent body may be better suited for this task. When the officer was questioned on this, he replied:
“I don’t want someone at Wal-Mart,” and added when I mentioned the idea of having law-experts on the SIU that while “Osgoode Hall was a nice place to learn law” cops actually know it.
The young man on the other side of the road was unconvinced. According to BASICS magazine: “Not a single officer has ever been convicted of criminal charges for the killing of persons in their custody, despite handling more than 30 such cases since its inception.”
Members of various organizations were present, including many reporters from grassroots media outlets, including CHRY 105.5 FM and Jane-Finch.com. Many in the crowd were also students, some from nearby York University.
“Racism is pervasive within the police force. There is a need for the law enforcement to embrace [the] whole notion of pluralism,” said Solomon Saifo, one student activist. Members of York University Black Students Association and the recently formed Black Youth Coalition Against Violence were also present.
After about an hour or so the rally moved along down Norfinch Ave. to Finch Ave. West., where they made their way up Finch Ave. towards Jane St. By this time the mainstream media representatives had left, but many alternative media outlets remained. The crowd received much support in the form of honking horns from cars passing by on the street, until they reached the intersection of Jane and Finch.
A speaker addressed the crowd again: “Provide jobs, give kids access to education… we’re going to demand an end to police brutality. If the system can’t do it, our community has the responsibility to get justice!” Junior was a rapper and they proceeded to play some of his tracks while the crowd started to disperse. Many participants claimed this is just the beginning of community action. The family thanked all the people for coming and the day was out.
This was not the first instance of police brutality at Jane and Finch, only the most recent, but has evoked a response from community members that will most likely not fade away any time soon. On December 10th in 2008 a crowd of demonstrators entered the 31 Division Police Station where community members came forth and expressed their frustration and concern about police brutality in their community. One community member claimed he had seen a police officer strip search a young woman for no clear reason and another threaten to choke a youth. He mentioned his fears that something terrible may happen if these trends continue. This has been a concern for activists for quite a long time now in many impoverished parts of Toronto. Elsewhere in the city activists in the community set up CopWatch programs.
It is unclear at this point what exactly happened, although it is clear that the community members and activists present on May 9th do not accept the explanation the police gave, that an 18-year old man simply collapsed of a heart attack. It is also unclear as to why Junior had this altercation and why he started fleeing from the police. Many people present at the rally claimed no drugs or weapons were found on the scene, and that even if Junior had done something wrong, it remains an injustice that he died as a result.
An activist and freelance reporter by the name of CJ made this statement on the matter:
"I expect many people will focus on the question of why Junior Alexander Manon (and others in similar positions) chose to run, rather than why "peace" officers choose to brutalize. However, we must remember that the history of police brutality has deep roots in upholding the contradictory social process of dehumanizing (demonizing) disenfranchised populations. Whether or not Junior A. Manon was guilty of a public offense, his life was unjustly taken by a force that has been burdened and privileged with the task of maintaining a social order. If the police force continues to be immune from sincere public evaluation and sincere discipline, I hope the next citizens running for their lives win the race."
A fundraiser for Junior Manon’s family is taking place and a workshop featuring the new film “Know Your Rights” is taking place at Yorkwoods Library Theatre at 1785 Finch Ave. W. at 7:30pm on May 21st, 2010. At least one thing remains clear: this issue is not going away anytime soon.