Posts Tagged ‘police brutality’

“They buried Harry Snedden with honor last week. They placed his cap upon a Canadian flag, which lay across his coffin, and from the crowded pews of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in suburban Toronto they sang him to rest, privately measuring the

meaning of his death. Afterward, in a solemn processional, they marched— 1,100 policemen, six abreast, their shoes bright with polish, their hands gloved in white—through the very streets Constable Snedden had patrolled and not far from where he had been shot, with his own gun, while trying to break up a domestic dispute.

At 22, fit and industrious, Harry Snedden had contemplated a long career in his chosen profession and, for his family and friends, his death had the awesome absurdity of random fate. But police forces everywhere viewed it as one more justification for their campaign to restore capital punishment. In fact, Snedden died less than two weeks after a national gathering of police chiefs had urged a federal referendum on the death penalty and only days after Justice Minister Otto Lang and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau—once regarded as firm abolitionists—had themselves mused out loud about just such a possibility.

Ottawa’s apparent turnabout on the issue may have stunned party loyalists, but it plainly tickled the police. “Thank God,” sighed AÍ Evelyn, president of Toronto’s 5,300-member police association. “Let’s have a referendum. There’s no doubt in my mind that the majority wants capital punishment.”

There is no doubt, either, that on the hanging question—as on many others— Canada’s cops have become increasingly outspoken. “We’ve had to,” explains Halifax policeman Joe Ross, the militantly pro-hanging vice-president of the Canadian Police Association. “There’s not a week goes by that police aren’t shot at. We have to be more political—for our own protection.”

And so they are. From St. John’s to Surrey, the nation’s 65,000 policemen are making themselves heard as never before. Frequent conclaves, media blitzes and the long parade of appearances before legislative committees have given this country’s most visible minority a new and sometimes disturbing dimension. The newest centurions are not only peace officers, but lobbyists, influential shapers of opinion.

“Those who would enforce the law are now trying to determine how the laws should be made,” warns Toronto lawyer Harold Levy. “That concerns me. Every time the Criminal Lawyers Association goes to Ottawa to present a brief, the police chiefs have been there before us. This is not public relations and this is not education. It’s very close to intimidation.”

Whatever it is, the police show little inclination to stop. Joe Ross’s 600-member Police Association of Nova Scotia hopes to make capital punishment the major issue in next spring’s federal election. Its Ontario counterpart has set a $100,000 fund-raising target to promote the police viewpoint—one shared by 68 per cent of all Canadians, according to last April’s Gallup poll. Says Toronto Police Superintendent Frank Barbetta (see box): “I think the death penalty is a deterrent and I think it’s a fit punishment, not just for the murder of police officers and prison guards—that was never our contention—but for all premeditated murder.”

The new tempo of police politics does not stop with capital punishment. At almost every level, Canadian police forces are now engaged in a quest for more equipment, more personnel, more money and more -power. Especially power. Among their specific demands: the right to open mail (with a judicial warrant); changes in the Human Rights Act, to prevent criminals from gaining access to federal police files; withdrawal of Ottawa’s freedom-of-information proposals; enough federal aid to double the size of police intelligence units, to fight organized crime; and amendments to the Criminal Code that would make any car owner liable for all offences involving his vehicle—even if it were stolen. Insists Stan Raike, newly elected president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: “The war on crime is a war indeed.”

Still, the campaign for extra clout comes when the growth rate of crime itself is levelling off. For example, between 1961 and 1967 crimes of violence increased by an average of 12 per cent annually.

But between 1975 and 1977, the average rate of growth plummeted to less than one per cent per year. Asks Dr.

Paul Reed, director of Statistics Canada’s justice division: “You’re wondering why the police need more power? I would encourage you to wonder.”

But statistics are a fruitless game; they yield more questions than they answer. Is the curve dipping because the most crime-prone age group (15 to 24) is maturing? Or is it because in an era of economic restraint, police forces—the source of most crime statistics—see no advantage in reporting new crests in the wave? No one can say conclusively.

One category that shows an indisputable advance, however, is cannabis offences, which now account for one in every eight charges laid against adults (compared to one in 57 nine years ago).

In several American states, possession of marijuana or hashish is no longer a crime and even the Canadian Bar Association—never exactly aggressive in pursuit of reform—and the government’s own 1972 LeDain Commission have called for decriminalization of simple possession. Yet last year alone, more than 40,000 possession charges were laid.

The gargantuan effort expended to curb dubious violations of the Criminal Code is not restricted to cannabis. Laments Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Grant: “Senior officers know they’re catching the mackerel and leaving the whales; that’s what accounts for their frustration.”

Something certainly accounts for it. Although, as University of Saskatchewan law professor Brian Grosman notes, “public support for the police in this country is at an all-time high,” police morale is with few exceptions at an all-time low. Easy bail, plea bargaining, criminals acquitted by loopholes in the law, soft judges, quick parole—these are the verses of the policeman’s complaint. Staring into a coffee cup in northern B.C., an RCMP constable reflects: “Out of 20 charges you might get five or six convictions. We don’t get any support from the court. You spend hours on an investigation, paper work, court time. There’s no incentive for initiative. That’s why the guys are getting out.”

Even beyond the courtroom, though, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one these days. In Moncton, for example, Chief Greg Cahoon, a former RCMP sergeant, has upset his force with sweeping policy changes. Several senior officers have resigned. More recently, Cahoon has tried to force team policing upon the department.

In Charlottetown, friction between Chief Donald Saunders—imported from Ontario in 1974—and his staff continues. A 1977 provincial inquiry said the force was flying on a wing and a prayer, had lost public confidence and should immediately adopt formal rules and regulations—a code it had astonishingly managed to do without.

The Newfoundland Constabulary wants the right to carry guns; Halifax cops are threatening a strike; and the Quebec Policemen’s Federation (9,800 members—among the most militant blue-knight organizations in the country) predicts politicians will soon try to destroy police unions. “The storm clouds are forming,” says Guy Marcil, the federation’s executive director. “For the next three years, we won’t be fighting to gain new things, but to keep what we have won in the past.”

All of that is but a barely audible murmur to the raucous vibrations touched off by police forces in Ontario. At week’s end, the province’s police commission had completed one investigation (finding “management by crisis” in Thunder Bay), had two more under way and two others were contemplated. In tiny Ingersoll (pop. 8,200), Chief Ronald James had the temerity to suggest recently that epileptics be barred from the town’s restaurants. “Some guy barfing on the floor is not good for business,” the chief maintained.

Even Metro Toronto’s well-greased operation is sputtering. Three killings by police officers last month have raised anxious questions about police racism, emergency task forces and the adequacy of training techniques.

The most serious abuse occurred in Waterloo, Ont., former home of the Henchmen motorcycle gang, a group whose lifestyle blended into the community as punk rock blends with Beethoven. In 1977, the Waterloo Regional Police Commission hired a new police chief—Syd Brown. He was a daring and controversial choice, in part because he had been a constable—and only a constable—for 23 years.

Brown made numerous changes in Waterloo, many of them positive. He gave junior officers more authority, believing then and now that officers on the street are more in tune with reality than desk-bound administrators. But he also set up an eight-man tactical squad. This past March, it raided the Henchmen clubhouse. Ostensibly, it was a drug raid. In fact, it was an exercise in terrorism. Gang members, an Ontario Police Commission inquiry was subsequently told, were handcuffed and forced to kneel against a wall while police walked on their legs. They were made to run a gauntlet of police punches. They were beaten with nightsticks. Their clubhouse was destroyed. An improperly trained police dog inflicted more than 20 bites. Only one charge, for possession of marijuana, was laid.

“Hell, even the Pope made mistakes,” offers Constable Charles Neegy, now standing guard outside the coronary unit of Kitchener-Waterloo General Hospital where Brown, with pulse rate of 28, was admitted last month. “I tell you, Syd brought policing out of the dark ages. None of this hiding behind bushes to trap some motorist for speeding. We were doing police work.” The commission inquiry is expected to recommend next month that Brown be relieved of his duties.

The Henchmen affair and other probes have made the whole process of police investigating themselves a matter of considerable debate. Two Ontario commissions in recent years have urged formation of a citizen review board to monitor complaints of police conduct. So far, the cops have lobbied successfully against its creation.

Out west, the B.C. Police Commission has established an enviable track record, overseeing an average 1,100 citizen complaints a year, about 25 per cent of which involve allegations of police brutality. Most are unfounded. “The police are more cautious now,” says Vancouver’s senior Crown Prosecutor Bruce Donald. “The squads set up under the Police Act can lead to formal hearings. The guy on the street is thinking: ‘Why should I put my ass on the line? All I face is a truckload of grief.’ ”

Indeed, police relations with the publie, the press and the courts seem generally more amicable west of Ontario. The central grievance of Winnipeg’s 1,007 cops is wages (they rank about 50th nationally), but it hasn’t affected performance. Violent crime in the. city’s core declined 9.7 per cent last year, thanks largely to Operation Affirmative Action, which took policemen out of their cruisers and put them back on two-man foot patrols.

Still, tension is the rule. New recruits are better trained and better educated, but they are still governed by old ideologies. They are especially puzzled by what they regard as Canada’s double standard on police morality: it’s okay to beat and harass—it’s even expected. But woe unto the constable who gets caught. Says York University sociologist Hans Mohr: “We ask them to do a lot of the dirty business we can’t be bothered with and then we say, ‘Why did you shoot? Was that chase necessary?’ But the examination is healthy. We are finally zeroing in on the issue: what police powers are really needed?”

That question is not likely to be settled soon. If anything, the debate over police powers and accountability seems certain to swell in the months ahead, changing the way Canadians view their policemen and adding new meaning to the year’s cosmic salute: may the force be with you.

– Michael Posner,

“The New Centurions: Law and order on the march,” Maclean’s. October 2, 1978.

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“Let’s begin with the basics: violence is an inherent part of policing. The police represent the most direct means by which the state imposes its will on the citizenry. They are armed, trained, and authorized to use force. Like the possibility of arrest, the threat of violence is implicit in every police encounter. Violence, as well as the law, is what they represent.”

— Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.  AK Press, 2015. pg. 32

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“Hard Line In Berkeley,” Montreal Gazette. July 3, 1968. Page 03. 

“Police are taking a hard line with students and non-students in this San Francisco area city, especially in enforcing a city-wide 8 p.m. curfew after three days of disorders. Here a sobbing girl comforts her boyfriend, dragged out of a sidewalk cafe and beaten after he had made a remark to a passing patrolman outside.”

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Strict Gestapo-style lockup’: quelling the jail rebellions
With rebellions at five facilities involving some 4,000 inmates and the possibility of losing the Bronx House of Detention or Rikers Island, city officials changed their strategy. At 3pm on 3 October, Mayor Lindsay called an emergency meeting of his advisers and city officials at City Hall. Just as the men in the Tombs and Branch Queens had found McGrath and Lindsay untrustworthy, those who had participated in the negotiations now described the inmates as unreliable for breaking earlier agreements. By 6pm, Lindsay had chosen a harder line to contain the rebellions; addressing the inmates, he would make a final appeal for the release of hostages. If they refused, the jail would be retaken by force.

Lindsay looked to quell the four remaining rebellions by beginning with the two most recent, while preparing a larger force for the Tombs and Branch Queens. Shortly after midnight on 4 October, city officials offered inmates at the Brooklyn House of Detention an hour to surrender and then sent in roughly fifty correction officers to take back the 4th and 5th floors of the jail. Poorly trained, most of the guards had fastened their gas masks incorrectly. On their first rush of the building, they choked on their own tear gas and retreated. But many inmates had fled back into their cells from an anticipated onrush. After securing their equipment, correction officers charged the jail again, freeing the guards and locking inmates in their cells with 200 inmates and a dozen guards injured in hand-to-hand combat. Commissioner McGrath noted that ‘ringleaders’ were singled out to be dealt with ‘in a proper manner’. Within twelve hours, correction officers had quelled the rebellion at the Brooklyn House of Detention.

Backed by the Tactical Police Force, a Correction Department convoy arrived at Kew Gardens at 3am. Cutting their way into the building from the roof with acetylene torches, correction and police officers battled inmates to retake the facility floor-by-floor. By 6am, the last man was back in his cell, but five prisoners had to be hospitalised. ‘One had the feeling’, wrote Gottehrer, ‘that in the space of an hour or two the guards must have let out violence they had suppressed for years.’ Hundreds of inmates were injured in the fighting.

As the Lindsay administration turned its attention to the two remaining jails, concerned citizens rallied in support of the inmates. On Sunday afternoon, 4 October, there were several protests outside the Tombs and Branch Queens. And members of the BPP and the Young Lords Party organised impromptu rallies across the city. Into the evening, groups demonstrated outside the Tombs, chanting, ‘Free the Political Prisoners’. While supporters on the outside rallied in solidarity with the inmate rebellion, those behind the wall tried to hold together a sense of unity. Balagoon contends that in Branch Queens, the negotiation team had misrepresented their consensus by promising to release all the hostages after the bail review. Slowly, the fear of a possible assault on the jail began to sink in and the fear of that possibility cut into the will to resist collectively. In the Tombs, the same phenomenon played out. According to de Leon, the tension created further division:

Ethnic animosity between blacks and Puerto Ricans was smoldering, fanned by ignorance and fear of the oppressor. All our efforts to cool out this type of madness were useless because of the petty individualistic behavior of a few. No sooner had we dealt with one aspect of the insanity than something else would pop off. Between dealing with the pigs and trying to maintain a united front, all our efforts were being dissipated on the ineffectual activity because of the disunity.

These emerging divisions were the fault lines along which city officials effectively convinced inmates to give up their remaining hostages. Just as the radio had carried news of rebellions to inmates in NYC’s jails, city officials used the radio to quell the last remaining revolts. From last-minute negotiations on the afternoon of 4 October, it became evident that inmates and city officials were at an impasse. Tombs inmates wanted to meet with Mayor Lindsay before giving up their last hostages, while ‘the administration responded by saying that they would not tolerate “violence” that we had to give up the hostages’. De Leon mused: ‘they sounded like Nixon’s mouthpiece at the Paris peace talks. Unconditional surrender.’ To convey their demands and demonstrate their good faith to city officials and the media, inmates released guard Alfred Earl Warren to make known their demands of a general amnesty, the appointment of more Spanishspeaking guards and the introduction of educational programmes. In the midst of these negotiations, a handful of prisoners on the 5th floor of the Tombs revolted, only to be stopped by a team of correction officers.

In response to this deadlock and the threat of further revolt, Lindsay aides broadcast an ultimatum over WINS and WNYC ‘to reach all prisoners simultaneously and to carry the maximum dramatic effect’. At 10pm, the ultimatum was broadcast through the Tombs’ public address system as well. Calling upon ‘the men on the Tombs 11th floor’, Lindsay promised to meet with their representatives once the hostages had been released. Outside the prison, busloads of correction and Tactical Police Force officers were massing. According to de Leon, Lindsay’s ultimatum pushed all the waverers into agreeing to surrender. Two factions emerged: ‘those of us who did not want to give up without a commitment on our demands were out maneuvered by the compromisers on the committee, who took over the public address system and steamrollered the surrender’. Yet it was not until 11.40pm that inmates agreed to release the remaining seventeen hostages with the concession that there would be no reprisals. Just before midnight, Lindsay arrived at the Tombs to meet de Leon and ten other inmates in the 2nd floor cafeteria, where they, along with eleven hostages, who chose to stay at the jail once released, impressed upon Lindsay and McGrath the direness of the situation. After a two-hour meeting, the 11th floor was peacefully evacuated as inmates returned to their cells.

At Branch Queens, the men tried to halt the growth of divisions, translating committee discussions into Spanish. When rumours began to spread that the Panthers had taken over the rebellion to advance their own interests, Balagoon and his comrades voluntarily withdrew to their tier, agreeing to abide by any decision reached during a general meeting. But when debate shifted to whether or not to follow through on their threat to kill the hostages, splits grew deeper: ‘we were getting close to going to war between ourselves, different groups began planning moves to take the prisoners or to protect them’. In the end, inmates tabled the debate for later as it was clear that the Mayor would be addressing them over the radio. For Balagoon and others had been monitoring the radio and the recent news from the other jails added to the tension:

They reported that one by one the other rebellions were smashed, and that after a long delay the brothers in the Tombs had given up, letting their hostages go. Then they began reporting the situation at Branch Queens in the manner of a football game. One station began saying that the police were massed outside the building and their forces were mobilized so heavy as to have been unseen since World War Two. This was psychological warfare.

At 5.30am on Monday, 5 October, Mayor Lindsay presented his ultimatum over WINS and WNYC, explaining that he had met with Tombs inmates and promised to meet with their leaders once all the hostages were released. In response, inmates gathered on their tier and decided as a group on whether to fight or comply with the Mayor’s decision. In a final vote, the tiers voted four to three to release the remaining hostages. Though they vigorously disagreed with the final decision, believing that they still faced reprisals from the army of guards and police outside the jail, Balagoon and other militant inmates agreed to abide by the will of the majority. Within minutes, those opposed to fighting had released the last three guards unharmed. As inmates surrendered and evacuated the jail, they were forced to pass through a gauntlet of police and correction officers who kicked and beat them with baseball bats, nightsticks, and axe handles. Those who could be identified as leaders were forced down a double row of guards. ‘The yard echoed with screams and shouting and the thud of clubs.’ Both Drake and Cender were beaten unconscious and, with six others, ended up in hospital. The guards forced the rest of the inmates to sit in the yard as they waited for buses to relocate them to Rikers Island, hitting them with nightsticks whenever they turned round. Though police had barred the news media from within a block of the jail, two photographers captured the brutality from a nearby warehouse. For New York Daily News photographer Mike McCardell, ‘the whole situation was so disgusting, I resisted from vomiting only by holding my will back’. CBS and NBC evening news broadcast those photographs along with the witness accounts of the beatings.

However, not all inmates had surrendered. The nine Black Panthers along with several dozen other defendants had barricaded themselves in the Branch Queens annex. From the 6th floor window, they used a bullhorn to announce that they had witnessed the brutal treatment of fellow inmates and needed assistance to ensure that they would not suffer the same treatment. (The Lindsay administration had long since relinquished control over to the police and guards who now controlled Branch Queens.) The remaining inmates only surrendered after protests continued outside and negotiations between city officials and the lawyer for the Panther defendants allowed them to leave the jail in a Fire Department cherrypicker. Early on the morning of 6 October, the last man cleared the jail’s courtyard and boarded the waiting bus, ending the last of the rebellions.

Yet the repression continued. Generally, guards locked inmates in their cells for sixteen hours a day and then locked them outside of their cells for the remainder. But immediately following the end of the rebellions, correction officials placed inmates on twenty-four hour lockdown. All inmates, regardless of whether they had participated in the rebellions, were confined to their cells. Tombs staff provided reduced food portions, denied showers and visits and cut off access to the commissary. The official explanation for the heightened security was that two revolvers had been taken from Department of Correction lockers during the rebellion. But for de Leon:

This mad torture is being inflicted on us for the calculated effect of terrorizing inmates into believing that they should not rebel against dehumanizing and oppressive conditions. This insane strategy may work on a few weak minded individuals but a large number of us will not go for this B S. We are determined to stand firm and preserve in our struggle, keep on fighting to overcome all obstacles until we obtain our freedom and our inalienable rights to human dignity. We are convinced that success or failure is not determined by one battle, and that minor setback can help us learn from our mistakes. We do not consider our action to be a defeat.

Not only had the jail’s terrible conditions not been addressed, but they were intensified by the ‘strict Gestapo-style lock-up’. Ironically, the new security restrictions did ‘work’ on a few inmates but not in the manner that de Leon might have imagined. Rather than another rebellion, there was a sharp increase in the number of fights between inmates as well as inmate deaths. Writing to the civilian members of the Board of Correction, one inmate noted that just twenty-seven days into the lockdown, there had already been two deaths, three attempted suicides, and two fights among inmates. ‘If conditions do not improve immediately there are going to be more suicides, more killings, more hostilities directed against the inmates all because of the animal like conditions here.’ Perhaps the most controversial of these deaths was that of Julio Roldan, a Young Lord militant who was found dead in his cell on 16 October, after having spent just two days in jail. While a report by the New York City Board of Correction (NYCBC) concluded that Roldan had committed suicide, it indicted the ‘intricate system of criminal justice which we have designed to protect the community and the individual [which] succeeded only in deranging him and ultimately, instead of protecting him, it permitted his death’.

In contrast, Roldan’s ‘Revolutionary Comrades in Jail’ expressed their ‘complete solidarity with brother Julio’s family’ as well as incarcerated revolutionaries, calling upon them to redouble their efforts in the wake of his murder. Another letter claimed that in the month and a half since the rebellion, ten men had been beaten to death by guards and many others had been hospitalised from their injuries. After its own investigation, Palente found that the Tombs guards had faked the suicides of Roldan, Lavon Moore and Annibal Davilla, all of whom turned up dead within a two-month period. Further, the paper claimed that when it took the evidence of murder by Tombs guards and presented it to the Board of Correction, there was no response. Regardless, the three men who died following the rebellions raised to eight the number of recorded suicides in the New York City jail system out of a total forty-two deaths. As jail facilities continued to deteriorate, there were another twenty-six deaths in 1971, including eleven confirmed suicides.

In spite of the assurances by Lindsay and McGrath of no reprisals, there were also criminal prosecutions against inmates who participated in the second set of rebellions. In November 1970, twenty-four inmates from the Brooklyn jail and eight from Branch Queens, including Cender and Drake, were indicted on a range of charges, including kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, incitement and rioting, all in the first degree. In response, one of the Branch Queens defendants, James Capers, wrote to Shirley Chisholm calling on her to follow through on her earlier promise to personally intercede if there were such reprisals. Reflecting the practice of solidarity among inmates, thirty inmates co-signed Capers’ request for legal assistance and Chisholm’s appearance at his arraignment. Though the felony charges related to the Branch Queens rebellion were reduced to inciting to riot, a misdemeanour, through a plea agreement, a Manhattan grand jury in January 1971 named eight Tombs inmates in a 72-count indictment and a Tombs guard in a 29-count indictment. All but one of the defendants was accused of first degree kidnapping, including the guard, indicted for allegedly encouraging inmates during the rebellion. Seven of the inmates and the correction officer went to court over the next three years, though on only a handful of the original charges. Ultimately, two inmates pleaded guilty to felonies, but were not sentenced to additional jail time, while the other five defendants were acquited.

On 9 October, four days after the end of the rebellion, the Weather Underground Organisation (WUO), a covert revolutionary group that had earlier split with other elements of the student-led Anti-war Movement, bombed a Queens’ traffic courtroom, rendering it temporarily unusable. Though its bombing was carried out in solidarity with rebelling inmates, WUO’s communiqué addressed students and other potential supporters of the radical prison movement:

Soledad, the Tombs, Long Binh and Con Thienh, the final solution of the Amerikan state-machines for breaking men and women and filth, rats, isolation, brutality and torture. They are instruments of genocide against the entire black and Latin community. When the inmates cut loose they showed the vulnerability of the empire. With thousands of pigs mobilized to guard the jails those of us on the outside should have moved to aid the prisoners. Put out wanted posters for Murtagh and McGrath. Wherever they go, treat them with the respect due enemies of the people. Keep them scared. The people will free the Soledad Brothers and the Panther 21.

More a symbolic response to state violence than a tactical counterattack, the bombing was intended to engage popular sentiment in revolutionary action. By linking rebellions in Long Binh, an army stockade in Vietnam, with jails and prisons in New York and California, WUO sought to demonstrate the centrality of incarceration to the system of imperialism as well as how broadly resistance was growing. With help from the outside, the prison gates could be prised open.

Though the jail rebellions did not lead to the sort of action advocated by the WUO, inmates did receive some support from outside groups like the Youth Against War and Fascism and the Committee to Defend the Queens House of Detention 8, which solicited contributions to a bail fund for those indicted and organised rallies outside court houses on trial dates. Following a reduction in his bail and a $2,500 bail collection organised by the Young Lords, Victor Martinez was released from Rikers Island and continued to organise the Inmates Liberation Front to assist inmates with securing legal assistance and putting together defence committees. With a small staff of six men and women, it also wrote to inmates, contacted families, and collected money for those who could not afford clothing or commissary.

Unsurprisingly, the small organisation was not able to sustain itself – first as the Inmates Liberation Front, and then, the Inmates Liberation Party – following Martinez’s indictment on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder. Fearing guard brutality if he returned to jail, Martinez went underground in early 1971.

In spite of this, the question of the inmates’ civil and human rights remained an important one. Though the Inmate Liberation Party did not last long, the NYCBC had been pushed to make inmates’ rights the centrepiece of its mission over the next decade. The rebellions had sent a signal to the criminal justice system. ‘After the jail riots in the Tombs and other city jails in 1970, judges were more lenient in their sentencing, fearing that overloaded prisons would spark further riots.’ Among the general public, the largest inmate uprising in the city’s history left a lasting impression. As the NYCBC later reported:

To many New Yorkers, rich or poor, black, brown, or white, and from those with lengthy criminal records to those who have never stepped into a courtroom for any purpose, the Tombs has come to represent the system’s inhumanity to our fellow citizens, particularly those who are too poor to meet bails set by the courts, too impecunious to hire outstanding private lawyers, and too disenfranchised to demand – and receive – what many now see as the minimum required by fundamental fairness, if not by the United States Constitution.

The 1970 rebellions placed the issue of the criminal justice system’s racial and class bias squarely on the table. In the midst of Nixon’s law and order politics, they also challenged the assumption that the innocent could be treated like criminals. These issues remained on the table as the NYCBC and other city agencies reported on the continued problems of overcrowding in jails, insanitary conditions, poor health services, suicide prevention, and the court’s cramped holding pens – some of which were issues first presented in the Tombs’ list of grievances.

– Toussaint Losier, “Against ‘law and order’ lockup: the 1970 NYC jail rebellions.” Race & Class, Institute of Race Relations, 2017, Vol. 59 (1). pp. 21-27

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“Police Brutality Must Go.”
Harlem, 1963.
Photo: Gordon Parks

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“Police in Canada kill a disproportionate number of people in mental distress. They continue to be deployed to engage with people experiencing mental distress despite the fact that history shows that police respond to those situations with a very quick use of lethal force.

In the case of the killing of Chad Murphy (45), it is estimated that from the moment Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers opened the door to Murphy’s basement apartment in Île-Perrot, it took only 30 seconds for police to fatally shoot him.

On Monday, February 12, 2018, Quebec’s director of criminal and penal prosecutions (DPCP) announced it will not be filing charges against any of the officers involved in shooting and killing Chad Murphy on October 2, 2016. The SQ had been notified by Murphy’s sister Sharon that he was distressed and suicidal after fleeing in anger from a family dispute. She said at the time that she made the call to get him help not to get him killed.

Officers allegedly tried to talk with Murphy through his apartment door before opening it with a key provided by a neighbor. The DPCP report says officers saw Murphy sitting on his living room floor with a knife in hand and when he saw the officers he started cutting himself. When he stood up and walked toward the door the police shot and killed him. Thirty seconds to interact with and kill a man.

The DPCP ruled that in shooting a man in distress who was harming himself, after only 30 seconds of interaction, the officers involved did not use excessive force and should not face criminal charges. The DPCP statement said: “A legally acceptable use of force is one that is not gratuitous and is applied in a measured way. The intervention was legal and is based primarily on the duty of the police officers to ensure the safety and security of others.” The report does not say that Murphy was using his knife in a way that threatened anyone other than himself. It does not say how many shots police fired.

This is pure propaganda, copaganda. Shooting someone in distress and harming only himself is described as measured. And it does not show how the safety and security of others, the public for example, was threatened. This decision is the state protecting the state.”

Shooting a Man in Distress After 30 Seconds Ruled “Not Gratuitous” and “Measured” as Cops Who Killed Chad Murphy Let Off.” Killercopscanada, Feb. 19, 2018.

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“Like the United States, Canada has a poor track record of prosecuting police who break the law, despite the emergence in some provinces of agencies specifically designed to investigate police.

BuzzFeed News examined court records, data from police investigatory bodies, and media accounts, and spoke with experts, former police officers, victims, lawyers, and advocates and found that Canadian police who kill, wound, assault, allegedly plant evidence, or are found to have lied in court are rarely held to account. We found many examples of officers who were reprimanded by judges for fabricating testimony, or whose unethical conduct caused charges to be dismissed, and who went on to commit similar acts — and even be promoted.

“It’s like Groundhog Day,” said André Marin, a former Ontario Ombudsman and former head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), an agency that investigates police in Ontario when they cause injury. “When there is a [police] shooting, everybody freaks out, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,’ and nothing seems to happen.”

Alan Young, a criminal law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, agrees. “Basically when it comes to accountability for misconduct, police get a free pass,” he said. “It’s always been that way and it will probably continue that way until somebody wants to champion the issue of police accountability.”

One significant challenge in evaluating the accountability of police in Canada is that no nationwide data exists that accurately tracks how many police officers are accused or investigated for misconduct, what happens when they are investigated, how often they are prosecuted or cleared, and which offenses they are most often accused of committing. But the few statistics that do exist on police accountability paint a bleak picture.”


Bruce Livesey, “Above The Law: Canadian police are rarely held to account when accused of breaking the law.” Buzzfeed News. September 15, 2017.

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