for 15 days, black lives matter toronto occupied toronto police headquarters to demand an overhaul of Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, justice for the murder of Andrew Loku, and to end anti-black racism and excessive police violence.
"you cannot celebrate blackness on one end and then make life inhospitable and violent for black communities," Sandy Hudson told media after first day of occupation.
on their second night, peaceful protestors were met with violence by the police. chemicals were poured over the wood by men in hazmat suits so the fire couldn't keep going.
"we will not back down."
despite violence from the police on the second night of their occupation, activists remained resilient and attracted national attention that has pressured the city and province to listen and work to meet their demands.
"they took our tents and our fire but not our spirits." - Roxanne Garraway said the morning after the attack.
protestors gather around fire outside after first night of occupation. the police declare no fire or heating sources are allowed from the third day as a tactic to discourage protestors.
11:15 pm, march 23, day 3 | Shakura joins tent city and listens to the organizers on a wet day mixed with rain and snow.
“we know that to be able to stay out here continuously, to be resilient, to be resourceful, we have to take care of each other because our movement is love. and our love is different from the evil that they are inflicting on our bodies, that's what makes us different from them," organizer Alexandria Symone tells the crowd.
throughout the day, tent city dwellers redesigned#BLMTOTentCity to prepare for the snow. blue tarps and cardboards cover the floor. raincoats and hand warmers are handed out to keep everyone warm. there was an effort to building a tent-like structure using the tarp but the police intervened to reinforce that no vertical structures would be allowed.
“we can't have any tents, nothing attached to the poles, they don't want us to have shelter.”
people have been starting to fill up the walls with posters. one of the visitors tapes her message reading, “kiideyaas bimaadziwin epiitendcagook”, anishinaabemowin for “black lives matter”.
she comments, "what's happening here is real intersectionality. what protesters are doing here is actually going to help me in a way that requires nothing of me. so to be here is like the least i can do in a sense. and it's real transformative change for people like me who are visibly native. i really admire and appreciate what they are doing. i don't like being on police headquarters but i don't mind giving solidarity."
before midnight, the speakers stop working. protesters find out that the power outlets located outside the building have been shut off by the police to induce more discomfort.
Kike takes her phone out and blasts “this is how we do it” by montell jordan on the megaphone.
“It’s fitting, right?”
Doreisha States, an indigenous and black woman, was here the night the police attacked protestors. "it was completely unnecessary," she told The Independent.
11 am, March 24 | Nearing its 90th hour, #BLMTOTentCity continues with growing support from the wider community. Yesterday, a mix of rain, snow and freezing rain required relocation efforts to protect blankets, sleeping bags, and food items, etc. Attempts to build "structures" using tarp were curtailed by police officers who asserted that only "vertical" structures would be allowed and no horizontal structures would be permitted that might provide shelter for people. A vertical structure now stands reading "BLMTOTentCity" made with fabric. The police have also been taking down posters deemed to be outside the protest area; more posters have taken their place. On an already cold night, the power outlets located around the columns also stopped working, an intentional tactic carried out after midnight when protestors were using music to stay motivated. A makeshift response was playing music through the megaphones.
however, no one seems to be phased by these seemingly incendiary actions by the police; most suggest that they are surprised that these steps weren't taken earlier.
supporters have been maintaining the area and packing up the tarp and wet cardboard. During clean up, the smell of the chemical liquid resurfaced when the tarp covering that area was lifted
in an effort to stay healthy, protestors have been advised to prioritize their care and they have been alternating between resting in vans and being outside. A police car continues to patrol across the street
organizer Coyote Watson hangs her cardboard art panels visualizing the first four days at tent city.
lawyer Saron Gebresellasssi and Yusra Khogali announces black lives matter delivering lawsuit to Toronto police on behalf of plaintiff Jean Montaque, who alleges her home was illegally raided and searched in 2013.
Pascale Diverlus, co-founder of BLM-TO, holds banner along with other protestors who have been occupying this space since day one.
Yusra and Alexandria lead hundreds in chants calling for an end to anti-black racism and sexual violence.
7 pm, march 24, day 4 | it was a heavy day. women (trans, queer, non-binary, cis) were reaffirmed in their suspicion that their cries for justice will remain unheard. the news broke out close to noon that jian ghomeshi was found not guilty of all charges. all three charges laid out against him. as one of the speakers at the evening rally said with resounding applause, a survivor herself, it is now clear that the state cannot provide us justice. the state is not designed to protect victims; it will continue to protect perpetrators who have access to power.
the clouds, heavy with rain and burdened with the dried ocean of tears, cried throughout the day.
around 4 pm, Black Lives Matter Toronto delivered a lawsuit on behalf of a black Mother to the toronto police service. Protestors marched into the office, phones and cameras in hand to be witnesses in case any violence occurred, and their chant echoed through the walls and halls of this oppressive institution. the lawyer, Sarah Gebresellassi, dramatically served the lawsuit and threw it at the police officer who stood there timidly.
close to 6:30 pm, the rally to end sexual violence roared down college street and marched into the space #BLMTOTentCity was occupying. like an unrelenting wave, these two movement clashed and found how it fit perfectly with each other. the call to end sexual violence cannot be achieved if black lives do not matter.
in the tps courtyard, there is a statue of a man in uniform adding cement to a block of stones. someone has covered one of his eyes with black duct tape. I assume it was originally meant to commemorate the service of police officers who “protect” our city. to signify that they are the ones responsible for building and protecting our society. but it’s black and brown unnamed bodies who built these roads, buildings and institutions that now demarcate sharp lines between the rich and the poor. on those very stones, black women now stood to shout out how state sanctioned violence must stop. how police officers must be held accountable for their gross negligence and abuse of power. about how justice for women, trans women, queer, women, black women must take place.
discussions around ending violence towards women were brought into focus, especially the fact that a disproportionate number of sexual violence is directed towards black women. in moments of silence when the crowd inhaled and exhaled in unison, we held space for women who were going through trauma, who continue to suffer, whose bodies were violated. We observed moments of silence for missing and murdered indigenous women. in this photo, Sue from First Nations community provides healing as she places the smudge bowl on top of the stones.
As other protestors have commented, #BLMTOTentCity is a profound demonstration of how we can build communities and cities that take care of one another. in one word, it's been transformational. to witness how we have almost built a city in itself, a microcosm of what the world could look like if we were to embody empathy and humility in how we treated each other. how physically showing up matters. how asking someone how they are doing matters. how standing in silence with someone matters. how being present matters.
Alexandria Symone, co-founder of BLM-TO, looks over the crowd as the rally to end sexual violence gathers with black lives matter protestors outside toronto police headquarters.
8:45 pm, March 25 | Ellie and Jade add their names to the Mohawk Warrior Flag demonstrating their solidarity for indigenous sovereignty. Chris shows them all the other names that have been added and the importance of these flags in their communities.
one of the most powerful outcomes of Tent City
has been the extent to which indigenous community have supported and acted as allies for Black Lives Matter. they intimately understand the state of fear and powerlessness that comes with state violence, of being harassed and abused by the police, and of being victims of a system that seeks to criminalize them wherever possible.
Members of the #BLMTOTentCity community including Chris, Sue, and Ronny have continued to keep this place as a space for healing through smudging and ceremony. Tobacco and sweetgrass take over your senses during certain parts of the day.
people gather in the evening to support the occupation and enjoy food and music.
protestors take shifts between staying outside and keeping warm at 24-hour local coffee shop.
8:00 am, March 26, day 6 | this is what #BLMTOTentCity
looked like in the morning today. a scene much better than the night of freezing rain. layers of tarp, blankets, and sleeping bags keep protestors warm while they sleep around the block of stones. people sing and dance late into the night. they take breaks in twos and fours at the nearby 24-hr restaurant. they sit on camp chairs and try to sleep. they make art. they serve food. they provide medical support and vitamin tablets. they play games. they talk. they engage in conversations and find themselves falling off cliffs into deep caverns. they find each other in those caverns and pull them back into the sunlight. sometimes they sit in the dark and let the pain pass through. they laugh. they resist.
black lives matter protestors sleeping outside under layers of blankets to stay warm.
Activists and sisters Vanessa Gray and Lindsay Gray joined tent city overnight from Aamjiwnaang (in Sarnia) and slept outside toronto police headquarters
view of the toronto police headquarters now transformed into tent city for six days now.
Gary stands on top of the statue everyday outside police headquarters and raises these flags to remind everyone that we are on native land.
Amber Williams-King look at screen prints of her artwork which will be sold to fundraise for BLM-TO.
6:50 pm, March 26, day 6 | "We have been here you guys," Kike Otuije addresses the crowd surrounding the makeshift stage on a truck. #BLMTOTentCity has officially shut down College Street in between Bay and Yonge St.
Kike continues, "they came for our children. children were here. elders are walking into this space and they said, we are so proud of you. as proud of you as we are, we are sad because years ago we were standing right there doing the exact same thing as you are doing. i don't want to be 60 and coming and seeing my children doing this. we were out here in the freezing cold. but we have each other. they can never get us."
College street has been blocked on day six for a rally where BLM-TO organizers stand on a truck-turned-stage to share stories from the occupation.
Roxanne Garraway looks to BLM-TO organizers at a rally of hundreds outside toronto police headquarters.
7 pm, march 26, day 6 | Kiden Jonathan and Yasmin Mumed embrace each other on the truck-transformed-stage parked outside toronto police headquarters. thousands have gathered around the stage and taken over college street as women take the megaphone to share their stories and experiences at #BLMTOTentCity.
twenty minutes ago, organizer Sandy Hudson, with her left fist held high, stunned the crowd into silence signing her rendition of Sam Cooke's 1964 song (listen here)
"it's been a long time coming,
but i know a change is gonna come."
Yusra K. Ali follows her song with more chants and the crowd joins her in shouting "black love it matters here" four times.
co-founder Sandy Hudson performs at the black lives matter rally.
one of the BLM-TO demands calls for "a commitment to the full elimination of carding, including: the deletion of all previously recorded data, consistent implementation amongst different police boards, and concrete disciplinary measures for officers who continue to card.
protestors spill onto the street and block college street for the rally.
protestor at black lives matter rally holds poster made by Lido Pimienta
Alexandria Symone waves her fist in the air and leads the crowd into chants calling for an end to police violence.
mother and daughter at the rally join in the chants with the BLM-TO organizers on stage.
protestors hold banner while afro-latino performances take place at the rally.
co-founder Janaya Khan posed the following questions to everyone at the rally, "how do we go from connection to commitment? how do you truly commit to black liberation? are you most invested in justice or order?"
statue outside toronto police headquarters covered in yellow chalk. it is decided tonight that the occupation will continue for another week.
co-founder Leroy stands under the black lives matter banner hoisted up despite objection from the police.
6:25 am, march 28, day 8 | at this time last Sunday, protestors were just getting up from their first day outside toronto police headquarters. at that time, we had fire, tents, and electricity.
Hana is about to head to sleep after retreating from the singing circle that continued through the night. the 4th and 5th floor lights in the building across from us are turned on. exhaust gases flow into dawn from the college park building to our left. the chill has firmly parked itself in our socks and shoes. tarps are laid over layers of blankets to protect us from intermittent rainfall. complete silence is interrupted time to time by cars driving through water puddles.
about an hour ago, we were both in the singing circle. Gina
an ally who's been here since the occupation began, sings us a brazilian folk song. she tells us the song is called 'a cabocla de penne' meaning a little indian girl with feathers. it is about how a native south american girl and an african girl are both similar.
"it's about how some things people have in common across oceans," she elaborates.
it's been close to 170 hours that we have taken over this space.
protestors in tent city sing well past midnight to keep spirits high on a cold night.
Rachel watches over the first aid station early morning while most protestors are still sleeping.
police car parked across from the toronto police headquarters always present while protestors occupy the space.
6:00 pm, march 29, day 9 | she tapes this poster on the column so that police officers can clearly see it when leaving from the front entrance of the toronto police headquarters.
there's a frenzy on the ground as people rip out pieces of tape and plaster memes of Mark Saunders all over tent city. their movements are accompanied with music blasting at passerby who are perplexed and curious at all the commotion. they slow their pace to read the memes, some walk into the space, many keep moving on. some protestors go on a covert mission to plaster subway entrances with posters. some combat the cold by moving to the soca rhythms. deep conversations and loud laughter serve as natural heaters.
it's day 9 and protestors have been tolerating the cold, rainy weather waiting for action from our elected officials.for how to support.
windows and doors of college street are plastered with posters of police chief Mark Saunders memes who's been silent on black lives matter demands.
Mark Saunders meme poster taped on statue outside toronto police headquarters.
Aunty Gloria comes to the occupation every morning with food, dance moves and her hugs.
11:35 am, march 30, day 10 | arms stretched out,
Savannah closes her eyes, inhales, holds her breath and exhales. a sunny morning with a breeze, #BLMTOTentCity wakes up to a yoga session led by Ravyn. protestors who slept overnight and those joining for morning rounds spread out tarps and mats on the grounds. an unwelcome change, four police officers stand in the background watching.
the quote by audrey lorde makes its way around the internet but i wonder if it escapes our minds at critical moments,
"caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
and perhaps that's one of the hidden secrets of this movement - that people recognize when they need to care for themselves and have people to support and take their place. to keep the fight alive. those who are on the wrong side of history don't know what to do with women who take care of themselves, yell at the top of their lungs, link their arms together to resist the police, and then effortlessly slide into a dance to the beat of rihanna's song 'work'. it frightens them to see an opposition they can't label. and that's when we strike
Ravyn leads choreography on morning yoga session at tent city.
Adabu stretches her legs with other protestors after sleeping outside toronto police headquarters overnight.
Christina Griffin from the black lives matter L.A. chapter joins the toronto occupation in solidarity.
2:50 pm, april 01, day 12 | minutes ago, city council unanimously passed the motion to request the province to review the special investigations unit (siu). waiting for this exact moment, Yusra Khogali, along with other #BLMTOTentcity organizers, take charge and start to rile up the crowd to call for justice for Andrew Loku.
"we want an overhaul of siu," protestors repeat after Yusra as security escorts everyone out of council chambers.
"mayor john tory, you saw the siu report today. we had to bring it to you. is this not a concern to you as the mayor of the city of toronto? is the murder of a black man not a concern to you?" Janaya Khan followed.
curious administrators and city officials watch as the voices of protestors fill the stifling corridors of city hall. they weave their way around the building with media at their tails chanting shouting,
"black lives they matter here!"
proposed motion requests the province of ontario and the minister responsible for anti-aacism to ensure police services and investigations are fair and transparent (MM17.32)
supporter Asha D'Souza joins black lives matter protestors at toronto city council chambers waiting patiently to see the vote on the motion.
Sakinah Habib reads the motion results which passes unanimously. The motion has been brought forward by councillors Mike Layton, Kristyn Wong-Tam & Gord Perks.
"is the murder of a black man not a concern to you?" - Janaya Khan
reporters follower protestors as they leave the city council chambers and march outside the mayor's office.
Janaya Khan speaks to the crowd outside highlighting the importance of today's action and successful motion.
supporter Timmi Reed joins tent city with other protestors from the kitchener-waterloo region.
12:20 pm, April 04, day 15 | after 14 days of waiting,
protestors lead a 900 m procession from toronto police headquarters to queen's park. Ontario's premier Kathleen Wynne surprisingly steps out to speak with protestors and shares her commitment to addressing the issues raised by BLM-TO. she brings up systemic racism but is quickly corrected by organizers that it's specifically anti-black racism that needs to be confronted. BLM-TO has announced that they will be back in 300 hours if the response from the city and government officials is not adequate, about the same amount of time they had to endure the cold weather outside to be heard.
protestors stand holding umbrellas on a rainy day listening to remarks before the procession to queen's park.
Rajean, Ravyn, and Gloria sit on the back of the truck and lead the march while throwing rose petals on the streets.
Sandy Hudson marches with other protestors down college street to queen's park .
police limit protestors to one side of the street as traffic is halted to let protestors walk through.
streetcar passengers wait while protestors occupy the tracks as they march.
banner leading the march reads "which side of history are you on?"
police barricades are removed to allow kathyleen wynne to address black lives matter protestors.
Gary, Cathy and Sue hold the mohawk and two row wampum flag high up and speak about indigenous solidarity with black communities.
4-year old Abyssinia holds her doll at queen's park, here with her mother and two siblings.
protestors march back to toronto police headquarters after successfully speaking to kathleen wynne and using a 300 hour deadline for action from the city and province.
Ravyn dances with other protestors on the street as the occupation comes to a close in the afternoon.