Black History Month celebrated at police headquarters

Syed Azam

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw extended condolences to the family and friends of Tyre Nichols and the entire Memphis community at the Service’s Black History Month (BHM) celebration at police headquarters on February 3.

Nichols died last month after an encounter with Memphis police officers.

“The tragic event has greatly affected Black communities’ across the world including Toronto’s Black communities, along with members of our Service,” he said. “I share the feelings of anger, frustration and sadness that many are experiencing.”

The theme of this year’s celebration is ‘Celebrating Black Excellence, Honouring Our Past, Building Our Future’.

Chief Demkiw said the Service is committed to strengthening its relationship with Toronto’s Black communities and is doing its part to build a city where all Torontonians feel safe and have an opportunity to thrive.

“However, I know that these sentiments require trust, and I am committed to enhancing and building that trust – one relationship at a time. The Toronto Police Service will continue to work towards making positive changes for members of the Black communities we serve and those who serve with us,” the Chief said, noting the implementing the 81 directives on police reform in partnership with the Toronto Police Services Board; the 38 actions related to race-based data collection and improvements to training as part of that work.

“By changing the way we do our work, we will continue to bridge the divide that exists between police and Black communities that we serve. We know change is possible, and it’s already happening.”

Celebrating BMH, said Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) member Lisa Kostakis, is important to Canada’s largest municipal police organization.

“Over the last several years, we have heightened our emphasis on connection with the community, consistently looking for ways to more meaningfully incorporate the voices and expectations of the public into our policy-making and decision-making process,” she pointed out.

Kostakis said a recognition of the significant role of anti-Black racism, discrimination and marginalization in the city that impacts policing was fundamental to the 81 police reform recommendations that provide a roadmap for comprehensive policing reform.

“As a Board, we recognize that much work remains to be done and that it must be done in true partnership with others, our city’s diverse communities, including Black communities,” she said. “Black communities are and must be a key voice in this critical and timely work.

“The Service and the Board are focussed on effecting the necessary important and extremely difficult shifts in culture that are required if we are truly to be an anti-racist, anti-bias organization. This commemoration of Black History Month epitomizes this vital principle as we see the remarkable results we can achieve when the community, the police and all our stakeholders work together in a partnership of mutual respect and meaningful dialogue.”

Nigerian Council of Professionals members Adejisole Atiba and Efuange Khumbah delivered keynote addresses.

Invited to TPS to participate in the celebration, said Atiba, is a step in the right direction as the Service seeks to enhance the relationship between the police and the Black community while Khumbah noted that continuous dialogue, collaboration and commitment from all parties are required.

“As a community leader, there is always this conversation with members of the Black community, including law enforcement officers, who have shared concerns about mistrust and a state of tension between both parties,” Khumbah said. “They have emphasized the importance of learning from the past and the need for a multi-faceted approach that addresses the issues.

“In order to build a better future, steps must be taken to increase diversity and inclusion within the police service, implement community-based policing, provide de-escalation training, support mental health and trauma, establish civilian oversight and address systemic racism.”

Nine-year-old Eliana Sinclair sang the national anthem to start the proceedings, Babatundi performed African drumming and Black Community Consultative Committee member Stacy Rodriguez read a poem.

Bell Media radio host Jamar McNeil was the Master of Ceremonies.

The Service’s Community Partnerships & Engagement Unit (CPEU), led by Constable Alphonso Carter, and Shannon Keller of Corporate Communications, co-ordinated this year’s event.

Black History Month evolved from the work of American scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson who, in an attempt to spread the concept of African-American history, suggested its celebration during a week in the middle of February.

That month was chosen because it is the birth month of Abraham Lincoln and the chosen birth month of Frederick Douglass who was born a slave and therefore unsure of his actual birth date.

Retired Sergeant Terry James conceived the idea of hosting an annual BHM celebration at police headquarters. The first event took place in 1994.

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