I have been putting off entering this post into my blog for many weeks now. It is an extremely difficult subject and I feel that perhaps I should not comment on it.
But this happened….in my neighbourhood. So I have decided not to be silent.
On the way home from work in early July, I came across a vigil in Elginton-Gilbert Parkette for Andrew Loku.
Andrew Loku was “fatally shot on July 5th during a confrontation with officers in an apartment building in northwest Toronto subsidized by the Canadian Mental Health Association.” (Protestors call for answers, apology. Metro News, July 17-19, 2015)
Members of group Black Lives Matter were there, along with other residents of the building, neighbours, friends, and concerned citizens.
There were outpourings of grief and anger over what had happened. Andrew’s friends and people from the community spoke. One woman said she is even afraid for her young (black) sons when they go to the movies with their friends at night.
A little bit about Andrew: he was from South Sudan and had recently graduated from a construction program at George Brown college. He arrived in Canada in 2004 as a refugee. North and South Sudan were at war from 1983 onwards, and as an adult Andrew suffered abduction and torture at the hands of a rebel group. He escaped to Uganda and eventually made it to Canada as a refugee a couple of years later.
He is survived by his wife and five children (still in South Sudan).
It is thought that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The National Post relates the details of the night of the shooting as follows:
“Earlier this year he started having problems with the family in unit 302, the apartment directly above his own.
The big problem, according to several residents, was noise. Steve Lurie, the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Toronto branch, said it was clear even before the incident the one-bedroom apartment was too small for the woman who lived there and her children. According to Hicks, the sounds of their fighting and music echoed constantly in Loku’s apartment. It got so bad, he took to sleeping in the laundry room to get some rest. Hicks and Colvin both remember stumbling over him there multiple times. “He said he just couldn’t handle the noise,” Hicks said.
(The mother from 302 spoke only briefly to the National Post and wouldn’t give her name. She denied she had any quarrel with Loku before that night. She has since moved out of the building.)
The apartment issue aside, though, things were looking up for Loku in 2015. He visited his family in South Sudan this spring. In June, he graduated from a construction program at George Brown College. He invited Jonathan and other friends to the ceremony.
But on Saturday July 4, after Loku returned from an African music festival, the feud, for whatever reason, took an ugly turn. It’s not exactly clear when Loku went upstairs with the hammer that night. Hicks first heard the yelling outside her apartment door at around midnight. “I open the hallway door and I see Andrew standing in the doorway and the two women are just yelling in his face,” she said.
Hicks ran up to Andrew and tried to pull him away. “And I’m like ‘Andrew, Andrew, baby, come, come. It’s Robin’,” she said. “And I noticed he had a hammer, like a wooden hammer. And I’m like, ‘You’re not going to use that on anybody, Andrew, come on, it’s you’.”
Hicks had a friend with her that night. He spoke to the National Post on the condition he not be named. Both Hicks and her friend said they pulled Loku back out of the doorway and down the hall. Both said Loku was not hysterical at that point. He knew where he was and who they were. He was just upset about the noise. “I felt the calmness in his body,” the friend said.
While all this was going on, Lesley Colvin was standing outside the building. “I didn’t have my keys, so I was trying to buzz myself in,” she said. At that point, a police car pulled up. Two officers, a young man and a slightly older woman, rushed out. Susan Schofield was standing just inside when they arrived. She let the officers in.
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 Colvin. “And I heard ‘Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer! Drop the hammer!’ three times. And then ‘Bap! Bap! Bap!’ — two or three shots.”
Schofield 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.”
There are video cameras in the apartment complex. Tammie Sutherland, a reporter for CityNews in Toronto, has reported that she saw the footage from that night. According to Sutherland, the tapes don’t show the shooting. But they do show Loku arguing with his upstairs neighbours in their doorway. He raises the hammer several times, Sutherland said, and when the police arrive, he walks toward them with the hammer held up. The woman Loku was feuding with, meanwhile, said Loku threatened her and her daughter with the hammer.
Hicks insists that’s not what happened. “They were right in his face and his hands were still by his side,” she said.
When the female officer arrived on the landing, Hicks’s friend went back into her apartment. The woman in 302 said she slammed her door shut. That left only Hicks, Loku and the police in the hallway.
Hicks said she is 100 per cent sure Loku had the hammer by his side when he stepped toward the officers. She was standing right behind him at the time. The first shot appeared to hit him in the belly, she said. The second shot dropped him. “When Andrew fell, the cop looked up and saw me standing there,” she said. “His face went white as a ghost.”
Residents who saw or heard what happened that night said between 10 and 25 seconds elapsed from the time the first officer arrived to the time the second officer shot Loku. All agree the male officer told Loku three times in quick succession to drop the hammer.
The province’s Special Investigations Unit is investigating the shooting. Neither it nor the Toronto Police Service will comment while that investigation is ongoing.”
Source: National Post, online edition, July 17, 2015: http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-loku
The Metro article details a protest by Black Lives Matter at a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board (they basically crashed the meeting on Thursday, July 16). They wanted to know when the police are going to implement 84 recommendations contained in a report written after the 2013 shooting of Sammy Yatim will be implemented. (Sammy Yatim was a young Russian man who was fatally shot on a Toronto streetcar when wielding scissors.) Mental health issues were also involved in this case.
There are many similarities between these two deaths. So when are these 84 recommendations going to be implemented?
“The…recommendations have been approved, and they’re in the process of being implemented fully,” the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board said to the protesters.
Not soon enough for Andrew.
On July 27th, Black Lives Matter organized another protest at the intersection of Eglinton Avenue and Allen Road to bring attention to the shooting deaths of Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby by the police. The group stopped traffic in both directions. The NOW magazine quoted Leroi N., an organizer of Black Lives Matter at the protest, as saying “Mayor Tory and [Toronto Police] chief Saunders don’t seem to understand that the lives of black people in this city are constantly interrupted by violence from Toronto Police Services…..we have not seen action, so we will take action [on this issue].” (NOW, week of July 30th, 2015 print edition).
For more on that protest, click here:
I would like to know why the police think that they have the right to use lethal force on anyone who is not in the process of firing a gun and/or putting other people’s lives in imminent danger.
A pair of scissors and/or a hammer can be wrestled away from a person using takedown techniques (pinning someone’s arms, forcing them to the ground, etc). Mental health workers can be called to the scene if needed to help de-escalate a situation. The police can also use other weapons that are not lethal – a baton, a taser, or even a warning shot fired from a gun. As a last resort, a shot can even be fired in an area of the body that will cause injury but not death.
Maybe I’m just naive….but I don’t think there is any reason Andrew Loku should not be alive right now.