On 5th May 2010, Junior Alejandro Manon, a Dominican youth living in Toronto, was pronounced dead after police officers pulled him over near the Keele Campus of York University. The story given by police, and repeated the next day uncritically by the corporate press, was that Manon, having been pulled over and his vehicle being impounded, ran away from the police and suddenly suffered a heart attack.
The family of Junior Manon immediately accused the police of having murdered their son, and held a rally two days later at the Coroner’s Office in downtown Toronto. Having viewed the body of Manon, the family’s lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, declared that he was badly bruised, had broken ribs, and that his neck was in a brace. An eyewitness to the “chase” noted that two police officers were beating Manon, and were soon accompanied by another five participating officers.
According to the story given by the family, lawyer, and witnesses, Junior Manon was brutally beaten to death by a group of police officers. What is particularly horrifying is that the police did not accuse Manon of posing any threat or of carrying out any crime during the incident, nor did they charge the passenger in Manon’s vehicle of any crime. The killing was seemingly taken out without justification, perhaps explaining the poorly thought-out story of spontaneous cardiac failure.
Conditions of working class communities
Although this incident is shocking, we should not be surprised given the regularity of police terror and violence in working class neighbourhoods. Much of Toronto’s working poor—often immigrants and racial minorities—are forced by necessity into housing projects.
We live in both private and publicly run housing projects that are left in disrepair and infestation. We face exorbitant rent increases and commonly see rent subsidies cut. There are few employment opportunities, especially in today’s economic context, outside of minimum-wage jobs, which barely allow one to survive. Government-funded services such as recreation centre programs, affordable childcare, welfare, and public transit have all been gutted over the years, steadily reducing working people’s standard of living.
These conditions are the inevitable result of a capitalist system, which is forced to maintain massive unemployment, and constantly reduce the standard of living of the working class to maximize profits. The significant deficits accumulated by the provincial and federal governments, caused by bank and corporate bailouts as well as corporate tax breaks, are to be paid off the collective back of the working class who will see even more significant cuts and attacks in the next years. The only section of government that will avoid cuts is, of course, the cops, who waste close to a billion dollars of taxpayer dollars in Toronto alone.
Role of the police in capitalist society
Police patrols, harassment, violence, and housing raids have the effect of containing these “dump sites” of capitalism, and to protect the property of wealthier people in these, and neighbouring, regions. More than that, they are used to keep the working class down.
The problem with the police is more than simple harassment and incidences of brutality. The police, as a vital element of the state apparatus, are a repressive force used to keep down working class people. Karl Marx argued that the state was not a neutral body standing above society, but that it served the interest of the ruling class in maintaining the conditions of exploitation of the majority.
This observation is quite evident today where workers are being expected to take massive concessions, and where there is a clear attempt to break the organized labour movement. The state has used its legislative bodies to declare numerous strikes illegal over the last few years. In Toronto, a couple of recent examples have seen the government end the strikes by Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers, as well as CUPE 3903 workers at York University. In the latter union’s strike, five unionists were beaten by police, with the use of batons in an unprovoked attack on a peaceful rally. For the upcoming G20 protests, where unions and various progressive organizations are planning to rally, the police have declared it illegal to march in certain regions and have set aside a massive policing budget that will turn much of downtown Toronto into an armed fortress.
For the last year, activists in the Esplanade community (on the downtown eastside of Toronto) have been organizing their community around issues such as housing, good jobs, youth programs, and police brutality. Their efforts have resulted in the police targeting of activists, including using arrests, threats, and beatings. There has also been an attempt to drive them out of community spaces used to organize meetings and educationals. The Esplanade Community Group is in the process of building an organized community patrol system to prevent police violence in our community.
The problem with the police is more than racism or misconduct on the part of individual officers. Rather, the police as an institution are a tool of the Canadian capitalist class in keeping us, working class people, down and repressing the struggle for a dignified standard of living and genuine democratic control of the economy.
The labour movement and the NDP
Our first response, when faced when this kind of outright injustice, is often the desire to respond with direct violence or rioting. After the police murder of Fredy Villanueva in Montreal, the Montreal Nord housing projects went up in riots, burning down large businesses and clashing with police. Similar riots have occurred across the United States in response to similar conditions. These have never resulted in an end to police brutality; in most instances, the spontaneous, and justified, rage of these communities dissolve soon after or are crushed by police efforts.
The only thing that can stop police brutality, profiling, and harassment in our city is a response by the labour movement, and the political party built by the working class, the NDP. Organized labour has the power to force the state to keep the police in check and to improve the standard of living of the entire working class. In fact, almost everything about Canada that we enjoy—healthcare, childcare, the minimum wage, and workplace safety—were won through difficult struggle by organized workers in the face of state repression. The sad fact, however, is that the NDP and the labour movement has not placed itself at the head of the struggle against police brutality.
We must ensure that our organizations and political party stand up for our interests and take a clear position on this issue. Only the power of the organized working class can end the miserable economic and living conditions in our communities, and ensure an end to rampant police violence.
Justice for Manon Now!
Organized Labour Must Fight Police Brutality!
For a Worker-Controlled Policing Body!