There will be no more tickets to the funeral.
Which lives are worth protecting? Which bodies are left to the wild?
Toronto Police Service prove yet again that they don’t care about us.
Today, February 8, 2018, Mayor John Tory met with some members of our communities in a closed-door meeting about the police’s handling of a number of deaths in our communities.
We need more than meetings — we need the city to honour ASAAP’s demands that (1) the results of the internal review at Toronto Police Services of the role in the investigation of race and perceived sexuality of the victims be made public, and (2) the Police Services Board to conduct an external review by a third-party into the adequacy of the TPS investigations.
In the last few weeks, our community has been rocked by news of horrendous and senseless violence. We learned that, as so many of us have been saying for years, there was indeed a serial killer in our midst. These murders went unchecked by the police for seven years or longer.
Police don’t care about queer lives, about trans lives, about Black and brown lives.
We continue to call for justice for Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Sumaya Dalmar, Alloura Wells, and those whose names have not yet been brought to public attention We demand dignity for those lost from our community to violence.
Our community has long known that Skanda Navaratnam had been in an ongoing, intimate dynamic with Bruce McArthur up until his disappearance in 2010, as was recently corroborated by a media report citing some of his friends. Indeed, Skanda remained on McArthur’s Facebook friends list until the moment McArthur’s Facebook account was suspended on the day of his arrest.
McArthur ought to have been considered a suspect in Skanda’s disappearance over seven years ago. As reported in mainstream media, McArthur had already been convicted for his assault on a male sex worker with a weapon in 2001, and sentenced in 2003. Conditions of his sentencing included being temporarily banned from the Village, a ten-year weapons ban, and the mandatory provision of a DNA sample due to the violent nature of his offence.
In other words, Bruce McArthur was known to police. Why was he not described as such? Why was he not treated as such? We believe there is real bias in policing, and that Bruce McArthur, a serial killer of brown gay men, benefited from those biases as a white man. His brown victims suffered the indignity — even after death — of being disposable bodies, not worth saving while alive, and not worth finding when they disappeared.
On January 18, Toronto Police said that they could not have arrested Bruce McArthur without “community collaboration.” But the police did not collaborate with us. Rather, our communities refused to stand by as the police appeared to do absolutely nothing to find these missing queers. Our communities put up posters, held vigils, and combed through back alleys and the Don Valley because the police were not doing everything they could. That is not collaboration. The police are not telling the whole truth.
It is only by an accident of fate that there has been any closure at all into the disappearances of many of these long-missing gay brown men. Had McArthur not been a serial killer, there is nothing to suggest that the cops would have bothered to investigate the remaining victims. They had, after all, closed the earlier investigation, having found nothing. We are steadfast in the belief that they mishandled these older cases, failing even to preserve or review the computer of one of the long-missing, due to their racist biases and lack of understanding of queer communities. Instead, the police insinuated that the missing brown gay men were to blame for their own disappearances, as they were “leading double lives”.
How dare they.
The premise that these men were leading ‘double lives’ is deeply homophobic and racist. Every queer person in history has at some point in their journey led what would be deemed a “double life”: this is how we determine whether or not it is safe to expose our queerness in a homophobic world. The further assumption that these brown men were not out to their families was in many cases factually incorrect, and was grounded in homophobic and racist assumptions about South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures.
The tragic consequences of having allowed a serial killer to carry on for seven years proves that racism can and does kill. We believe that, had the police taken seriously the disappearances of gay brown men, Bruce McArthur would not have been left free to roam and kill our community members.
While there was a purported lack of resources to pursue somewhat obvious links to McArthur, TPS spent an exorbitant amount on surveilling Queers cruising in Marie Curtis Park instead.
We were alarmed to learn that the police moved in to arrest McArthur only once they saw a man enter his premises. Are the police again using community members as bait to catch a violent serial predator? We remember all too well the “balcony rapist” case, in which the Supreme Court admonished the police for using Jane Doe as bait. Were the cops further endangering our vulnerable community members in their effort to catch McArthur? We demand accountability.
The cops are out of touch with the real world when they hold press conferences to warn us away from online dating. Police have repeatedly connected these deaths to “gay dating apps.” We reject the victim-blaming notion that gay men’s sexual activity is inherently risky, or that men who seek out intimacy outside of monogamy can’t be — or don’t deserve to be — protected from violence. Casual sex did not put Selim’s and Andrew’s lives in danger. Homophobia, racism, and police apathy did that.
At this painful and uneasy time, we urge our queer and trans communities to join us in resisting calls for increased police presence on Church Street. Street patrols would not have saved the lives of Andrew and Selim. Increased police presence makes many in our community less safe, especially those of us who face the brunt of targeted policing: black and brown people, trans and non-binary people, street-involved people, people who use drugs, people with disabilities. We have seen how the police relate to our community: they don’t. Let’s not be fooled by their current posturing.
In the coming weeks, our communities will be looking for answers — and we will be, too. Meanwhile, we must not close ourselves off from intimacies, casual or otherwise. Let us be moved by queer love and collective rage, yes, but not fear. We are not protected by the police, but we look to each other — as we always have — for safety, support, comfort, and strength.
Queer Crash the Beat