On May 4th, 1992, what began as fairly peaceful gathering in front of the US Consulate located in Toronto, escalated into what we now refer to as the Yonge St. Riot of 1992. The purpose of the gathering was to protest the racism and excessive use of force applied by Toronto Police. The decision to protest in front of the US consulate was done so strategically in light of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles (Bradburn, 2011). These riots stemmed from the infamous recording of four white police officers beating Rodney King, a black man, with their batons as he lay in the fetal position on the ground in 1991 (McMartney, 2012). The event itself was organized by the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) founded by Dudley Laws, Charles Roach, Sherona Hall and Lennox Farrell, a group pushing for police accountability in regards to targeting black youth (Winsa, 2011). Two years prior to the events on Yonge St., Laws, co-founder of the BADC, was able to influence the implementation of a Special Investigations Unit by Premier Bob Rae as a result of Constable Deviney shooting to death Lester Donaldson, a mentally ill black man (Winsa, 2011). This historical background is significant in understanding the influential power of the BADC going into this protest. To further understand the context behind the riot, it is significant to note that 20 years ago 94% of the Toronto Police Force was comprised of White officers (Bettencourt-McCarthy & Abdulle, 2014), hardly representative of the population. Adding to the cause was the killing of 22 year old Jamaican immigrant Raymond Lawrence two days prior (Bradburn, 2011).
What had started as a group of 500 individuals at the consulate around 4 p.m. had developed into a group of 1000 on Yonge St by 6:45 p.m. as many street youth joined the crowd for the opportunity to “go wild” and profit from the occasion (Bradburn, 2011). It was at this point where the protest evolved into a spree of looting and vandalism of the local businesses. The bulk of this damage was done by teenagers of various races not necessarily related to the protest itself. The crowd becomes physical with the police presence by throwing items such as eggs and rocks leading to thirty-seven police officers and three horses suffering minor injuries (Casey, 2010). This was not the intent of the protest and many of the original protestors urged rioters to leave or left the scene altogether (Bradburn, 2011). As a result of the violence, 32 people were arrested by police that night (Casey, 2010).
The violent nature of these events effected the BADC’s later protests by changing the location of events to avoid further damage to downtown stores. The real damage however was on the image of the BADC.
Bettencourt-McCarthy, W. & Abdulle, Z. (2014, August 20). What Toronto Can Learn From the Police Shooting of Michael Brown. The Torontoist, (http://torontoist.com/2014/08/what-toronto-can-learn-from-the-police-shooting-of-michael-brown/)
Bradeburn, J. (2011, August 11). There’s a Riot Goin’ on Down Yonge Street. The Torontoist, (http://torontoist.com/2011/08/theres_a_riot_goin_on_down_yonge_street/)
Casey, L. (2010, June 27). Riots in Toronto. The Toronto Star, (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/g20/2010/06/27/riots_in_toronto.html)
McCartney, A. (2012, June 17). Rodney King, whose beating in Los Angeles led to deadly riots, dead at 47. The Toronto Star, (http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2012/06/17/rodney_king_whose_beating_in_los_angeles_led_to_deadly_riots_dead_at_47.html)
Winsa, P. (2011, March 24). ‘Fearless’ black activist Dudley Laws dies at age 76. The Toronto Star, (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/03/24/fearless_black_activist_dudley_laws_dies_at_age_76.html)