On the same day that Toronto Police executed search and seizures on medical marijuana dispensaries across the city in headline-grabbing raids, the jury in the coroner’s inquest into the police shooting of Jermaine Carby found that Carby’s death was essentially racially-motivated homicide. The five-member jury released 14 recommendations and made it clear that Carby’s death was a homicide that was influenced by “unconscious racial bias.”
Carby, 33, was a passenger in a black Volkswagen Jetta on September 24, 2014 when it was pulled over by Peel police for a traffic stop in Brampton. Constable Ryan Reid shot him multiple times, including in the back. The SIU cleared the police officers involved after they claimed Carby had a knife, but another officer who tampered with evidence cast doubt on the very existence of a knife in the first place. However, it is no surprise that the SIU found no wrongdoing for the officers involved, as it has a 98 per cent clearance rate for accused officers, and serves mainly to protect officers from punishment.
The coroner’s inquest has broken two years of secrecy and revealed key details about the case, including the identity of Carby’s killer. The three-week inquest brought back recommendations calling on the Peel Police to develop effective methods of de-escelation and to choose the lowest level of force required, to “develop a method to objectively measure and test the effectiveness of officer training for unconscious bias, mental health issues, de-escalation and use of force,” and to work with diverse communities to be better “exercise sensitivity and discretion concerning interactions with the public.”
The inquest jury’s verdict of homicide is not the same as in a criminal trial. The inquest jury rules that someone is responsible for Carby’s death, but they are not allowed to say who is responsible.
Black Lives Matter
It’s a partial victory that the inquest confirmed the racially-motivated nature of Carby’s murder and released the name of his killer. This was one of the demands of Black Lives Matter-Toronto and Justice for Jermaine Carby campaign and it’s only because of continual mobilizing and pressure that this inquest happened in the first place. As Sandy Hudson from Black Lives Matter-Toronto explained, “it does provide the family answers about what happened to their loved one and an opportunity to seek some form of justice through a civil suit against the officers involved and the police force, should they choose to pursue one. In a system where the Crown consistently refuses to investigate the brutality experienced by black people at the hands of police through a court of law, this opportunity is important.”
But inquests are double-edged: when there are growing demands for justice they can serve to provide the illusion of justice without structural change. As Hudson explains, “Governments and police agencies know what it sounds like to the public when a verdict of homicide is announced: it appears as though there has been some sort of judgment or justice administered. It placates unrest using a system woefully inadequate to actually do or offer what the public is looking for. It’s a way to avoid accountability that could be administered through a criminal court. We should reject the distraction and mirage of justice we’ve constantly been handed over the years once an inquest is complete. We need far more than the minimal amounts of accountability an inquest is able to provide. Recommendations from a coroner’s inquest are not an endgame. They are points that should be organized around. Ending political involvement at this point because some sort of justice seems to be had has done nothing to help us in countless inquest cases in the past. The time for empty recommendations is over. If we’re going to show policy-makers that black lives matter, we cannot do this through an inquest process that is essentially toothless.”