by Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali
“The police become necessary in human society only at that junction of human society when it is split between those who have and those who ain’t got.” – Omali Yeshitela, chairman, African People’s Socialist Party
Before Black Lives Matter Toronto there was the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC). Sherona Hall, Dudley Laws, Charles Roach and Lennox Farrell founded BADC. These groups were created to deal with the question of police brutality in the Canadian context.
A Toronto Chapter of Black Lives Matter was organized in 2013. BADC was founded in 1988 in response to the killing of Lester Donaldson, a Jamaican born Canadian, which was the last straw in a series of police shootings of Black men in Toronto. B. Denham Jolly, who came to Toronto for the first time in 1956, reflected on how the shooting of Buddy Evans, a 24-year-old from Nova Scotia, affected Toronto’s Black community.
Evans was shot dead by a police officer in 1978 during a fight at a Toronto disco. This event led to an 11-week inquest and mobilized African Canadians. The government responded by creating a civilian complaints commission pilot project in the 1980s. Jolly tells the story in his award winning memoir, “In the Black: My Life.”
Little or nothing has recently been written or discussed about the shooting of a 14-year- old Black youth in Toronto in the 1950s. On the front page of the Nov. 30, 1953, edition of the Toronto Daily Star could have been written in 2018. The headline reads, “Charge P.C. as Boy, 14, Shot Dead.” This event took place in the basement of the S.S. White Co. dental building at 250 College St. The officer had never fired his gun on duty before, told detectives that his gun went off when a pile of packing boxes toppled toward him. The bullet hit Belfon in the neck, killing him almost instantly. Press reports repeatedly said that the police officer’s gun went off accidentally. It is noteworthy that the Star reported, “Belfon was the second person killed in four months by police gunfire. George Hurst was shot jumping over a fence in an attempted burglary in the east end. Constable Earl Snyder, charged with manslaughter, was freed at the preliminary hearing.”
Three other youths were found in the building at the same time as Belfon. Frank Fuzz, George Marshall and Douglas Richardson, all 16, were charged with shop breaking. Many will know Douglas as Dougie Richardson, who went on to become one of Canada’s foremost jazz artists. The Toronto Star’s Ashante Infantry wrote in Richardson’s 2007 obituary: “A veteran who’d worked with stellar acts such as Freddie Hubbard and the O’Jays, Richardson was best known as co-leader of the award-winning hard bop group Kollage with boyhood pal drummer Archie Alleyne.” It should be remembered that Richardson also worked with the legendary Chicago comedian-actor Bernie Mac.
Dougie’s father, Sam Richardson, was a legendary track and field athlete. At 15, in London’s Commonwealth Games in 1934, he won his gold medal in the long jump with a leap of 23 feet 8 inches (7.21 meters) and silver in the triple jump. I wrote an article about Richardson for the Globe and Mail in 1983. The late Gwen Johnston reflected on this historical event. I wrote: “Gwen Johnston, a co-proprietor of Third World Books and Crafts and Richardson’s first cousin, remembers how Toronto’s small but enthusiastic Black community reacted to Richardson’s victory when he returned. Says Johnston: ‘You couldn’t get to him, the crowd was so great at Union Station. The community welcomed their young son home. We had a big reception for him at a place called Belvin Hall, which was on College near Spadina. I’ll never forget it.’”
A historical event took place on Feb. 15. A street in downtown Toronto was named Sam Richardson Way. That day also happened to be Richardson’s oldest son Norman Richardson’s 80th birthday.
The killing of Belfon was headline news in the corporate press in Toronto. 1953 was a deplorable year for African people in Canada and the people of the world – period. The year of Belfon’s death was also the same year that the immortal James Baldwin’s award winning semi-autobiographical novel “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was published.
The Cold War was pretty hot. Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes president of the Empire. Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union dies. The Land and Freedom Army, so-called Mau Mau, were on the move in Kenya. In the US, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed. They had been accused of conspiring to commit espionage and passing nuclear weapons secrets to Russian agents. In the United States, the first color television sets go on sale, for around $1,175. The New York Yankees defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella on their roster. The Yankees were white, on white, in white.
Bromely Armstrong came to Canada from Jamaica in 1947. Armstrong remembers the merits and demerits of living in Canada. There were issues with the police when he came here. He talks about this in “Memoirs of Bromley L. Armstrong” by Sheldon Taylor. Says Armstrong: “Before the Buddy Evans shooting, some police officers allegedly would abuse and brutalize minorities and First Nation peoples. However, in such instances, care seemed to have been taken by those police officers to ensure that their somewhat racially motivated actions were not fatal. This was not the case with the 1950s Belfon shooting.”
James Belfon was a barber with a business located near Huron and Dundas streets in Toronto. His son Garfield was shot, as it is alleged, when he and a number of other youths were caught in the act of breaking and entering a dental warehouse in Toronto.”
The African People’s Socialist Party has declared Feb. 21 as the Day of the African Martyr. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was killed inside the Audubon Ballroom in New York City on Feb. 21, 1965. “The African People’s Socialist Party calls on all African revolutionaries of all countries to raise high, in a revolutionary manner, the heroic memory of all our fallen martyrs, of all those in every city, village, community and country where they fell as evidence of the determination of our people to fight every battle on every front until liberty has been won.”
During this time we should also remember Toronto’s Garfield Belfon and Sandra Bland. Bland was a 28-year-old Black woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a traffic stop.
Many maintain that African people are oppressed wherever we are. Some go as far saying that Black people are the footstools of humanity. The great Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, wrote this in 1924: “It is well-known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family. It is well-known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery. What everyone does not perhaps know is that after 65 years of so-called emancipation, American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching.”
Let the record reflect that Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansberry, the Japanese-American Yuri Kochiyama, who became a member of Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), and Ho Chi Mihn were all born on May 19. In 2018, we are witnessing the re-emergence of the Black Radical Tradition from Cape Town, South Africa, to Nova Scotia, Canada.
Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali produces Diasporic Music, a radio show for https://blackpower96.org/, and writes the column Diasporic Music for the Burning Spear Newspaper monthly. He grew up in Los Angeles, leaving after refusing to fight in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the United States were colonial subjects. Moving to Toronto, where he co-founded the Afro American Progressive Association and the Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association, he won the Toronto Arts Award in 1992. Richmond began his career in journalism at the African Canadian weekly Contrast and went on to be published in the Toronto Star, Toronto Globe & Mail, National Post, the Jackson Advocate, Share, the Islander, the Black American, Pan African News Wire, Black Agenda Report, San Francisco Bay View and, internationally, the United Nations, the Jamaican Gleaner, the Nation (Barbados) and Pambazuka News. Learn more at https://normanotisrichmond.wordpress.com/ and email him at email@example.com.