A dance rally took over part of an east-end Toronto park on Saturday in support of an 11-year-old Black boy who recently had the police called on him while he played with a friend.
“Out of nowhere, cops just showed up, sirens on and they were alarmed,” said Sapphira Charles, who organized the Love in the Park event at Ivan Forrest Gardens in The Beaches neighbourhood.
Charles set up the event after hearing about an incident at the same park on Aug. 11.
She said a Black boy — who she didn’t identify — was playing with toy Nerf guns with a friend under the supervision of his mother when someone called the police.
“It’s almost in a sense they’re using their privilege to say, ‘This is our park; this is our neighbourhood; you can’t play here,'” Charles said.
The situation motivated Sahvana Downes, the mother of a nine-year-old son, to host a Nerf-themed picnic in support of the young boy.
“I hope this community becomes one where it is safe to express your Blackness, it is safe to exist in your Blackness,” she said.
Const. Caroline de Kloet, a media relations officer with Toronto Police Service, told Global News in an email the caller reported a male and female wearing “bandit” masks and dark clothing had a long gun. When police arrived, the suspects were found to be children playing with a Nerf gun.
Rima Berns-McGown, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Beaches-East York, said anyone who calls police must be aware of the potentially tragic consequences.
“It doesn’t always end well,” she said. “In this case, it did — the police got here (and) they realized immediately that they were dealing with a child.”
Berns-McGown, who taught diaspora studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga before entering politics, said the incident brings to mind cases such as that of Tamir Rice, 12, who was shot and killed by police in Ohio in 2014. He was carrying a toy replica gun.
More recently in May, a woman named Amy Cooper in New York’s Central Park called police on a Black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), who was bird watching at the time.
“It’s really important that people understand that when they call the police on a child, they are pulling the trigger on a very big gun that could result in that child or that adult’s death,” Berns-McGown said.