Tensions are high in a midtown Toronto neighbourhood following the arrests of two Black men at a protest Saturday evening.
A demonstration in support of Black-owned businesses was happening in the area of Eglinton and Oakwood avenues when around 8 p.m., an altercation occurred, seven officers were injured and two arrests were made.
Ontario’s police watchdog invoked its mandate and is now investigating.
Demonstrators told Global News they were there to support businesses in the city’s “Little Jamaica” neighbourhood that have been hard-hit by the construction of the Eglinton LRT, when a man suddenly jumped on the hood of a vehicle that was stopped.
Sebastian Mendoza-Price, who volunteered with the march, said the man was near the rally for a few hours and had been peaceful.
“The police had come, hand on the holster and they were like, ‘Get down on the car now.’ And we feel that we could have worked with the police … because this community member felt safe around us,” Mendoza-Price told Global News.
“He got off the car and the police were being very aggressive. They tried to grab him and then, as has been recorded on video, he did punch the officer in the face. At that point, he was tased. And then another person — a friend of his — who also seems to be struggling with mental health challenges intervened by throwing their sweater at another officer and then that person was also pinned to the ground and arrested.”
Of the seven officers injured, four were taken to hospital. They have all since been released.
Footage of the incident posted on social media initially shows scenes of a Black man being pinned to the ground by a police officer after he is shot with what looks to be a taser.
Another man, who is also Black, then appears to try to shove the officer off of the pinned man but is detained by several other officers. Another social media video appears to show the second man later walking away from the scene in handcuffs with police as the other man is still pinned to the ground.
A witness who did not want to be named told Global News that by the time he arrived in the area, there were at least seven or eight police officers on top of a man who he described as screaming and in pain.
Photos from the area at the time showed dozens of police officers present.
Toronto Police Const. Edward Parks said anytime an arrest is made, officers try to make sure both themselves and the arrestee are safe.
“We don’t want to cause any hurt or harm with that individual. We want individuals to comply so that they’re safe and the officers are safe. The amount of officers that were there at that time, it was because of the fact that officers were reaching out for assistance,” Parks said.
Jamilah Reeves, who attended the demonstration, said the man being pinned by officers was in distress.
“While on the ground by officers, he was screaming out,” she said.
Reeves said community members then worked to comfort the man after asking officers if they could try to help him.
“We were sitting with him. He was calm, he was breathing, he was compliant until paramedics came. That’s when the situation got worse,” Reeves said.
“Basically his trigger was, he didn’t want any non-Black people touching him because he just felt uncomfortable and his request was completely ignored to the point where he was agitated and that’s when officers as well the paramedics started to push us off and started to push us away from him when we were just trying to make sure that he was calm…
“The amount of force that the officers used on him as well as members of the community was unnecessary and uncalled for.”
Mendoza-Price alleges the handcuffs were too tight on the man and said he began to bleed during the arrest.
Reeves said she doesn’t believe either police or paramedics were properly trained for that situation.
“Police and paramedics, they’re not trained to diffuse somebody that’s in mental distress,” she said.