Black History Month art installation vandalized outside Toronto police station
An anti-racism art installation erected outside the 55 Division police station Monday was vandalized less than 24 hours after it was put up, but organizers and community members are refusing to let it deter them from their mission of raising awareness about hate crimes in Toronto.
The installation, called Strange Fruit: Nooses are Hate Crimes, was organized by Community Solidarity Against Racism in Construction (CSARC), a group that includes activists from Mothers for Peace Regent Park, the Black Action Defense Committee, Toronto East Anti-Hate Mobilization, and members of construction trade unions.
The group was kickstarted by a social justice activist network stemming from Old's Cool General Store in response to the targeting of Black workers at construction sites with nooses, according to CSARC member Brian Champ.
Over the past several months, multiple nooses have been discovered at construction sites throughout the city, and so far Toronto Police have only charged one person with mischief as the result of a confession following an incident at the Michael Garron Hospital site.
"Strange Fruit: Nooses are Hate Crimes is a community art installation that was launched on Monday, Feb. 1 in response to only mischief charges being laid, even though the noose is a threat of anti-Black racist violence and needs to be treated as a hate crime for that legislation to have meaning at all," Champ told blogTO.
"The haunting song 'Strange Fruit,' immortalized by Billie Holiday, inspired the installation," he continued, explaining that the piece featured black blossoms strung from branches draped in black cloth, a red tree skirt symbolizing "blood at the root," and black rocks on the ground to commemorate "Black lives lost to violent hatred."
Community members were asked to paint a rock black and bring it to the location in front of 55 Division, Champ said, and the police superintendent at the station assured that the installation would be respected.
But less than 24 hours after it was completed, Champ said the black cloth and red skirt were removed, and some of the rocks were also strewn around.
In a statement sent to blogTO by email, TPS media relations officer Jenifferjit Sidhu said police are aware of concerns surrounding suspected damage to the installation.
"At this time, it is not known if any criminal activity took place," Sidhu said. "However, they are monitoring the situation and continue to update community representatives."
The night after the installation was intially vandalized, its remaining pieces were dismantled, though police confirmed that this was caused by someone who was struggling with mental health issues and in crisis.
Champ told blogTO that community members are understandably disturbed by the vandalism, but they're also taking it as yet another reason to work even harder to get their message across.
"It is deeply distressing for sure, because of the fact that an art installation commemorating Black lives was destroyed, during Black History Month no less," he said.
"It gives a clear idea of exactly how much work needs to be done to counter racism in our communities, while also further showing that there are many community members deeply committed to this work."
CSARC is therefore planning to relaunch the installation this weekend, with more of an emphasis on the crafting of black blossoms rather than the rocks.
"We are hoping to continue the vision of involving broad layers of the east end community to keep this art installation going," he said.
There will be an online crafting tutorial session on Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. for those interested in contributing blossoms to the relaunch on Feb. 7, and anyone who wants to participate can contact @csarc_to, @Old's Cool General Store, @Mothers of Peace Regent Park, or @Toronto East Anti-hate Mobilization - TEAM.
"If we weren't under lockdown restrictions and facing thousands of new COVID-19 cases each day — a pandemic that has disproportionately affected racialized people and communities in numbers infected and dying — we would have organized mass community actions in protest at these mischief charges, demanding that they be taken more seriously," Champ said.
"This action was designed to allow people to remain socially distanced to help prevent the spread of Covid while participating in a collective response demanding widespread changes to stop the nooses and tackling the racism deeply embedded in the construction industry, the police and society in general," he continued.
"Finding a way to keep mobilizing people for anti-racist action is important in these times when it's difficult to physically come together."
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