Community demands answers after Black trans woman dies in Toronto police custody
People in Toronto are outraged and demanding answers following the death of a Black trans woman named Coco who died after local police transported her to the hospital last week.
Community members have been speaking out about the tragic incident since it was first reported by police on Oct. 26, and many have been extra furious about the fact that the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) misgendered the woman in a news release.
On the day of the incident, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) wrote in a statement that they had responded to a report of someone trying to break into an apartment in the area of Bellamy Road North and Eglinton Avenue East at 6:56 a.m.
They said when officers arrived on the scene, they discovered that no break-in had occured and that the person was in crisis.
"After speaking to the person, officers determined the person should be taken to the hospital," police said.
"The person was transported to hospital by police. The person went into distress at the hospital. Life-saving measures were taken and, at 10:15 a.m., the person was pronounced deceased."
Later, the SIU published a release — in which they repeatedly referred to Coco as "a 30-year-old man" — stating that they were investigating the circumstances surrounding the death.
SIU investigating circumstances surrounding the death this morning of a 30yo man in Toronto. https://t.co/F4UApsCIt6— SIU (@SIUOntario) October 26, 2020
The SIU statement included little additional information other than the fact that Coco had barricaded herself in the apartment when police arrived, and that two officers had been designated as subject officers while one has been designated as a witness officer.
Neither police nor the SIU included any identifying information about Coco, but LGBTQ+ advocacy organization The 519 later confirmed that the deceased was in fact a "much loved 30-year-old Black trans woman."
"Among the many questions for public officials, why has the SIU published a news release that misgenders the woman who died after being informed of this error?" reads a statement from organization.
The 519 also said more information about what transpired during the encounter is needed immediately.
NEWS (via @The519): last week, a 30 year old black trans woman died while in the custody of @TorontoPolice @SIUOntario misgendered the woman in a news release, and still hasn't corrected itself— desmond cole (@DesmondCole) November 3, 2020
police at @TPS43Div know what happened—they need to tell us NOW#TPSWhatHappened pic.twitter.com/XWzOn6l4gs
"We demand that the Toronto Police Service and the Special Investigations Unit uphold their responsibility for transparency and accountability, and provide the public with more information about the circumstances that led to the death of the 30-year-old Black trans woman who was taken to hospital by police," they said.
"What happened? Silence, in the face of such loss, only serves to cause greater harm."
On Wednesday, the SIU released on update on the investigation into the incident in which they acknowledged that they had misgendered the deceased and confirmed that she was in fact a trans woman.
"The SIU appreciates the public interest in this case and is doing what it can to get answers to the public as quickly as possible while ensuring that the integrity of the investigation is not compromised," the update reads. "We ask for the public's continued patience."
On the same day, Black Lives Matter Toronto also released a statement about the tragedy, and they confirmed that the woman's name was Coco, though her last name is not being shared in the interest in family privacy.
We are shocked and outraged at the death of our community member in Toronto Police Services (TPS) custody. The mystery of her death, and the continued misgendering of Coco in the TPS reports is unacceptable. Black trans lives matter! Coco should be alive today! w/@MaggiesToronto pic.twitter.com/H3c90y3Xbx— Black Lives Matter — Toronto (@BLM_TO) November 5, 2020
The group said this incident is yet another example of a valuable life lost while in the custody of police.
"The death of Coco points to a corrupt system that is set up to harm Black and trans people over and over again," they wrote. "We say no more, and never again! Black trans lives matter!"
Public outcry surrounding Coco's death follows a similar incident in which a 29-year-old Black woman named Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from a Toronto apartment balcony during an interaction with police this past summer.
The tragedy contributed to increased calls to defund the police in Toronto, but no police officers were criminally charged in the incident following an investigation by the SIU that determined Korchinski-Paquet had fallen.
"Black trans people face disporportionate targeting by the police and are often harrassed and picked up by police simply for being trans in a public space," wrote BLM Toronto.
"Trans lives are inherently valuable and we demand an end to this over-policing of our community... We unite together to raise the cry — Justice for Coco! We demand answers!"
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