Sunday, May 16, 2010

The curious case of Junior Alexander Manon

I've been sitting on this one for a while, but it's time to raise a few questions about the suspicious death of an 18-year-old Black youth in Toronto, very possibly a victim of police brutality.

On May 5, Toronto's finest were involved in one of those "routine traffic stops" with which young Black men are all too familiar. Two teenagers ran from the car. One, Junior Alexander Manon, was first reported as having collapsed from a heart attack--a young, fit 18-year-old with no known medical problems. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead.

Even the Toronto Star reported that the man had "no visible injuries" on the scene. If that is the case, perhaps the paramedics should be the ones being investigated.

Toronto's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was responsible for putting the heart attack story out there. But the family's lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, saw the youth in the hospital: his eyes were blackened, there was blood all over, and his neck had been put in a brace. None of these things appeared to him to be symptoms of a heart attack, and it's a new one on me as well.

The family, in any case, isn't persuaded by the official version:

The family of Manon do not believe that he suffered a heart attack. The driver of the vehicle says he witnessed police officers kicking and hitting Manon, but police have provided no confirmation to support these allegations. [Duh.]

A Facebook group quickly sprang up and rendered its verdict. (We can't blame the Toronto Sun for being a little snippy about this: like the Toronto Star, it had earlier given cover to the police by uncritically reporting the "heart attack" fiction.)

We really have more questions than answers at this point--and that by itself, after more than a week and a half, is disturbing.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit was called in, as it is when a death or serious injury associated with police activity takes place:

No charges have been laid, but an SIU spokesperson said two officers have been designated "subject officers" — meaning, according to the SIU website, officers "whose conduct appears, in the opinion of the SIU director, to have caused the death or serious injury under investigation."

Another eight others have been designated "witness officers" in the case, the spokesperson said, meaning they were present but not directly involved in the incident being investigated.

So much for the initial "heart attack" nonsense.

An autopsy was conducted on the Friday after Manon's death. Its findings remain secret. Originally it was reported that the family had engaged a forensic pathologist of its own to attend and oversee the autopsy. That doesn't appear to have happened, or we would have heard something by now.

The SIU is looking for witnesses, but there are already two, who saw a savage beating administered to Manon by as many as seven of Toronto's boys in blue:

Kevin Faudar, 17, was a passenger in Manon’s car when they were pulled over.

“They f----- his s--- up,” Faudar said. “He did not collapse.”

Police allegedly told the duo they were going to tow the car and asked them to get out.

Faudar said he didn’t know why the cops were towing the car.

Officers were about to put Manon in handcuffs when he ran, Faudar said.

“They brought him to the floor and then they were on top of him after that,” he said.

More officers arrived and surrounded Manon, Faudar said.

He started to walk away from the scene when another cruiser arrived; those officers handcuffed him and put him into the back seat, Faudar claimed.

The next thing Faudar knew, an officer came over said his friend had “just passed away” and told him he’d have to come to the station to give a statement.

“I didn’t believe it,” Faudar said. “That’s the first person that’s died before my eyes.”

Faudar said there were no guns or drugs in the car and they weren’t speeding.

He walked out of 31 Division and was not charged, he said.

Another account:

A witness on the scene and another passenger of the vehicle reported that: “They beat him up, he was on the floor, he wasn’t resisting. Two officers on him, punching him in the face, one kicking him in the ribs… And then five more come and jump on him… He’s not that big for seven boy’dem [cops] to be on him like that.”

We shall soon see--but not nearly soon enough--whether the SIU functions as a true investigative organization or just another police exoneration squad. We are told their investigation could take more than a month to complete. At this point, eleven days after Manon's death, all we have is a silence that roars.

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