It’s been 30 years since what became known as The Yonge Street Riot occurred. The catalyst or final straw came when on May 4th, 1992, a Black man, Raymond Lawrence, was shot and killed by Peel police. It came soon after four Los Angeles policemen were acquitted for the brutal beating of Rodney King.
Tensions were building for some time in Toronto. In 1988 two Black men were shot and killed by police – 17-year-old Wade Lawson, who was unarmed, and Lester Donaldson, who suffered from schizophrenia.
What was initially a rally in front of the US consulate, Yonge and Bloor Streets, protesting the acquittal of the four policemen in Los Angeles ended with a crowd rampaging down Yonge Street, enraged at the death of Raymond Lawrence. It ended with serious police clashes with the crowd and a number of arrests.
A report examining racism in Toronto by former politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis spoke clearly about the existence of racism in Ontario, and that “While it is obviously true that every visible minority community experiences the indignities and wounds of systemic discrimination throughout Southern Ontario, it is the Black community which is the focus,” Lewis wrote in his report.
Activists who were and are involved in the struggle against anti-Black racism draw a direct line from the 1992 Yonge Street Riot and the incidents of racism that led to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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