A Canadian police officer has been in jail for nine months on an assault conviction after beating a black teenager so badly that he lost an eye in an arrest.
White police officer Michael Theriault, who was off duty at the time, and his brother Christian pursued the then 19-year-old Dafonte Miller in the early morning hours of December 28, 2016, and cornered him between two houses in Whitby, Ontario, Toronto. Prosecutors said the couple then hit Miller with a meter-long pipe that made his left eye burst.
The brothers claimed they acted in self-defense and claimed that Miller had a gun. Earlier, they had told a court that they had first approached him and his friends after hearing that someone had broken into a truck in their garage.
The Theriaults pleaded not guilty to grievous bodily harm and obstruction of justice in connection with the incident and its aftermath. The officer was convicted while his brother was acquitted by a judge in June.
This is what the Supreme Court judge Joseph Di Luca said when delivering his verdict in Toronto on Thursday: “The racially motivated context in which the crime took place cannot be ignored.
He said he was also thinking of the officer’s high chances of rehabilitation and the conditions he would face in prison. Theriault was also sentenced to 12 months suspended sentence after his prison term, along with a five-year weapons ban. “Mr. Theriault’s career as a police officer is probably over,” the judge said.
The prosecution had requested a prison sentence of 12 to 15 months and various other restrictions for Theriault. The defense lawyers requested an absolute release or a suspended sentence. In a conference call with reporters, Miller’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, named Di Lucas’ reasons for the conviction “nothing less than historical,” CBC News reported. Falconer said Miller was grateful to be heard by the judiciary, “Dafonte feels like he has a voice,” the lawyer said.
In a statement read before the court in September, Miller outlined the lasting impact of the incident on his life. He said the encounter had changed his view of the police in a lasting way. “No one questioned him. Only I was worthy of suspicion … Because of the color of my skin,” was Miller’s statement.
Dr. Adam Elliott-Cooper, a researcher at the University of Greenwich in Great Britain and part of the anti-racist organization The Monitoring Group, tells Washington Newsday that punishing individual officers will not solve the problems of institutional racism.
He says: “Police racism and violence are not caused by rotten apples that need to be put away, and the problem will not go away by punishing individual officers. While accountability for racially motivated violence is welcomed, there is little evidence that the detention of police officers has reduced police violence, just as the detention of people in general has not led to a safer, less harmful society.
When George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25 this year, it sparked protests in all states of the United States that quickly spread to cities around the world. Soon after, millions of anti-racism activists for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement marched on the streets of London, Sydney, Cape Town, Tel Aviv, Paris, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Auckland.
For years, community groups in the U.S. and Canada worked to build a movement to “defend the police” by taking money from the armed forces and reinvesting it in public services. At this year’s BLM protests, this became the battle cry. The basic principle is that government budgets should prioritize housing, employment, community health, education and other vital programs over police officers. Activists believe this is the best way forward, as attempts to reform police practices have failed, as demonstrated by the assassination of Floyd.
Elliott-Cooper says: “Movements in defense of policing emphasize the need to reduce people’s contacts with the police – this is the best way to prevent and reduce police racism and violence. Better jobs, housing, health care, education, and community social services can reduce our dependence on police by reducing the likelihood that people with criminal records