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Activists gather to protest Toronto police’s carding practice

Activists led chants of "No racist police" from the steps of the Toronto Police headquarters Saturday at a rally protesting the controversial practice of carding in the city.

The rally was also a show of support for protesters in Baltimore, who took to the streets last Saturday after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died in police custody after being arrested in April. On Friday, six Baltimore police officers were charged in relation to Gray's death.

Hundreds of people came to the protest organized by the group Black Lives Matter Toronto, lining the steps to the police building at 40 College St. and spilling out onto the sidewalk and the road.

(Photos by Madeline Smith/The Globe and Mail)

Carding is a practice in which police officers stop people and take their personal information, even when they aren’t suspected of a crime. Black communities in Toronto say they are frequently and disproportionately targets of carding.

Rodney Diverlus, one of the rally organizers, said the event was put together in about four days after protests in Baltimore intensified.

“We’re coming to [Toronto Police’s] door,” he said. “It’s our way for black folks to come to them and let them hear and know how we feel about these policies.”

Toronto Police named its first black police chief, Mark Saunders, in April. Speaking at the African Canadian Summit in North York Wednesday, Mr. Saunders said he would not stop the practice of carding.

Mr. Diverlus said he and many of his friends have been affected by carding, and he is disappointed the new police chief does not plan to end it.

“Any policy of the police that disproportionately affects one community over another is racist," Mr. Diverlus said. “Policies like this target specific people and specific demographics.”

Desmond Cole, a Toronto journalist who has written about his personal experiences being carded, voiced concerns about what police are doing with the information they receive from carding.

“My name is in that database and many of your names are probably in that database even though you’ve done nothing wrong,” he said to the crowd. “We will not stop demanding our right to walk in peace in the city of Toronto.”

In between speakers, organizers shouted call-and-response chants of “black lives matter” into megaphones. Mr. Cole led the crowd in a message, he said, to Toronto police, from people who are stopped on the street: “If I'm free to go, just tell me so."

Selina Mendez looked on from the crowd, holding a homemade sign that read “My skin is not a threat.”

“This is such a huge issue for the black community in the city,” she said. “The police need to take in the impact of what they’re doing.”

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