Were There No Alternatives? Asks Shaheen Kamadia

Time and again, Shaheen Kamadia has found the courage to challenge unjust social arrangements. It is perhaps not altogether surprising then that she has been able to muster the strength to transmute her grief at the recent killing of her sixteen year old son into a struggle against institutional racism waged on behalf of all Canadians of color. Shaheen was born to South Asian parents in Tanzania, and the family lived in Zaire before moving to Toronto twenty-two years ago. She was married at the age of nineteen, and her first son, Faraz Suleman, was born a year later. She and her husband were divorced when Faraz was four, and Nadir, the younger son, was only two and a half years old. Shaheen was granted custody of the two children, and threw herself whole-heartedly into the demanding roles of single parent and sole breadwinner. Faraz and Nadir were very close to each other, and to their mother.

"The boys had been great," she says, helping out in various ways from a very young age. At the age of ten, Faraz was already taking care of his little brother after school. This was the time when Shaheen switched to a more time-demanding job. She discussed it with the children first ("Mummy needs to work on her career now"), and the boys promised their support. If the children were supportive in those difficult early years, the outside world was not always as reasonable. Shaheen had been working for the French School Board as an executive secretary in the years following her divorce. When a middle management position became available, she applied immediately. She was turned down, and later found out that she had been considered unsuitable only because she had little children. This marked an important turning point: in challenging this decision, Shaheen became a trade-unionist. She appealed to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) for help and was instrumental in organizing a labor union in the School Board. She was elected the President of the Local and negotiated a contract with the management. In early 1992, CUPE asked to train her as an organizer, and she is now a staff representative for the union. Because of the family's French-speaking background, Faraz went to French school initially. After the eighth grade, he transferred to an English program at the Milliken Mills High School in Markham. He was particularly good at Math, and was thinking of going into business or law. And then suddenly one day this past summer, he was dead, killed by a police bullet.

As she tries to recount the beginnings of the family's ordeal, Shaheen breaks down. It is clearly a struggle to return to her pleasant and crisp phone manner, but she manages to compose herself and describes the fateful evening of 11th June 1996 when two police detectives appeared at their front door. They told her that they wanted to question Faraz in connection with some recent cases of car theft. Shaheen was deeply worried: Faraz had been secretive and rebellious for about a month before this incident, and she had been waiting for his school exams to finish to have a serious talk with him. Now it seemed like he was already in some kind of trouble. Faraz was away at a mall with some friends at this time, but learnt from a friend the same evening that the police had visited his home. He stayed away from home all night. Shaheen notified his school about his absence from home; and the following evening the police were back. When they started to warn her of the dire consequences of hiding her son, Shaheen exploded, "How do you think I feel about all this, not knowing where my son is or how he's doing?" She also got in touch with her lawyer, who managed to convince the police that browbeating his mother was not an effective way of tracking down the missing boy. Because Faraz had not been phoning his mother and brother, Shaheen gave the lawyer's number to several of his friends, in case he were to call any of them. Sure enough, Faraz phoned her lawyer after a couple of days to discuss the possibility of surrendering to the police.

Confused and afraid and unable to decide, he changed his mind about giving himself up on that day. He was far too ashamed to call home all this time, but two days later he met up with a friend of his mother's, an adult that he knew well and trusted. At this meeting, Faraz was still unclear about what to do next, and arranged to meet Shaheen's friend again to talk further late that night at a 24-hour donut shop. When her friend phoned up to tell her about this plan, Shaheen decided to let the police know about this meeting. By now, Faraz had been away from home for an entire week, and she felt that it would be best if he were to be peacefully arrested. She called up the police station and told them about the stolen Jeep that Faraz was driving when he had visited her friend, and about the time and place for the proposed meeting. The meeting never took place. Shaheen's friend reached the donut shop slightly late, and there was no sign of either Faraz or the police. After waiting for a while, he phoned the police station and was told that the boy had been arrested. He immediately phoned Shaheen and told her not to worry because Faraz had been taken to the police station. "I waited by the phone all night long," Shaheen remembers, thinking that Faraz would be allowed to call home that night. But there were no calls.

When she phoned the police station at 7 a.m., no one would speak to her. At 8 a.m., the Vice-Principal of the school phoned to ask about Faraz, and said that the morning news had mentioned the shooting of a sixteen year old by a police officer. Convinced that he was in police custody, Shaheen said, "Of course it's not Faraz." When she phoned her lawyer and was told that she would be hearing soon from the police and the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), it became evident that something horrible had happened. It was only after 9 a.m. that they came to tell her that Faraz had been shot by a police officer and that he did not survive. She could hardly believe that the worst was indeed true; "I had been hoping that they'd tell me what hospital to go to." Faraz Suleman was killed at about three a.m. on the 19th of June, many hours before Shaheen was told about it by the police. He was unarmed and attempting to flee, and his vehicle had apparently nicked against a police officer as he manoeuvred it out of the parking lot. This was the officer who shot and killed Faraz. The bullet came in from the side-window of the vehicle; so it was not fired in self-defence, for fear that Faraz might drive straight into him, but rather after the Jeep had grazed against him.

For Shaheen, the basic question surrounding the circumstances of her son's death is, "Were there no alternatives?" Is it truly necessary for an officer to use lethal force against a fleeing sixteen year old suspect with no criminal record whose mother has gone well out of her way to share information with the police? Needless to say, the police on their part have been extremely reluctant to offer any information, taking cover under the pretext of an "ongoing investigation" by the SIU. Although the officer who shot Faraz has refused to talk to the SIU, there has been no disciplinary action against him. "He's back on duty and he's armed," Shaheen points out bitterly. Shaheen has begun to organize a campaign to bring attention to the corrupted police system with the help of local community groups and labour unions. They have held regular press conferences to share statistics regarding the systemic racism in the police force. "In my heart of hearts, I feel clearly that the police would have acted differently if it had been a Caucasian kid," she says.

Since 1991, there have been 29 police shootings locally, in which seven people, including Faraz, were killed. The other six were all Black, in a community where only 7.5% of the population is Black. They are also trying to raise questions about the training process that police officers undergo, and its emphasis on shooting to kill. Shaheen knows that "Faraz is not going to come back, no matter what I do politically." But she says, "I'm not just acting in defence of my son. It's a broader issue, it's a community issue. The key issue is the accountability of the police."

If you would like to help out with the massive legal expenses that the family is now facing, please send your contributions to: Faraz Suleman Trust Fund, c/o Bank of Montreal [Transit # 04402, Bank # 001, Account # 8108-558], East York Town Center, 45 Overlea Blvd, Toronto, M4H IC3, Canada.

If you live in the Toronto area and would like to be politically active around this issue, you may contact Shaheen at (905) 946-7693; or the Toronto Coalition Against Racism (TCAR) at (416) 761-0026 (ask for Nalin Cooke) and (416) 530-0262; or the Coalition of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) at (416) 979-8611.

Comments

I appreciate your initiative to start a non profit foundation to help bring activities and events to the hospital for children. It will be good to improve the hospital equipment, to give more adequate diagnoses to those who are treated here and better treatment solutions. I know that nighthawk radiology system can bring some light in these situations. So if you provide these services the patients will have modern equipment to investigate their illnesses.
I have to agree with them so much. There was definitely no alternatives at all here. Unsure what they were thinking here at all. honeygifts.com
http://www.calwire.com/ Shaheen was accepted aegis of the two children, and threw herself whole-heartedly into the ambitious roles of individual ancestor and sole breadwinner. Faraz and Nadir were actual abutting to anniversary other, and to their mother.

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