Statement in condemnation of racist political speech: Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s recent attack on Jane and Finch community members
As our municipal election draws near, we the undersigned are writing in condemnation of City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s recently made comments in regards to residents of Toronto’s Jane and Finch community. In an interview with The Rebel Media (a propagandist outlet known for racist hate speech), Councillor Mammoliti talked about tearing down social housing, describing residents of the community as cockroaches, and “spraying them so that they scatter.” Later on, he attempted to downplay his violent rhetoric by stating that it is “not fair to those residents to be segregated” in the Jane and Finch community, and that “no wonder” kids in the community are “growing up angry”. He neither explains the ‘anger’ nor acknowledges the systemic discrimination against members of the community. Instead, his proposed solution to the ‘anger’ of the kids and the ‘segregation’ is to enact further violence on them – ‘spray’ them, ‘scatter’ them, and ‘integrate’ them with presumably ‘better’ communities.
On dehumanization and genocide
Based on an overview of various genocidal contexts, Gregory Stanton (2016) identified dehumanization as one among the ‘10 stages of genocide’. Tutsi people were described as ‘cockroaches’ in propaganda leading up to and during the genocide in Rwanda; Jewish people were described as ‘rats’ in propaganda leading up to the Holocaust; and in 1864, US Colonel John Chivington perpetrated the Sand Creek massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples, which he justified by saying, ‘nits make lice.’ More recently, President Donald Trump described Mexicans as ‘rapists’ and ‘animals,’ which was followed by state-sponsored child abuse, family separations, detainment, and other violence against various immigrant communities. Describing residents of the Jane and Finch community as ‘cockroaches’ is alarming for its resonance with historical and ongoing violence.
We write in support of the dignity, strength, and vitality of the human beings and communities under attack here. Jane and Finch is a largely Black, racialized, and low-income community. Its members have long been subjected to systemic racism and racist surveillance strategies. Considering Mammoliti holds an important political office, we are deeply disturbed by his use of White supremacist genocidal rhetoric. Such language is even more troubling in the current context of the anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Muslim, anti-racialized immigrant and refugee agenda that politicians are actively pursuing as part of their political strategy in Europe, Canada, and the United States.
The violence of ‘integration’
Drawing historical lessons from Canada and elsewhere, we also urge particular vigilance about the apparently innocent support for integration that Councillor Mammoliti used in his interview. Mammoliti suggests that segregation breeds anger and criminality which can only be resolved via integration into White middle/upper class Toronto. Many Canadians, to use but one major example, know about the destruction of the all-Black Nova Scotian community of Africville. While many have been falsely led to believe that this was done during a time of explicit and unapologetic anti-Black racism, in actuality, the destruction of the community started well after the key milestones of the Civil Rights movement. It was the discourse of integration that enabled and justified the destruction of the community. We must challenge all attempts to destroy communities under the guise of integration. How are these political strategies an extension of the ways that Indigenous communities have been violently displaced in the name of a “civilizing mission?” Regardless of Mammoliti’s attempts to erase this, Black people are already an integral part of Toronto, and Jane and Finch is as Toronto as Danforth, downtown and the Beach.
Anti-Black racism in the City’s political establishment
While Mammoliti later claimed that he is “only” referring to ‘criminals’ and ‘drug-dealers’ as ‘cockroaches’, his comments were directed at members of a predominantly Black and racialized community. We are concerned that the city’s political establishment has laid the foundations for these views. Most recently, the Mayor John Tory, described Black people as ‘sewer rats’, a statement that seemingly has gone unchallenged by most of the city council. As journalist and activist Desmond Cole notes, John Tory’s use of dehumanizing language is particularly reserved for young Black men accused of crimes (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-mayor-john-tory-playground-gunman-sewer-rats-no-apology-1.4741055). Elsewhere, Cole reflects upon how Toronto’s political establishment and police treat White ‘criminals’ with much more humane and affectionate language(https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2016/12/21/the-power-of-being-preppy-cole.html)
Mammoliti himself has been investigated for corruption in the form of selling city land, donations from developers (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/opp-probing-possible-criminal-activity-in-aborted-12m-toronto-parking-authority-land-deal-1.4502697), and for private fundraisers (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/coun-giorgio-mammoliti-under-police-investigation-for-fundraiser-1.2767081). Consider also that the Ford family was reported to have drug dealing and gang connections in their upscale Etobicoke neighbourhood (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/globe-investigation-the-ford-familys-history-with-drug-dealing/article12153014/). Has John Tory or others referred to any of them as cockroaches, nits, or rats? Does their segregated neighbourhood need to be demolished, the residents better integrated into mixed-race and mixed-class Toronto? And if not, why not?
City Council cannot sit by as Councillors and the Mayor make these comments.
How Canadian media is enabling and reproducing the violence
We also note with great alarm that the mainstream media accepts rather than challenges the violence of Mammoliti’s comments. For example, Mammoliti’s reference to people as ‘criminals’ and ‘cockroaches’ are uncritically repeated (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/mammoliti-cockroach-comments-1.4786586). Further, the re-circulating and normalizing of Rebel as a ‘right wing’ forum, as opposed to hate media plays into the hands of White nationalist propaganda. We call on the members of Canadian media to challenge this language and how it assists in the spread of hate and dehumanization.
Not stopping at statements
The School of Social Work, York University, is committed to social justice, and politically informed social analyses and Social Work practices. We strongly reject this call to violence and hatred towards members of the Jane and Finch community. We also reject Mammoliti’s invitation to imagine those labelled ‘criminals’ as non-humans. A number of Black scholars, writers and activists as well as a group of doctors and health researchers have already issued powerful critiques of these types of comments (see: https://nowtoronto.com/news/gun-violence-john-tory-doug-ford/; see: https://nowtoronto.com/news/john-tory-gun-violence-racism/). We must continue to challenge racist hate mongering hiding under the guise of care and integration. As such, we invite members of various communities and organizations across the city of Toronto to sign this statement in support of the following calls for action:
•We demand a full, formal apology from the office of Councillor Mammoliti
•We demand that Toronto’s City Council pays attention to political hate speech and takes appropriate actions
•We call on the broader social and human services to actively reject and speak out against such hate speech against the communities we are parts of
School of Social Work, York University
Please click on the following link to sign the statement: Sign the statement