Reliving Historical Injustice

By 11 Division,
Toronto Police Service
Published: 10:22 a.m. May 2, 2018

A group of police officers and students marked the 55th anniversary of the writing of the Letter from the Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 16, 2018.

A man in TPS uniform sitting in a corridor with students
Superintendent Heinz Kuck in the cells at the old 11 Division station marking the 55th anniversary the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. letter from the Birmingham Jail 

The Letter from Birmingham Jail, was an open letter written by King  to defend the strategy of nonviolent protests against racism occurring in the Southern States during the Civil Rights era. King wrote that people have a moral responsibility to confront unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting for justice to come through the courts. Responding to being referred to as an "outsider," King wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".

“To commemorate the anniversary of the writing of the letter, six students from Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School were invited through our School Resource Officer Basil Fernandes to live the moment vicariously," said Superintendent Heinz Kuck, of 11 Division. “This was an exercise in civics, in civil liberties, and in history. It was a moment for our young community leaders to look at social justice through King’s lens of peace through non-violence.”

The students: Tanya Bastiao, Miguel Garcia, Lana Medeiros Silva, Andrew Melo, Lianna Theodros and Joshua Ybay all received copies of King's letter, and the group met at the old 11 Division station cells. 

Once “imprisoned,” students discussions were facilitated by Kuck. They spoke of King's role in changing history and how, through lessons learned, they too can be the voices of peace makers in their school, their neighbourhoods and the city. Each student also had a moment of reflection, within a single cell, to write, as King did, on the margins of their letter on the power of resilience, peace and empathy as being the touchstones of the future.

“Yesterday was a great experience for our students.”  said Sinead Maloney, their teacher at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School. “Beforehand, they knew about Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for justice, but they didn't know very much about his Letter from Birmingham Jail. By the end of the day, however, they had read the letter, discussed it, related it to their own lives, and reflected on the perpetual relevance of King's message. Most importantly, they got the chance to contemplate what it was really like for King writing this letter in jail 55 years ago. The abandoned cells at the old 11 Division building provided the perfect setting in which to allow King's voice and spirit to inspire young people once more and to remind them that it is their responsibility to stand up against injustice whenever they might come across it.”

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