05 Jan Why Andrew Burger Should Be Regarded As A HERO
I believe in looking at every angle, every little detail of a story before making a informed opinion. Even when I make a hasty judgement stemming from emotions, I still have the ability to look for clarity and truth and revise my thoughts. That’s why I consider Toronto local Andrew Burger a hero. I have a number of reasons why I came to this conclusion. First things first, let me familiarize you with this man and the situation.
I’ll start off with a police account of what happened. On November 27 2015, a Toronto police officer was assigned to an LCBO near Jane and Wilson as a security guard. This is a predominately black community and I’m very familiar with the area, I went to an elementary school near by from JK to grade 8. The officer’s job mainly was to make sure customers produced proper ID if warranted and prevent any theft from anyone inside the store. This officer observed a young man named Marquel Johnson being “fidgety”. After the young man failed to produce ID, he was kicked out the store and the officer followed him outside.
It was not explained by police why the altercation escalated. The officer says he was struck by Johnson and he took him down and tried to subdue him because he was resisting. This is when Andrew Burger comes in including people in the immediate area to observe the scene. The officer says Andrew Burger was intervening with arrest while the crowd watching was shouting obscenities at him. Toronto police representatives said people watching the scene were acting unruly and this was dangerous for the officer. He arrested Johnson and charged him with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. Burger wasn’t charged at this time, not until 5 days later when a video of the incident went viral through social media and the mainstream news.
Andrew Burger called a press conference on Dec 1st to give his side of the story. He said he wasn’t intervening but he got involved because he thought he was saving a life. Marquel Johnson said he couldn’t breathe and Burger was concerned about how the officer was handling the young man. While I was going through the comment section on CBC website and CTV/CBC Facebook comments when they broke the story, I wasn’t surprised that the majority of white Torontonians had already sided with the officer. Some of the comments simply patted this officer on his back and concluded Burger deserved jail time. Others went over the top saying Burger was lying about Johnson’s pleas and was lucky this officer restrained himself by using minimal force. A few also said “if you can say you can’t breathe, you can breathe.”
All these comments showed me 2 things. Their lack of knowledge or empathy towards the Eric Garner case and general attitude of how white people think about non-white interactions with police. They weren’t willing to look for the full story other than the TPS version. Several white people who did think critically about how the officer acted was attacked by the cyber mob, being told things like” you shouldn’t breed” or “you’re a disgrace to society.” Huffington Post had the most positive comments but it also had the lowest total number of comments and positive white people still receiving criticism as being anti-police. White privilege is very real, this is not a fantasy board game designed for the race card. It is true that some white people in this city do understand this concept, unfortunately it seems like there is a majority not ready to acknowledge this reality.
CTV news, Huffington Post and Toronto Sun posted a third party account of what happened that day on their website. According to Ajith Thala, the attitude and behavior of the officer before the altercation shows hostility, already in a community as a whole that distrusts police. It’s obvious the officer had no respect for the people of this community. No one is expecting this man to smile and be everyone’s best friend. At the same time, why act the complete opposite, making himself miserable and everyone around him uncomfortable? It is also evident that the officer was the aggressor and managed to injure himself on the head while taking Marquel Johnson down. It’s clear to me that this officer brought this ordeal on himself but because he enforces the law, Andrew Burger and Marquel Johnson will pay the price for it. This officer clearly had issues and was unfit to serve and protect any black community period.
Toronto police could have easily avoided this problem with some smart deployment. A minority officer would have been a better deal in this community. It seems like minorities that make up the force could be an issue itself. As of 2014, 49% of minorities make up Toronto’s population but only 23% make up the Toronto police force. All they needed was one officer without the attitude to march in the community and treat it like enemy territory. You have a toxic situation when law enforcement occupies a community that already has bad relations with police.
This issue was finally given a lot more clarity when Andrew Burger gave an interview on *G 98.7 radio to give his account of what happened. To briefly sum up the interview, Andrew Burger said the moment the law was being enforced on him, he still respected police. He feels even after being arrested, he won’t turn against the TPS after this incident. He mentioned he doesn’t care about the outcome of the case and whatever comes to him he will accept it as a law abiding citizen.
He heard about the commotion outside, between the officer and Johnson. He owns a clothing store right in between the LCBO and Subway where the incident took place. Andrew Burger states that he witnessed the officer throw an uppercut and Johnson went down. The same officer who is being labeled as a “hero” for showing restraint in the comments section by people who believe police can do no wrong. Next, the officer takes him down ending up on top and places Johnson’s hood over his head and knee on his back, neck area. At that moment Johnson says he can’t breathe.
This is when Andrew Burger goes in to talk to the officer and Ajith Thala starts recording. You can’t hear what Burger is saying over the shouting from the crowd in the video. According to Andrew Burger, he begs the officer “Please officer please let me help you arrest him!” Next he pleads “Officer stop because what you’re doing isn’t right!” It doesn’t take training in the police academy to know choking this man to death was unwarranted and this is what provoked the crowd. Andrew Burger tried to help get Marquel Johnson up with the officer but the officer wasn’t allowing him. Burger wasn’t trying to free Johnson or even stop the arrest. After the officer allowed Johnson up, Burger held on to him so he wouldn’t run away.
Shortly after, some officers that Burger knew personally arrived to the scene. He gave his account of what happened and the other officers went over to the arresting officer and talked to him. Of course what happened next wasn’t part of any of the news stories that I’ve read. Andrew Berger received an apology from the arresting officer. Nothing was made of the incident that evening. 5 days later after the video spread and mainstream media skewed the situation, about 15 officers came to his home to arrest and charge him with intervening with an arrest. Some officers were telling him it wasn’t their decision to carry out the arrest while they were holding him. This is obviously Toronto police’s way of saving face after the story blew up. They had to maintain authority and keep law and order in check.
Andrew Burger believed he was saving a life but you have most people motivated by media condemning this man, blinded by the notion he was interfering with law enforcement. There was also a very inflammatory report from The Toronto Sun that’s comparable to Fox News with their rhetoric on the situation. This is the latest example of public perception being manipulated by the media. Now some people suggest the timing of the crowd protesting was wrong but WHY should we wait for death or injury before we do something as a community? The young man didn’t die or go to the hospital thanks to Andrew Burger. On a human rights level this man had every right to stop the officer’s vicious method of arrest. I’ve been in crowds watching arrests in the past and we never tried to stop officers doing their jobs because they did their job properly. With cases that involve minorities, the majority of white people’s perception, will sadly become more delusional and out of touch with the times. The only reason for this is they are blinded by privilege and their good standing with police. Their paradigms about policing are becoming increasingly outdated with every issue that springs up from minorities.
Without Andrew Burger coming on G 98.7 radio and talking about what happened that day, this King’s image would have been tarnished with the greater Toronto population. To tell you the truth, I still think many people don’t know what really happened that day. One thing is for sure, the media only painted one kind of picture while Andrew Burger showed the ugly side of Toronto police but also the respect he had for them. Toronto police needs to work more on being transparent with black communities and deal with their bad apples accordingly or else relations will continue to get worse this coming New Year. Andrew Burger is not a thug or a goon but a businessman, Natia Hats and Clothing has been opened for a decade. He was already deeply embedded into the community and had more concern for it naturally, while this officer felt like it was his property to flex his authority. The way white people dismiss the black community’s issues with police happens way too often and has really become a social problem that needs to be examined and eradicated only by becoming more pro-human rights.
Realistically, Black people can’t wait for their attitudes to change collectively. Our sisters and brothers are the ones being under attack by police, media and court of opinions. We can’t estimate how long the majority denying our problems will catch up with the ones that see our struggle. What we can do instead of waiting is be more compassionate for our community’s and everyone in them by getting involved and organized on some basic level. More black people in law enforcement will only be a short term band aid for this specific situation. If we continue to react to each situation instead of being proactive, we will always be a step behind, especially when it comes to public perception.
Without a doubt though, the perception and sincerity of how Mr. Andrew Burger sprang to action is clear. A life was in danger and Burger literally took it in his own hands to save the young man instead of standing by and watching. This could have been another police brutality video caught on film but this one was special and should be a inspiration for us all. If this happened in the States, Burger wouldn’t be here with us right now. Burger had compassion for people in his community that was stigmatized as being anti police without a second thought but that wasn’t going through his mind at the time. That is why Andrew Burger should be regarded as a HERO.
Peace and blessings to all
*Scroll through the page to find the interview with Andrew Burger