Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people; action, self reliance, the vision of self, and the future has been the only means by which the oppressed has seen and realized the hope of their own freedom.
From The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans (published 1986)
This Garvey quote was a favourite of Pan-African, anti-racist activist Dudley Laws who transitioned to be with the ancestors on Thursday, March 24. Laws was a great admirer of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and often quoted Garvey. Like Garvey, Laws was born in Jamaica, lived in England and North America and was a tireless advocate for equity in the education system, health-care system, justice system, labour movement, housing etc., In 1972, a few years after moving to Toronto from England (1965), Laws became the President of the Universal African Improvement Association (UAIA) which was located at 355 College Street. In 1938 Garvey established the School of African Philosophy at 355 College Street, a site the organization had owned since 1919 according to the documented history of the Kensington area. The 8th International Convention of UAIA was held at their 355 College Street property from August 1 to 17, 1838. Laws would have been a four year old child living in Jamaica at that time. However like his hero Garvey, Laws was a freedom fighter and the founder of organizations that advocated for the civil rights of Africans from which other racialized and marginalized people benefited.
While living in England (1955-1965) Laws co-founded the Brixton Neighbourhood Association (the Executive Director was Mr. Courtney Laws) and the Standing Conference of the West Indies. These groups were necessary to combat the rabid racism to which Africans were subjected in Britain. Most of the Africans in Britain at that time were British subjects, citizens of countries colonized by Britain. The violent, white supremacist Teddy Boys were only part of the problems that many Africans who immigrated to Britain the “mother country” faced. They also faced systemic racism in the workplace, transportation system, health-care, housing etc., Dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson has written and performed several pieces (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq9OpJYck7Y, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls9pSdVFaJU&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4QCYQfov6I&feature=related) about that reality.
In Toronto Laws co-founded the Black Youth Community Action Project (BYCAP), Black Inmates & Friends Assembly (BIFA) and the Black Action Defence Committee. The organization with which he was most familiarly associated is the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC), which he co-founded in 1988 (with Charles Roach, Sherona Hall and Lennox Farrell), after several African Canadian men had been killed by Toronto police. Laws served as its executive director until 2011.
Like his hero Garvey, Laws was persecuted by the authorities. Garvey had been under constant surveillance by the FBI because of his uncompromising stance that his people deserved to be treated as human beings, the equal of the white people who wielded power in every area. Garvey was the victim of FBI sabotaging of his work which eventually led to imprisonment and deportation from the USA. While the American government agency was successful in framing Garvey and obtaining a wrongful conviction, the Canadians did not enjoy the same success with Laws. Following the spate of police killing of African Canadian men Laws referred to them as "the most brutal and murderous in North America." In May, 1991 the Metro Toronto Police Association launched a multi-million dollar law suit against Laws for defamation. In April, 1994 the police dropped the suit even though a trial was set for May.
On October 15, 1991, Laws was arrested after a four-month undercover police operation that included video surveillance and phone wiretaps. The operation involved 30 staff of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Metropolitan Toronto Police with a budget of $400,000. In a February 1994 jury trial, Laws was found guilty of conspiring to violate U.S. and Canadian immigration laws and sentenced to a nine-month jail term. The evidence against Laws at the trial was presented by four undercover agents. During the trial documented evidence (compiled by the Metro Toronto Police Intelligence Services in April 1989) of police surveillance of 18 individuals including Laws and 13 groups who were active in the fight against police brutality, racism and apartheid in South Africa surfaced.
Even though the government and police secured a conviction against Laws in the trial, there continued to be widespread public support for Laws in his uncompromising stance as a Pan-African activist opposed to police brutality. The revelations of police spying on antiracist political activists seemed to weaken the government's case against Laws. On September 10, 1998 the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of 1994 because Laws had not received a fair trial as the judge and prosecutors had three private meetings to discuss police wiretap evidence from which Laws and his lawyers were excluded. On October 14, 1998 prosecutors dropped the charges against Laws, who agreed to perform 200 hours of community service.
Laws and his supporters were convinced that he was the victim of an entrapment operation as part of a police attempt to intimidate and silence him because of his vocal opposition to police brutality. In the tradition of generations of African freedom fighters Laws was a warrior to the end. He attended countless meetings at schools with parents whose children had been subjected to racial profiling, he was a support to family members of marginalized people who were railroaded into the criminal justice system/prison industrial complex and he attended numerous wakes and funerals of people who were victims of violence whether from others in their communities or police violence. An outspoken critic of police brutality it is not surprising that he was victimized by police. With his trademark black beret and full beard (the beard gradually became white) Laws was a well known figure, always enthusiastically welcome at any demonstration or event for human rights. Only in photographs will we see Brother Dudley, black beret set “just so” and the white beard. Ricardo Keane (Brother Power,) Hewitt Loague and other members of BADC established Dudley Laws Day in May, 2001. Several Dudley Laws Day celebrations were held at Brother Power’s home before moving to the Northwood Community Centre and in 2010 to the Lawrence Heights Community Centre.
Like our late warrior sister Sherona Hall, Laws would chant down Babylon with this song that I will forever associate with him:
By the rivers of Babylon
Where we sat down
There we wept
When we remembered Zion
For the wicked
Carried us away captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a
So let the
Words of our mouths
and the meditations of our hearts
be acceptable in Thy sight