Judge of­fers light sen­tence in black man’s gun crime


Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - adrian HumpHreys

An On­tario judge voices his — and the jus­tice sys­tem’s — strug­gle balanc­ing a public out­cry over gun vi­o­lence with sys­temic racism against young black males in a re­mark­able, lengthy and le­nient judg­ment against a Toronto man caught with a loaded hand­gun af­ter flee­ing po­lice.

“It seems like not a day goes by with­out the me­dia re­port­ing yet an­other gun tragedy, some­times very hor­ri­ble ones. It hap­pens in ev­ery neigh­bour­hood. It hap­pens in my own. None are im­mune from gun vi­o­lence. Peo­ple are right­fully out­raged and be­wil­dered by it. They feel pow­er­less in its on­slaught. Afraid,” writes On­tario Su­pe­rior Court Jus­tice Shaun Nakat­suru in a judg­ment re­leased last week. “My role is to give ex­pres­sion to that fear. To con­demn the crime and those who do it. But it is not my role to give in to that fear, no mat­ter how strongly it seizes the com­mu­nity’s psy­che.

“Rea­son must con­trol emo­tion in sen­tenc­ing. Be­cause in our sys­tem, a sen­tence is not just about the crime. It must be also about the of­fender.”

Over ob­jec­tions from Crown pros­e­cu­tors, Nakat­suru ac­cepted two re­ports, one called Crime, Crim­i­nal Jus­tice and the Ex­pe­ri­ence of Black Cana­di­ans in Toronto, and one de­tail­ing the “so­cial his­tory” of the of­fender, Kevin Mor­ris.

Mor­ris was 22 at the time of his 2014 ar­rest.

Toronto po­lice, re­spond­ing to a home in­va­sion, saw four black men walk­ing in a park­ing lot. An of­fi­cer stopped them but Mor­ris ran. A po­lice car try­ing to cut off his es­cape col­lided with him, but Mor­ris kept go­ing and ditched his jacket with a loaded .38-cal­i­bre re­volver in the pocket.

A jury found him guilty of pos­ses­sion of a loaded, pro­hib­ited firearm and re­lated crimes. The Crown asked for a min­i­mum of four years in prison. His lawyers sought one year be­fore a re­duc­tion for be­ing struck by the po­lice car.

Nakat­suru re­leased his judg­ment with a lengthy ad­den­dum on how so­cial cir­cum­stances of blacks may re­late to crim­i­nal be­hav­iour so “ev­ery judge on ev­ery sen­tenc­ing of a Black of­fender” can con­sider it.

Nakat­suru noted black Cana­dian ex­pe­ri­ences are rooted in colo­nial­ism, slav­ery and seg­re­ga­tion. That per­pet­u­ates sys­temic racism bring­ing neg­a­tive treat­ment by schools, ser­vices, gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and po­lice; dis­parate ed­u­ca­tion, hir­ing and pay help im­pov­er­ish and marginal­ize the com­mu­nity, mak­ing the prob­lem “cycli­cal and com­pound­ing.”

“The con­clu­sion is in­escapable,” the re­port, quoted by Nakat­suru, says — “young Black Cana­di­ans who view the sys­tem as un­just are less likely to be­lieve they should abide by that sys­tem’s rules.”

Mor­ris’s mother and fa­ther came from Ja­maica with mod­est re­sources, court heard. His fa­ther died when Mor­ris was seven and his mother worked to sup­port them, re­quir­ing fre­quent ab­sence while liv­ing in so­cial hous­ing.

His up­bring­ing was “in­flu­enced by the streets.”

Mor­ris found school chal­leng­ing and he was placed in a spe­cial needs school, but felt un­safe cross­ing ri­val neigh­bour­hoods to get there and was of­ten ab­sent, court heard. He didn’t grad­u­ate high school and, when he tried to re­turn as an adult, he dropped out af­ter be­ing stabbed while walk­ing in his neigh­bour­hood, los­ing his spleen and half his pan­creas.

In 2014, he was di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

“Rec­og­niz­ing, as the law must, that in­di­vid­u­als are held re­spon­si­ble for the acts they com­mit that breach the crim­i­nal law, the re­al­ity is that this choice to act may be con­strained by an of­fender’s life cir­cum­stances,” Nakat­suru writes.

The judge con­sid­ered the so­ci­etal back­drop to Mor­ris car­ry­ing a gun and flee­ing po­lice.

“I can un­der­stand why a man of your back­ground, a young Black man, suf­fer­ing from trauma, with such lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties, with feel­ings of de­spair, be­ing in­flu­enced by oth­ers, may think that I will have that gun,” Nakat­suru writes.

Sim­i­larly, he did not see Mor­ris run­ning from po­lice as a rea­son to en­hance his sen­tence, ac­cept­ing “sys­temic is­sues that have led to dis­trust be­tween the po­lice and Black men.”

“I ap­pre­ci­ate not ev­ery young Black child who is sub­ject to the same pres­sures as you makes the choices you did. Noth­ing that I say here should be taken to mean that you did not have a moral choice when you com­mit­ted th­ese crimes. How­ever, what I do say is that your choice was con­strained by th­ese forces.

“The young man who makes the choice to pick up a loaded il­le­gal hand­gun will not likely be a prod­uct of a pri­vate school up­bring­ing who has the se­cu­rity of fall­ing back upon up­per mid­dle class fam­ily re­sources. Rather, he is likely to be a prod­uct of op­pres­sion, de­spair, and dis­ad­van­tage.”

Mor­ris was given a 15-month sen­tence — mi­nus three months for Char­ter vi­o­la­tions (be­ing hit by a po­lice car and be­ing ques­tioned af­ter ask­ing for a lawyer). Nakat­suru ac­knowl­edged his sen­tence is “le­nient” and he is “tak­ing a chance.” He asked Mor­ris not to blow it.

Ear­lier this year, Nakat­suru took racial cir­cum­stances of a black man into ac­count at sen­tenc­ing of Ja­maal Jack­son; urg­ing judges to take ju­di­cial no­tice of sys­temic racism, he re­jected a manda­tory ap­proach that the Supreme Court of Canada re­quires for Indige­nous of­fend­ers.


Paramedics un­load the vic­tim of a shoot­ing in Toronto just af­ter 7 p.m. Sept. 19. He was shot out­side the York Woods Li­brary on Finch Av­enue West near Jane Street. Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.


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