When Mark Austin and Candace Zinkweg visited Dentonia Park two months ago they became the victims of an alleged racist attack that has become infamous in the East York community.
Yesterday, over a three-hour period in the same park, they joined with hundreds from the community at a rally to keep such incidents from continuing.
“We’ve heard so many more stories about racial incidents in this park, so we thought this would be a good step to show there are support systems for you. It’s good to speak up, get your messages out,” said Austin, standing by banner-festooned fencing in the park next to Crescent Town, northwest of Danforth and Victoria Park avenues. “That will keep the racists away, or at least help.”
The Aug. 29 afternoon event, called United Against Hate and Reclaim Dentonia Park, was a “community-building event to raise awareness of racism,” Austin said.
Speaking at the rally along with Austin were Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown, Old’s Cool General Store co-owner Zahra Dhanani, Sultna Jahangir of the South Asian Women’s Rights Organization, and representatives of the United Steelworkers Canada, to which Austin belongs.
Also attending were other local political representatives, including east end councillors Brad Bradford and Paula Fletcher, MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and MPP Peter Tabuns.
The event was limited in size and in what activities it could engage in, due to COVID, and could not get a permit to allow performances, Austin said.
The main activity was putting up signs and banners denouncing hate and racism, preaching love and calling for unity — as well as creating new signs to put up around the park. The city has given organizers permission to leave the signs up.
Even near the end of the event, kids and adults were kept busy creating more signs to be placed higher up, out of reach of people in the area who might want to tear them down, Austin said.
An event on a larger scale is being planned for October, involving diverse community groups, their arts and music, he said.
The June 25 incident that sparked the protest started over a dispute with a female dog owner who allegedly was letting her dog run off-leash when it attacked Austin’s dog. He complained and then became the target of abuse by two other males, he said.
Austin recalled racial slurs and death threats being being thrown at him and his partner by two males, who allegedly attacked them, one of them kicking Zinkweg in the head, sending her to hospital with a concussion.
When the police came, no charges were pressed.
“I think my skin colour was a factor — I don’t think, I know — because how does somebody leave here on a stretcher and you don’t press charges?” Austin said. “I have to get the union involved and social groups involved for you to press charges — some two and a half weeks later?”
A crowd of people protested in front of the 55 Division police station on July 6 and the next day charges were laid against a 25-year-old man and a 26-year-old man.
One man appeared in court on July 8. The other is to appear on Sept. 29.
However, the alleged female assailant has not been charged, Austin noted. “The female who dragged my partner to the ground was not charged.”
During the alleged assault, Austin and Zinkweg noticed about 30 people saw it happen, but not one person came to help, apart from a male who came to their aid near the end.
This is part of the problem the rally is intended to help solve, Austin said. They’ve heard other people’s experiences of of racial incidents in Dentonia Park.
“There’s a problem here. Are people are afraid of the police? Are they afraid of the people who frequent the park? Is there a language barrier?” he asked. “This community is broken and we need to take back this park, start getting the people to come together.”
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