Black Lives Matter Toronto activists were approaching a full 24 hours of protest on Monday afternoon, having spent the night outside of police headquarters in frigid temperatures in protest of a decision by Ontario's police watchdog not to lay charges in the shooting death of a black man last summer.
After eight months of investigation, Ontario's Special Investigations Unit quietly announced on Friday evening that the cop who shot and killed 45-year-old Andrew Loku in July did not exceed "the ambit of justifiable force in the circumstances" and wouldn't face criminal charges.
"This case… connected with many of us in the black community on a deep level," Black Lives Matter organizer Rodney Diverlus told VICE News.
Loku's death at the hands of a police force that has recently been under intense scrutiny for its treatment of people of color sparked public fury in Toronto, especially after reports emerged of the man's history of mental illness.
"Andrew Loku was 45, a father of five, a refugee from South Sudan," said Diverlus. "His story is many of our stories."
The investigation found that on July 5, two police officers were in Loku's apartment hallway, responding to a report that Loku — armed with a hammer — was threatening to kill the caller's friend and refusing to leave her apartment.
The officers had their guns drawn and pointed at Loku, ordering him repeatedly to stop and drop the hammer, said a statement from SIU director Tony Loparco. They were standing eight to nine meters away from Loku when he started walking in their direction.
According to the SIU, Loku continued walking forward while saying "What you gonna do, come on, shoot me," and holding the hammer above his head. When he got within two to three meters of the officer in question, he was shot twice, Loparco wrote.
"I am satisfied that the subject officer fired his weapon believing it to be necessary to thwart an imminent hammer attack and that the officer's apprehensions in this regard were reasonable," he concluded.
Activists gathered in front of city hall on Sunday evening — but just two hours in, police officers on horses arrived to "intimidate" and demand they leave over trespassing, according to Diverlus.
Toronto police spokesperson Allyson Douglas-Cook described it differently, saying that when police told protesters they were trespassing, the group was "very cooperative," showed "no resistance," and agreeing to leave at a certain time.
"That was the extent of the interaction," she said.
But Diverlus said periodic check-ins from cops continued, prompting the group to take their protest straight to police headquarters around 10 pm. They remained through the night and late into the afternoon the next day.
By Monday morning, a group of about 25 people was gathered around a pile of burning wood and covered in blankets to stay warm. Four tents were set up behind them, but the protesters — most of whom had been up all night — remained outside, chanting and singing everything from "No justice, no peace" to Beyonce's "Formation."
The group is demanding the immediate release of the names of the officers who killed Loku and Jermaine Carby, another black man fatally shot by police whose death led to no criminal charges. They're also asking that charges be laid in Loku's death, that footage from inside the apartment building where he was killed be released, an apology and monetary compensation for Loku's family, and a review of the SIU.
"Police have to understand that people's rage is real," said Diverlus. "We're not going to back down as a community. In fact, people are going to block out their lives and stay there all night."
When asked by VICE News, Toronto police declined to comment on the demands.
Diverlus said the SIU's report "absolves the police officers" of killing Luku, tells his family he was "guilty of his own murder" and lets the organization become "the judge, prosecutor, defense, and jury all at once."
"The public won't even know who killed [Loku] or get access to footage from the apartment building he was in," he continued. "That is quite infuriating and validates the fact that in the eyes of Toronto police, black lives are dispensable in this city."
The activists, who said the demonstration was meant to mark the International Day Against Racism, are also demanding the reversal of the city's recent decision to shorten Toronto's Afrofest music festival from two days to one in response to noise complaints and for continuing beyond its permitted time.
The city apparently received eight complaints about the festival, which drew about 60,000 attendees per day, even though it had noise exemption in 2015.
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk