Toronto police chief had 'horrible feeling' in his stomach when he saw what happened to George Floyd

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on Thursday described the hurt he felt when he saw how George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota, adding that the subsequent protests that followed clearly show that “the time is now over for incremental change.”

'It still bothers me. That is not what law enforcement is trained to do,' Chief Mark Saunders says

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders spoke about anti-black racism at a news conference on Thursday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders on Thursday described the hurt he felt when he saw how George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota, adding that the subsequent protests that followed clearly show that "the time is now over for incremental change."

There have been huge protests across the United States and global outrage over the killing of Floyd, with demonstrators repeating chanting, "I can't breathe."

Those were among the last words spoken by Floyd as a now former police officer had his knee to Floyd's neck. That officer now faces a second-degree murder charge.

"There is not any law enforcement officer that I can think of that did not have a horrible feeling in their stomach when they saw what happened to George Floyd," Saunders said at a news conference.

"It still bothers me. I have kids... That is not what law enforcement is trained to do," Saunders said.

"We are there to preserve life. We are there to enhance community safety and when you see that, they all have their day in court, but I was offended by it." 

'People tend to forget'

Saunders also explained that for him, anti-black racism is more than just words, adding that he understands it.

"It's a reality. When you look at North America's history, you have to learn it. You have to own it," he said. 

"So when we talk about lynching, nobody talks about the subject matter. Take 1940 for example ... a black man was hung because he did not address the officer by 'mister.' He said his first name. 

"These types of atrocities have happened, and a lot of people tend to forget that. When they had public lynching, they would be put in the newspaper, 'Tomorrow at 2 p.m. there will be a hanging.' People would put on their Sunday best to watch," he said.

WATCH | Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders about anti-black racism in North America:

Toronto Police chief addresses anti-black racism in North America

2 years ago
Duration 1:49
“Anti-black racism, it's not words, it's a reality,” Toronto police chief Mark Saunders said in a press conference on Thursday.

'There has to be a bigger change'

Saunders said that while things have gotten better, the fact that change has been so "incremental" explains why many are so angry right now. 

"There has to be a bigger change. The community has to have a stronger footprint. We have to change our training processes collectively, and these are things that in this seat I have done. These are things I will continue to do," he said.

"We as members of the Toronto Police Service are also grieving at the recent events. But we are hoping that as a community we can all continue to work together. We will listen, we will continue, through words and action, to help restore any public trust that is fractured, especially when it comes to anti-black racism."

'Near the finish line' for body cameras

Saunders has been an advocate for police officers wearing body cameras, something he said would help when there are controversial incidents. When the Toronto Police Service released its proposed budget for 2020 late last year, it said a part of the requested $1.076 billion would also go toward providing body-worn cameras.

Saunders was asked to provide an update on this at Thursday's news conference.

"We are near the finish line," he said, admitting that this has been a topic of discussion for years. 

"I have wanted body cameras. This adds to transparency between police and community, and having those body cameras will help give an objective account in that situation in those moments. And it is critical. We are near the finish line."

Protests planned for Toronto this weekend 

Saunders also addressed reports that peaceful protests planned for the city this weekend could be infiltrated by other groups with a more violent agenda.

"I've heard this dialogue throughout this whole event. Every protest we've had to date has been peaceful, so I am not going to speculate on what the intentions are," Saunders said. 

"I can tell you that through my front-line officers, the vast majority of people who have gone to the protest in the city of Toronto have been peaceful.

"There is a lot of passion. There is a lot of anger and there is a lot of hope. And I hope that as Torontonians we continue to do that," he said.

"A lot of the members that are at the protests have self-regulated those that were showing up and had a different agenda. We are hoping that that will continue," Saunders added.

"People are coming down because they're protesting, because they're upset and they want change," he said. "We as law enforcement want change."

But if things turn violent at Friday's demonstration, Saunders said his officers are ready. 

"We have the resources necessary to deal with the situations."