On Sunday, May 31st, locals came out by the thousands in support of victims of Police Brutality in Montreal at the Black Lives Matter march. Canada has a reputation for being a multicultural haven of diversity and tolerance. “Meanwhile In Canada” is often used on social media platforms to contrast how Canadians react to social and political issues, in comparison with our neighbours down south. The reality is that Canada is better at hiding its racism and has a deep history of slavery and genocide resulting in issues of discrimination and systematic oppression of Black, Indigenous and people of colour that persist to this day.
The Sixties Scoop, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the Colten Boushie case, the treatment of pipeline protesters, and the deplorable condition of reserves are just a few examples of how indigenous communities have been treated across Canada. The racial profiling and murder of innocent black life by police, along with general systematic oppression of black communities show that Canada has a long way to go in order to claim its status as a world leader of equality.
For black people all across the United States and Canada this past week has been particularly disturbing: On May 25th, police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. On May 24th, Tony McDade was killed in Florida, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet was killed in Toronto on May 20th. Piling on all this, was the incident in Central Park in New York where Amy Cooper used her privilege to have police intervene when a black man named Christian Cooper (no relation), asked her to put her dog on a leash, a requirement in the park.
Montreal has its own history of violence at the hands of police, including decades of racial profiling, abuse, and murder – events which resulted in no concrete action being taken by local government and the SPVM. I myself was a victim of ‘walking while black’, a story covered by the CBC. There is a law on the books stating that it is perfectly legal to walk on the street when sidewalks are precarious. In February 2019, I was given a ticket for walking on a very empty street at 1 am. The sidewalks were frozen solid and were a danger. Although part of the same systemic racism and police brutality in Montreal, my story pales in comparison to the murders of Anthony Griffin, Freddy Villanueva, Pierre Coriolan, and more at the hands of the SPVM.
Taking Action Against Police Brutality in Montreal
The protest May 31st, which drew over 15,000 people, stood strongly against systemic racism and police brutality. It was hosted by Gabrielle Kinté (of Montreal Nord bookstore Racines) and community organizer Stephanie Germain. As well as being presented by Hoodstock (a social forum of Montréal-Nord to channel the anger caused by the assassination of Fredy Villanueva into positive community action) and Toute Le Hood En Parle (an organisation that highlights the testimonies, stories, and cultures of racialized people).
Activist & community organizer Jaggi Singh also helped organize, reaching out to speakers and participants. Speakers included Nakuset Sohkisiwin of the Native Women’s Shelter, artist Daybi Millian of Native Harm Reduction, Social worker, and community organizer Vincent Mousseau, artist and community organizer Elena Stoodley, and myself a multi-disciplinary artist and member of the Inclusion Committee of La Guilde du jeu vidéo du Québec. I had the opportunity to speak about the homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia in the black community by invoking ”All Black Lives Matter”.
The protest was in support of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor (murdered in March at her home by Louisville police while seeking the arrest of someone who was already in custody) and Tony McDade, a murder that went under the radar as murdered black trans people do not get as much attention due to the inherent transphobia in our society and communities.
Peaceful, and at times jubilant, solidarity protests sparked across the U.S. despite the dangers of the coronavirus. Protest speakers and organizers frequently encouraged people to maintain social distance and wear masks. Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto Calgary, and Vancouver held similar protests. However much like the ones in Minneapolis and other American cities, Montreal’s peaceful protest was marred by small groups involved with looting and vandalism.
Who started the riots in the USA? It is frustrating that the messages of resistance, resilience, and a demand for reform and justice get sabotaged, incited by people with very different goals. Protesters in Minneapolis were in many cases heavily armed white men. They showed up destroying property and starting fires.
These armed right-wing groups known as ‘The Boogaloo Movement’ feign sympathy for peaceful protest yet has caused damage that will result in repercussions on local black communities. Forbes reports that “The Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington confirmed evidence of white supremacist groups trying to incite violence; Many posted messages online that encouraged people to go loot in Minneapolis and cause mayhem.”
In Montreal, Steve’s Music Store, a hub for the city’s music scene was looted by a small group of people. The owner was quoted in the Gazette saying:
‘They’re guitars, not human lives’ Montreal merchant says getting looted was worth it to fight racism.
Other businesses were damaged as well. A photographer and his equipment were knocked to the ground by a number of individuals engaged in the robbery of a store. Protestors confronted many of these protest saboteurs as they destroyed property. These reactions were in no way part of the peaceful protest and speeches organized to protest police brutality.
This new dimension of violence and racism from groups that have their own agenda is now making it even more difficult for black communities to seek justice. We will need to organize and plan with future insurrections in mind and work harder to come together as a community.
I also encouraged non-black people of colour, indigenous people and, Europeans, to enact solidarity beyond Facebook posts. To “call out their racist grandma at Christmas.” and hold friends, family, and employers accountable for their discriminatory behaviour. Although the above is helpful, the black community doesn’t leave the protest. It is our day-to-day reality and to win this battle we truly need accomplices-not allies. The former being a white or non-black person who will empower their family and circle of friends to speak out against white supremacy, actively dismantling structures of oppression, whereas allies are an ‘add-on ‘ to the movement and in some cases end up centering themselves in an attempt to amplify black voices.
On the day of the police brutality in Montreal protest, Mayor Valerie Plante tweeted “Demonstrating to denounce racism and demanding that things change is noble and necessary. I can only denounce the actions of the looters who ransacked the shops and who had nothing to do with this peaceful demonstration”.
Noble words, but why did it take protests and riots over police brutality for her to respond in this fashion when we have demanded police accountability for decades? Why didn’t she denounce the disproportionate response to the peaceful part of the protest by police? She can quote Snoop Dogg lyrics all day, but if her love for black culture isn’t backed by action, those words ring hollow.
Addressing Police Brutality in Monreal
It was recently announced that Plante approved bodycams for police beginning in the fall of 2020. This is fantastic news. Perhaps the petitions and our protest influenced her decisions. Now we will see how police use them and if they happen to forget to turn them on or worse, turn them off while on duty. Given the history of bodycams on police officers, these two scenarios seem very likely and a new battle will have to be fought. At the end of the day the police, society, and the government it votes into power must be accountable for racism and the loss of innocent black life. But the Mayor took an important first step towards hearing our concerns and as such the march was a success.
Lateef Martin is a journalist and the Founder/Creative Director of Miscellaneum Studios, a multimedia company with a mandate of diversity and representation both in its teams and entertainment it produces
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