On Thursday night, I was riding the metro home from a vernissage in the Plateau. I got on the Orange Line at Sherbrooke with a plan to get off at Villa Maria and take the bus from there.
I was reading a book as I tend to do on public transit, riding what felt like an ordinary metro ride. In between Vendome and Villa Maria I noticed two white male STM security members walking purposefully toward someone. I turn and see a young black man holding a pink soccer ball near the accordion section connecting the metro car I was on with the next.
I saw the two men question the third aggressively. My heart pumping, I debated whether to say something or intervene.
I ultimately decided that it was none of my business but as I got off the train, that quickly changed. I’d only taken a few steps when I heard a scuffle.
I turned around and saw the two STM security guards slamming the man into the concrete wall of Villa Maria metro’s Cote Vertu direction platform. I was not person who took the video you may have already seen, Nzo Hodges deserves credit for that, but I was right behind him when it all happened:
I later heard reports from the STM that the young man was resisting, but what I saw was him trying to protect his head and face and escape from two men hitting and tackling him.
He tried to get away, but a grip on his leg pulled the guy back down. I saw the man on his back, his head close to the tracks, palms up in surrender, asking the STM cops to stop hitting him, that it was hurting him, as the two men stood over him, batons menacingly raised.
The guy was clearly surrendering, yet one of the STM cops still thought it necessary to whack him in the legs with his baton. When the next train came, the young man used the distraction it caused to make a break for it, and I was relieved for him, but I was also scared.
As I made my way up the escalator, I saw two white female STM guards running up it, presumably to assist their colleagues. I worried for the man because it’s been so cold the past few days, and he’d lost his coat in the shuffle.
I heard that he was causing a disturbance, but I didn’t notice him on the metro until he was approached by the two STM security guards. I heard he was blocking the passageway, but there were other riders doing so who were not questioned or reprimanded by STM security that night.
From the body language of the latter, it felt like they were looking for a fight. I’m no expert on law enforcement, but I know that people who are allegedly trained to keep the peace have a responsibility to keep a situation from escalating to violence. I saw no attempt by the two STM officers to do so.
If the young man had truly done something wrong, they could have written him a ticket, issued him a fine, and let him go. Instead they chose violence, and for that they should be held accountable, which is why I’ve come forward about what I saw. If it gets the victim justice, it was worth it.
A few years ago, following the Michael Brown shooting, FOX News host Sean Hannity explained that he never has problems with police because when he gets pulled over, he simply informs the officer that he is licensed to carry a firearm and it’s in the car. Philando Castile did just that and was murdered by a police officer in front of his girlfriend and her young child.
Castile, by all accounts, was a pillar of his community, well loved by hundreds of children at the school where he worked, not to mention their parents, his colleagues, friends, family and, of course Lavish Reynolds, his girlfiend. A woman who, after witnessing her boyfriend get shot, was able to muster the strength to go live on Facebook and show the world what had just happened.
Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Castile probably didn’t know what the public now knows about him. All he had to go on was that Castile had a busted tail light, was riding with a woman and a small child, had informed him that he was carrying a licensed firearm and was reaching for something.
Could it be his registration? It would make sense. That is what you’re supposed to show the police when they pull you over, after all.
Could it be his gun? Why? Why would someone take the time to inform an officer that they are carrying a legal firearm if their plan was to whip it out and shoot? Why would someone riding with a small child be likely to kill over a busted taillight?
Why would a police officer jump to this unlikely conclusion and shoot before even telling the person to freeze? Truth is they wouldn’t if it was Sean Hannity in the car, or if it was me or most white people.
Castile, though, was a black man. When it comes to black men and sometimes black women and children, it’s sadly all too common for police to shoot first and hope nobody asks questions later.
Not Close to an Isolated Incident
There would have been significantly fewer questions when Baton Rouge police murdered Alton Sterling just a day before Yanez shot Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota. However, a group called Stop the Killing had caught the whole thing on video and had the forethought to wait for the police to tell their side of the story before showing the world what really happened.
Sterling was selling CDs outside of a convenience store and allegedly pointed a gun at someone who called the police. According to the convenience store owner who witnessed the shooting, the police were aggressive from the start and quickly escalated the situation. Sterling was complying with them and never went near his weapon which he was licensed to carry.
The cellphone video shows police yelling at Sterling to get to the ground and then tackling him almost immediately. One officer shouts “he’s got a gun!” This was in reference to the firearm the officer had found in his pocket, not a weapon Sterling was brandishing or even going near. Hearing this, the other officer shot Sterling in the chest.
Two black men murdered by police in two days. A record? Hardly. Two black men murdered by police in two days and the public has video proof. That is new, and a reminder that filming cops is not just a right but a civic duty.
NRA Double Standard
Both victims were also legal gun owners. After much pressure the National Rifle Associaton (NRA) released this statement, which didn’t even reference what happened to Sterling:
“The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”
The NRA’s reluctance to rush to the defense of black men who legally owned firearms when we all know that they would have been all over the stories if the gun owners had been white is not at all surprising. While I’m not a fan of open carry laws in general and think no one has a legit reason to own an AR-15, this video shows just who the Second Amendment applies to and doesn’t, at least in the eyes of law enforcement:
Dallas Doesn’t Change Anything
As I was writing this, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against these two most recent murders were happening in cities all across the United States (and still are a few days later). In Dallas, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Afghanistan War veteran with sniper skills who was not a part of the march turned the peaceful protest into a bloodbath shooting twelve police officers, killing five.
According to Dallas Police Chief David Brown:
“The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter. He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. He was upset at white people. He wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
While Johnson did attain his goal of killing white police officers, he also shifted mainstream media focus away from the recent police killings he claimed he was upset by. Instead of simply chalking this up to the work of a spree killer with easy access to firearms, the training to use them properly and a likely case of PTSD, quite a few people in the media, online and at least one former politician decided to use this to attack BLM, despite this statement that they do not support murder:
This is already being used by some and will undoubtedly continue to be used to push a #bluelivesmatter agenda. There are three huge problems with this.
First, cops choose to be cops, people don’t choose to be a particular race, so the comparison is nowhere near valid. Second, the hashtag was created specifically to reinforce the notion that police are entitled to murder black people, despite being disguised as some sort of BS equalizer. Third, according to politicians, the media and mainstream thinking, police lives do matter and to some, matter more than others.
The shooting in Dallas is being treated as a national tragedy. Prominent voices on the right and even the supposed left equate an attack on police with an attack on everyone. The President is even cutting his trip short to visit Dallas, something he didn’t do for any of the black victims of police shootings.
Police were attacked by one spree killer who is now dead. Black people are under constant attack by an officially sanctioned paramilitary force that has killed and continues to kill them with impunity. Systemic racism is a real thing that’s alive and well in police forces across the Western world.
No, All Lives Are Not Dealing with this Right Now
If you think we should be saying #alllivesmatter, then you’re missing the point entirely, either intentionally or because you just don’t get it. This kitchen table analogy should explain how you’re basically the person railing against a cancer fundraiser by screaming that other diseases matter, too or this cartoon dude:
I’m white and I don’t think for a second that my life doesn’t matter because I say #blacklivesmatter, I know that my life mattering is not in dispute. I know that if I had been driving that car with a busted tail light instead of Philando Castile, I’d probably still be alive right now.
Sure, police kill white people without a valid reason, too, but they do it nowhere near as frequently as they murder black people. 26% of Americans killed by police are black, though only 13% of the population are. The ratio of unarmed black men killed by police versus unarmed white men in the US is six to one (and I got those stats from a right-wing website trying to argue, badly, just the opposite point while doing their best to misinterpret Washington Post numbers).
I know my life matters, I don’t need to scream it. I know that Black Lives Matter and I feel it’s important to let everyone know. It’s not an either-or situation. It is a dire situation that needs to be addressed and fixed now.
Now, sadly not now more than ever, it’s important to keep saying Black Lives Matter.
Looks like the Sûreté du Québec (SQ)’s union have a new strategy for dealing with the allegations of systemic police abuse against aboriginal women: sue the ones who made them.
Seven months after Radio-Canada (French CBC)’s program Enquête aired shocking testimonies of aboriginal women describing widespread abuse of SQ officers in Val d’Or, charges could finally be filed…against Radio Canada. The Journal de Montréal is reporting that The Association des policiers et policières provinciaux du Québec (APPQ) voted in favour of suing the national broadcaster during a congress held last week.
APPQ Communication officer Laurent Arel denied that the mandate specifically targets Radio Canada. According to him, the members voted “for the association to give itself the means of defending the rights of its members,” but FTB is still awaiting specifications about what those means could entail and what rights did Radio Canada threaten. Arel didn’t confirm nor deny that a lawsuit is on the table.
Growing Evidence and Lack of Police Progress
Politicians and the public called for an inquiry following Enquête’s bombshell report. Eight SQ officers were suspended and Montreal’s police force (SPVM) was chosen as “an independent entity” to investigate the allegations.
Since the original report aired, Enquête received a growing numbers of alarming new testimonies from aboriginal women all across the province, allowing them to do a follow-up report in March. Despite this, the SPVM has yet to pursue any criminal charges.
Some will argue that lack of SPVM action proves how unreliable Enquête’s findings are, which incidentally provides grounds for a defamation lawsuit. But such an argument would have to ignore how often this is the unsurprising outcome of police investigating police actions.
The SQ union initially and fervently opposed the opening of any public inquiry, arguing instead that body cameras and electric Tasers were the only changes they needed to implement to improve their relations with aboriginal communities. Now that they may be suing Radio-Canada, we’re left with a heavy question: are they more interested in preventing these stories from getting out or preventing their officers from abusing native women?
Quebec police forces have come under fire recently in light of the crisis brewing in Val D’Or. Sûreté du Québec officers have been accused of harassing native women in the area for over a decade, engaging in such heinous behaviors as beatings and sexual assault and harassment.
Not surprisingly, the native communities in the area have had enough and are now demanding that their abusers be held accountable for their actions. The magnitude of the crisis and its ensuing strain on First Nations’ and Government officials has been so great that Quebec Public Safety Minister Lise Thériault has taken a leave of absence for health reasons.
The First Nations are fed up with being abused by the police and they are demanding a public inquiry, detailed investigations into the deaths of aboriginal women, and most importantly given the circumstances, the removal of the eight officers under investigation for these allegations, at least until a conclusion is reached regarding their guilt or innocence. These officers are still currently working in the area.
The demands of the Native leaders look like reasonable ways of reducing racial profiling and protecting the most vulnerable people in Val D’Or. However, holding officers accountable in Quebec is extremely difficult.
In Quebec, police forces are regulated under the Police Act (the Act) and the Code of Ethics of Quebec Police Officers (the Code).
Police officers have to obey the law like everyone else. The problem arises with what happens if they do something they shouldn’t when acting as a police officer.
The Code dictates that officers must act in such a way that preserves “the confidence and consideration” required by their duties and cannot use abusive language, be disrespectful or impolite, and more importantly they can’t “commit acts or use injurious language based on race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political convictions, language, age, social condition, civil status, pregnancy, ethnic or national origin, a handicap or a means to compensate for a handicap” (article 5). They can’t use greater force than necessary to perform their duties of maintaining peace and public security, nor can they harass, intimidate, threaten, or bring unfounded charges against anyone, things Quebec police forces have been accused of for decades.
How are complaints against police handled?
Quebec’s Police Ethics Commissioner is chosen from among members of the Quebec Bar Association and answers to the Provincial Government. The rules for lodging and handling complaints are suspicious at best and seem to be geared towards protecting officers, not victims. Some of these questionable rules and practices include:
Referring the complaint to an “appropriate police force” for the purposes of a criminal investigation if a crime might have been committed.
Complaints regarding police ethics expire one year after the date of the event or knowledge of the event that resulted in the complaint.
The complainant and the police officer or officers involved in the complaint must participate and be present at conciliation proceedings. The conciliator is designated by the Commissioner.
Once a solution is found and both the complainant and the police officer(s) involved sign the settlement, the complaint is deemed withdrawn and will never appear in the personal record of the officer(s) involved.
Quebec’s Police Ethics Commissioner can decide not to investigate a complaint if he or she decides the complaint “frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith” or if he or she decides no further investigation is necessary.
At the end of an investigation into a complaint, the Commissioner can choose to dismiss the complaint for being frivolous, vexatious, has no foundation in law, or due to lack of evidence. The Commissioner can also decide at the end of an investigation whether or not to report an officer to the Police Ethics Committee for discipline, and whether or not to refer the case to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions.
If you were wronged by a police officer it’s only natural that the organization he works for is going to do its best to protect him. That’s why referring a complaint to a police force looks like a perfect way to create bias in favor of the officer(s).
There is currently no independent force working to investigate complaints regarding criminal acts committed by police officers. Though an independent bureau was created last year and the government has even named its director, the bureau isn’t operating yet and the Commissioner has an awful lot of discretion whether or not to investigate or even accept a complaint. Too much unchecked discretion has historically proven to be a bad thing.
The one year expiration date of the right to lodge a complaint is extremely problematic given that the victims of crimes like sexual assault have difficulty coming forward due to the stigma involved. It’s especially problematic given that proceedings require the presence of both parties. Anyone who’s been sexually assaulted knows how difficult it is to face your attacker.
The fact that a settlement will result in the complaint being removed from the officer’s personal record seems like too much of a free pass for the offender. The fact that a settlement is reached in a given situation doesn’t mean that a complaint was unfounded and should be withdrawn. It often just means that the victim doesn’t want any more trouble. A more sensible rule would be to let the severity of the act determine how long the complaint stays in an officer’s file.
Until the rules are changed to reflect a more common sense approach to how the police are policed, Canada’s most vulnerable people will have to watch their backs. If they have to watch their backs to prevent abuse from the very people sworn to protect them, we seriously need to rethink how we train our police forces, and actually hold them to their obligation to act in an ethical way thus ensuring the confidence of the people they serve.
“Enough is enough” was the message of the silent demonstration on June 8th. More than 30 demonstrators met in front of the SPVM headquarters in Downtown Montreal to express their frustration with police violence and brutality. Among the participants were people who had been brutalized by the police – one still had his arm in a cast.
Initially, the group met on the sidewalk in front of the Montreal Maison Symphonique. Twenty or so minutes after 6 p.m. officers from across the street came by and announced that they would respect the “protestors’ right to demonstrate,” but they would not “tolerate any criminal activity or the obstruction of traffic.”
Afterwards, the demonstrators voted to move across the street and sit directly in front of SPVM’s doors; where a dozen or so officers were blocking entrance. Silently and peacefully, the protestors sat down right in front of the officers – for almost four hours.
Check out our report below to hear more about and from the protest. In addition, you can see photos from the event, as well.
In our second FTB Podcast, we discuss Printemps 2015, Quebec’s new student protest against austerity. Also, the role of the US, the UN and austerity in the coup in Ukraine. Plus, our first Montreal Community Calendar.
Last Tuesday on November 11, 2014, more than thirty people gathered in front of the Mexican Consulate in Montreal to hold a solidarity vigil for the 43 students who went missing on September 26 in Ayotzinapa.
The students were protesting against what they considered discriminatory hiring and funding practices from the government. This was followed by a shootout with the police, after which the students were rounded up into police cars. No one has seen them ever since.
According to John Ackerman, however, government officials have confirmed the version which had previously been leaked by whistleblowers that the 43 students were burned alive for over 12 hours in an enormous bonfire without anyone intervening. Although some reports do say that the remains found did not belong to the 43 students. You can read more about details that put the events into a broader context here.
There were around 30 people at the vigil, and at least five to six police cars. At one point, the demonstrators symbolically took attendance, by calling out the names of the 43 missing students, and then responding in unison, “Present!”
“El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido,” the demonstrators also chanted. A people united shall never be defeated.