Last Sunday, approximately 10 000 people took to the streets of Montreal demanding justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence. This Sunday there’s another local protest against police brutality.
Before we go any further, I’d like to address what I knew every newscast would lead with the following day right after it happened: Yes, there was some looting. A bit of looting and some broken windows, nothing that should detract from the valid and necessary reason so many people were out, social distancing as much as possible during a pandemic.
Lenny Lanteigne, owner of Steve’s Music Store, the main target of the looters last Sunday, gets it. He told CTV that he thinks the protest was necessary and while he’s obviously not thrilled people stole his inventory, he knows what’s important. “They’re guitars, not human lives.”
In the US currently, there’s a strong argument that some of the rioting is actually quite necessary to be heard and affect change. In just over a week, the story changed from “the cops are fired” to “we’ve arrested one cop and charged him with third-degree murder” to (just yesterday) “we’re charging him with second-degree murder and the three cops who stood by with aiding and abetting second degree murder”.
The looting last Sunday in Montreal, though, came across more like a mini hockey riot with mostly white dudes using the opportunity to steal stuff than something tied into the message of police racism. The SPVM officers kneeling to put on their riot gear before teargassing the crowd (which preceded the looting), though, was a small reminder that the police here aren’t really all that different than those in the states.
We’ve Got A Long List Too
The protest last Sunday may have been in solidarity with demonstrations across the US and now across the world, but it was also demanding justice for victims of racist police violence in Canada and Montreal too. For every George Floyd or Eric Garner, there’s a Regis Korchinski-Paquet or Fredy Villanueva.
We also have a serious problem with Canadian police indiscriminately brutalizing Indigenous people. From the so-called “starlight tours” out west to a recent local incident next to Cabot Square where a Native woman in distress had to deal with 17 cops and the SPVM (Montreal Police) canine unit before getting an ambulance, it seems like our police don’t think that Native Lives Matter.
Or Black Lives, apparently.
In a CBC study of fatal encounters with police of all levels across Canada over 17 years, Black and Indigenous people were seriously over-represented when compared to the overall population. Meanwhile a 2019 report commissioned by the City of Montreal revealed that the SPVM was four to five times more likely to stop Black or Indigenous people than whites.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did admit that Canada has a problem with police racism, after 21 seconds of awkward, probably staged, silence, while dodging a question about US President Donald Trump. Of course, anything that came after the 21 seconds, he knew, would get lost in the shuffle.
Quebec Premier François Legault, while supporting the protest, denied that systemic racism exists in Quebec. This from the man that, pre-pandemic, was all about systemically discriminating against minorities through Bill 21.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, to her credit, admitted that systemic discrimination does exist in our city. The question now becomes what she is going to do to fight it.
After initially opposing outfitting police with body cameras, she now says it will happen as soon as possible. This is largely due to pressure from boroughs like Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce and the public.
The Spotlight and the Shadows
Body cameras on police would be a welcome improvement, because unlike their counterparts south of the border, our police are camera-shy when it comes to race-based brutality. This helps our political leaders propagate the lie that violent and murderous police racism is a shameful American problem, but there are only a few bad apples here.
In the US, violent racist cops are brazen and kill in the daylight, either not caring who is watching or filming or hoping to be the next white supremacist champion or MAGA hero. George Zimmerman has fans and he wasn’t even trained.
Here, they’re just as brutal, but know to avoid the spotlight as much as possible. For the person on the receiving end, though, the result is the same.
With the only real-world empire most of us have ever known burning before our eyes and crumbling into a failed state, the kind the US would usually think of invading, it’s easy to get distracted. When we see peaceful protesters teargassed and assaulted by gleeful cops, it’s easy to forget that we have problems here too,
Solidarity with those fighting to get out from under Trump’s boot is essential, but remember that the underlying problem of racist police violence is a Canadian one, too.
The next Montreal Anti-Police Brutality Protests starts Sunday, June 14th at 11am at Place Emilie-Gamelin
Photos by IK (see the album)