Police killings and resistance to systemic asphyxiation

The streets in New York City are alive, filled with rage against the machine and striking solidarity.

Nightly demonstrations are now occupying city streets across the US, from Oakland, to Ferguson, amplifying the growing call for justice, for an end to police impunity, a call for urgent and radical system change.

Viewing this major protest moment unfold from Montréal, reflections quickly turn to the lethal violence of local police forces, the ongoing police killings in our city, resulting in sustained injustice for the families and communities impacted.

Police killings in Montréal are on the rise, highlighting some recent cases below to illustrate this reality.

Farshad Mohammadi, a homeless Iranian refugee, was shot to death by Montréal police while taking shelter from winter winds inside métro Bonaventure in January 2012.

A disproportionate and horrifying police intervention, saw Mohammadi, who traveled to Canada to seek protection as a refugee, shot multiple times in the back by the police according to eyewitnesses. Until today, police forces and related governmental bodies (including the STM) have systematically blocked legal efforts by journalists, echoed by appeals from community activists, to make public the surveillance tape footage of the police shooting.

Donald Ménard, an unarmed, economically marginalized 41-year-old, was shocked to death by a police taser gun at a rooming house in Montréal’s Centre-Sud late last fall.

Accounts on the incident sketch an early evening police intervention, sparked by an emergency call not directly related to Ménard, but concerning a woman facing a drug overdose. As paramedics arrived on the scene, armed police also moved into the building and quickly the situation turned deadly, full details on the violent escalation that took place remain unclear in police statements. Why did a medical emergency call quickly turn into police killing?

“What is sure,” wrote the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP) at the time, “is that the presence of police at this location, inhabited by people who live in poverty, causes serious stress, and possible agitation on the part of some people who likely have already tasted police harassment and social profiling of the poor.”

Alain Magloire, a person who was also close to the streets and struggling with mental health issues, was shot four times by police just outside of Montréal’s central bus station last winter.

In another police intervention turned deadly, that clearly could have been resolved without guns, police on the scene claim they were threatened by Magloire, a Haitian-Québécois, who according to eyewitnesses testimonies and video evidence, was holding a simple construction hammer and yelling at police from a distance when the shooting occurred on Montréal’s icy streets.

Mario Hamel, a homeless man was shot and killed by police on an early summer morning in 2011. Hamel died along with passerby Patrick Limoges, a hospital worker, killed by a stray police bullet in the same incident. Hamel was holding a small knife, used for cutting garbage bags open to find cans for recycling change, at the time of the police shooting, no public reports indicate that the police faced any serious danger at the time of the shooting.

Jean-François Nadreau, was killed at home in winter 2012 by police bullets, shortly after an emergency call for help, in response to a deepening personal crisis and depression.

Multiple armed police arrived at the east-end apartment and Jean-François’s crisis was quickly compounded into a state of panic. Failing to recognizing the mental health context at hand, the police escalated the situation by drawing guns, in response Jean-François picked-up a decorative knife and began yelling from a distance, the police quickly opened fire, Jean-François was shot in the chest and died, a horrifying scene all witnessed and later shared publicly by Josiane Millette, the partner of Nadreau at the time of the shooting.

Fredy Villanueva, was shot dead over six years ago by Montréal police while playing dice with friends in a park. Similar to Mike Brown, killed in a hail of roadside police bullets in Ferguson, Missouri, Villanueva was also an 18-year-old unarmed teenager killed in a brutal act of unjustifiable police violence, a shooting that also sparked intense community-lead nighttime protests. Until today the Villanueva family continues to struggle for justice and to publicly remember Fredy with annual vigils at the location of the police shooting.

A text describing the details of Montréal police shootings could extend for a long, long time, given that since 1987 there have been almost 70 people killed during police interventions in the city. In the great majority of these police shooting cases no charges were ever brought against the police involved, similar to the current US context, despite the incredible amounts of glaring evidence that clearly points to discriminatory, abusive and ultimately deadly police conduct.

Highlighting the connections between this ongoing wave of deadly police shootings in Montréal and the current uprising against systemic police violence in the US is important, although clearly the context and history involved is different there are key parallels. African-American histories of struggle certainly inform and greatly shape the political character of current US protests, however there are interconnected colonial systems of economic and political violence that are ultimately behind the deadly police bullets on both sides of this colonial border line.In reviewing some basic details on police shootings cases in Montréal, one thing is immediately clear in all the scenarios, that the people killed faced either the systemic violence of structural racism, or the economic violence of poverty, and in many cases a toxic combination of both systemic patterns of oppression bound together.

Eric Garner solidarity protest in NYC

photo : street sign at New York City solidarity protest.

Canadian media coverage on the grassroots movement across the US to protest police violence, racism and social injustice, has been predictably uninspiring. Rarely do any Canadian news reports, or newspaper columnists, highlight the links between systemic police violence in the US and the realities of police violence here at home in Canada.

In so many ways the current protests speak to a larger struggles, that broader vision is immediately apparent, even if removed from most mainstream media coverage of a movement that speaks to African-American histories of struggle against colonial violence, but also a movement standing against the inherent injustice of the American political and economic system, that is also clearly reflected in the fabric of Canadian society also.

A system rigged for a tiny political and economic elite who push forward a destructive, colonial economic system, symbolized best today in Canada by the tar sands, a system that according to overwhelming scientific data is quickly moving toward destroying life on earth.

A system of violence leading to a global scenario where the richest richest 1% literally control half of global wealth, a world where racist neo-colonialism defines economic and political systems internationally, like France’s ongoing resource conquest in Africa or Canada’s own extraction industry that is defined by displacing indigenous communities from their collective lands and communal heritage. A structural reality of injustice operating at an international level, that guides mainstream political and economic policy, trickling down and manifesting in the day-to-day through incidents like police shootings, or gender based violence in our communities.

roots stencil

graphic : stencil by www.cutandpaint.org

Brandon Davidson, the nephew of Eric Garner, summarized things best in an interview on Democracy Now! this past week …

Democracy Now! : What did you think of—you and your family—of all the protesters who turned out last night against this decision?

Brandon Davidson : Well, it was peaceful. That was a good thing. But it was a great thing to see people come together to rally against the system. But that shouldn’t just happen, you know, during the time of anyone’s death. You know, people should come together, period, instead of just one incident.

Democracy Now! : What do you think needs to change?

Brandon Davidson : The system, period. Justice. Like, we need justice, period. Because if there’s injustice, then what do we have?

Brandon’s words speak simple but profound truths and are clearly a call to action. Now is the time.

Montréal, December 06, 2014 – reflections by Stefan Christoff

image still from Brandon Jourdan’s video shot in New York City on 12/04/14, at the Shut It Down For Eric Garner nighttime demonstration.

nighttime Eric Garner solidarity protest

7:14 am • 6 December 2014 • 2 notes

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