A panel titled “Racial Profiling & Police Brutality from Ferguson to Palestine” kicked off this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week.
Held on March 10 and organized by the Centre for Gender Advocacy as part of its Thick Skin event series on race, gender, and political resistance, the panel discussed the connections between police violence in Palestine and in Canada and the U.S..
This was done by inviting the unique perspectives of three activists – Nargess Mustapha, activist from the Montréal-Nord Républik collective; Ahmad Abuznaid, a co-founder of the Miami-based Dream Defenders; and Cherrell Brown, from the juvenile and criminal justice advocacy organization Justice League NYC.
Two of the event’s organizers, Talia Joundi, a law student at McGill, and Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, from the Centre for Gender Advocacy, introduced the event and explained the importance of drawing parallels between these different experiences.
Joundi noted that “making the connection to people in North America is important to make the lived reality of Palestinians more understandable.”
Rolbin-Ghanie added, “We are by no means saying the struggle is the same – the differences need to be respected. But there are definitely parallels between who the police is profiling and what kinds of colonial mentality are produced by the police in general.”
As the audience filled the Moot Court room in Chancellor Day Hall, some were excited to learn practical skills.
“I came to increase my knowledge of racial profiling and get some tactics to apply to my own life,” explained U1 Biology student Alice Salim.
Others came out of curiosity. “I was in Ferguson in the fall, and saw the early solidarity with Palestinians,” explained Julie Norman, professor in the Department of Political Science, whose research focuses in part on prisoner resistance and prison and detention policies in Palestine.
“Though they are different contexts, there are definitely similar situations in terms of mass arrests, mass incarceration, profiling certain populations, difficult interrogation tactics, and the pressure to confess for a lighter sentence. All these things are very similar,” commented Norman.
Mustapha, speaking in French with live translation, began by discussing the difficult realities faced by Montreal North residents, saying that “police harassment and racial profiling [are] a part of everyday life.”
Mustapha next discussed how the murder of Freddy Villanueva in 2008 – who was shot by Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) officer Jean-Loup Lapointe, who confronted Villenueva and his friends as they were playing dice in Parc Henri-Bourassa – was an example of the worst of the SPVM’s practice of profiling in minority communities.
“In 2010, the internal SPVM report by criminologist Mathieu Charest, which La Presse acquired, showed how common [racial profiling] is,” said Mustapha. “Since 2001, identity checks in Montreal North had gone up by 126 per cent. In 2006 and 2007, 30 to 40 per cent of young black men were being stopped and frisked, while non-racialized Montrealers were stopped and frisked at a rate of 5 per cent.”
Brown spoke next, discussing state violence by sharing stories from a recent trip to Palestine with members of Black Lives Matter – a movement dedicated to combatting racist police violence against black people – and emphasizing the power of social media in sharing tactics.
“That’s the beauty of social media, we have people in another country [who] some folks in Ferguson [have] never heard of, but these are the people tweeting us and telling us how to survive this occupation right now, [with advice like] ‘walk with the wind and not against it,’ or ‘use milk of magnesia and not water when tear-gassed,’” Brown explained.
Having witnessed police brutality and profiling in Palestine firsthand, Brown stressed, “We have to imagine safety and security for ourselves. […] We must imagine something entirely different for ourselves and our children. It will probably be our greatest art project – to imagine a truly liberated world, outside of the scope, definitions, and parameters given to us by our oppressors.”
Next, Abuznaid shared his personal story of returning to Palestine, his birthplace, and rediscovering his roots after a childhood in the U.S..
“At Ben Gurion airport, I was seven years old, and we were taken to a back room where myself and my mother were strip-searched,” Abuznaid recalled. “There were guns and military soldiers everywhere. Immediately, alarms went off in my head that something was not right.”
A lively question and answer period followed, covering the problem of charismatic male leaders in movements, attitudes toward violent resistance, and the on-campus mobilization for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to increase pressures on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory.
After a standing ovation at the event’s conclusion, one student, beaming, told The Daily, “It was absolutely amazing. I loved it.”