Last Monday, February 3, a man was shot by police outside the Berri bus terminal. The victim has been identified as Alain Magloire, a homeless man in his 40s, who was reportedly holding a hammer at the time – a detail mentioned by the police to justify their use of firearms. Reports indicate that the police shot him four times, despite being directed by their superiors to hold off on using their weapons. The incident marked yet another instance in which the Montreal police (the SPVM) have abused their power, particularly against those most marginalized by society. Last Monday’s shooting was not the first case of police aggression in the past few years against homeless individuals, nor was it the first fatal case.
The SPVM’s use of extreme force, and its mistreatment of marginalized groups, particularly the homeless, has drawn much attention in recent years. In 2012, the police shot and killed Farshad Mohammadi, a homeless man, on the Bonaventure metro platform. Their actions against the homeless extend beyond direct violence, as shown in a recent video of a police officer threatening to tie a homeless man to a pole in the freezing cold as a form of punishment.
This is clearly a failure by the organization to faithfully serve people in the society they are supposed to protect, and displays a disturbing trend of targeting the homeless. Police action against the homeless is often excused as a form of control over ‘dangerous’ individuals. Stigma against this highly visible and vulnerable population is often coupled with a negative and misinformed view of mental health issues, as it was in the cases of both Magloire and Mohammadi.
Furthermore, in an environment where police are given such latitude with respect to violence, the systems of oversight for these acts must be strong – yet the SPVM’s system has proved itself insufficient. In the moments leading up to last Monday’s shooting, the officers were reportedly told not to use their weapons and to wait for a superior officer to arrive with a taser. Instead, the officers went ahead and used their firearms. If the organization is given the ability to use as much force as they see fit, it needs to implement better protocols that avoid the use of tasers and guns and emphasize the dangers of their misuse. Given the prevalence of incidents involving the two, it is crucial to have extensive training that teaches police officers how to appropriately interact with people with mental health issues without resorting to violence.
However, the fundamental problem is that police are given the power to use severe violence legitimately. In essence, the police force has been given carte blanche to use violence, as long as it is framed as a means of maintaining order. In many cases, police abuse of power is justified and sustained by societal biases that label certain individuals as more dangerous. Such rhetoric against those who are most vulnerable obscures the gross injustices perpetrated by police under the guise of defence of society.
To give the police such a monopoly on legitimized, state-supported violence is not just frightening. It also serves to uphold prevalent, and often marginalizing, biases within society – biases that then, in circular fashion, permit the police to continue their abuses. It is in our society’s name that police commit these violent acts; therefore, it is up to us, its members, to debunk the marginalizing perceptions that permit this violence. It is up to us to deny the police their legitimacy.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board