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Montrealers hold vigil in solidarity with Ferguson uprising

Speakers recount histories of racism and police violence in Montreal

As part of a global day of protest in solidarity with the family of Michael Brown and the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, nearly 100 Montrealers gathered Sunday for a vigil in front of the offices of the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal – the police union – at the Laurier metro station. The ongoing protests in Ferguson, which follow the death of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old man shot and killed by police on August 9, have been met with heavy police repression.

“We’re here to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Ferguson, and also to express our commitment to standing up and speaking out against police violence everywhere, to naming and confronting the dehumanization of black people and all races everywhere,” said organizer rosalind hampton, addressing the crowd.

In addition to expressing solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, speakers called attention to systemic police violence toward racialized communities globally and particularly in Montreal. Many recalled the August 9, 2008, shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva by Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) officer Jean-Loup Lapointe.

“I am a black man who is tired of hearing this news,” organizer Ricardo Lamour told the crowd in French. “We heard about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Fredy Villanueva […] and six years later Michael Brown. […] The families of these people who have been slaughtered live a daily tragedy because of this racism, because of the fact that the police officers who have committed these institutionalized murders are still in office.”

Jennifer Bobette, from the Collectif opposé à la brutalité policière, noted that no charges were laid against Lapointe, who has recently been made a member of the SPVM’s SWAT team. Bobette also cited other examples of police officers avoiding charges after using excessive lethal force in Montreal and Toronto, including the June 2011 killing of homeless man Mario Hamel and passer-by Patrick Limoges.

“Between 1987 and 2012, over 90 people have been unjustly killed by the SPVM,” Bobette said in French. “Who protects us from police?”

“It’s a war. I walk in the street and I feel like I am in a war. […] I am young, I am black, I am educated, I am unarmed.”

Didier Berry, who was hospitalized after being beaten by Montreal police in October 2012 and is currently involved in a legal case with the SPVM, spoke to the necessity of publicizing and denouncing all instances of police abuse of any degree. He then read out a list of names of people killed by Canadian police compiled by the Coalition against Repression and Abuse by Police, with the crowd responding “present” in French after each name to remember and honour the victims.

“I’m still alive, but I feel very close to the people who have died, because at some point I thought I was going to die, and I could have died,” Berry told The Daily in an interview. “I think the situation that I’ve been through occurs a hundred or fifty times more than the actual killings – who knows, right? I think those [acts of] abuse should be stopped if we want to stop the killings.”

The vigil lasted for just over an hour, and ended around 7:30 p.m. with members of the crowd posing for a picture with their hands up, in solidarity with the Ferguson protesters who have adopted the gesture as a symbol of resistance.

Pervasive institutionalized racism

Many speakers emphasized that institutionalized racism extends far beyond police violence and permeates the daily lives of racialized individuals.

“It’s an extra burden on black youth,” said hampton. “They carry extra responsibility to anticipate how anti-black racism will impact how they are seen by the police, how they are seen by their teachers, how they are seen on buses, how they are seen on the street as they go about their daily business.”

“I feel racism every day I wake up,” said one speaker, who identified herself as a young black woman, in French. “People sigh because I walk in the street and I take up my place. […] I’ve had enough of so many people being killed by the police, it’s not normal. […] It’s a war. I walk in the street and I feel like I am in a war. […] I am young, I am black, I am educated, I am unarmed.”

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In an interview with The Daily, Lamour noted that biases among police lead to disproportionate targeting of racialized individuals. He linked the issue to an overrepresentation of people of colour in federal prisons, arguing that similar biases are also present in the court system.

“There is said to be a big ‘war’ to stop street gangs in Montreal, and there’s always the question […] are we progressing toward this objective of wanting to stop street gangs, or is this some artificial thing – like a speculative bubble of threat that we are being bamboozled with?” said Lamour.

Lamour also connected police violence to gentrification, noting that the mere presence of certain individuals – such as homeless people and people of colour – can be perceived as a threat in a gentrified area.

“This is the foremost thing that has come out through the public [inquiry] on Fredy Villanueva – that narrative of those youth being around a certain commercial area, thus making the area unsafe just by [their] presence,” he said.

For Lamour, racism is a systemic issue that must be addressed as such.

“We’re here to say that we understand the frustration of the people in Ferguson; we would like that the system also be able to understand it,” he told the crowd.

Follow #Ferguson on Twitter for live updates from the ground.