Next Tuesday (October 20), a verdict will be rendered in the criminal trial of Const. Daniel Montsion, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) officer charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon in the death of Abdirahman Abdi.
This will be a watershed moment in Ottawa’s history with police violence. A family has lost their son, their brother, and a community is grieving. And not for the first time.
Will a rationale be found for the actions of Const. Montsion, just like there was in the deaths of Wayne Johnson, Vincent Gardner, Troy Emmerson, or Greg Ritchie?
If so, then we cannot call Ottawa safe for Black men, and racialized people. We cannot call Ottawa safe for Indigenous people. And we cannot call Ottawa safe for all women, even women members of the police force.
After the brutal murder of George Floyd, and the protests that have broken out worldwide, I want to believe we can work for better. But racialized families tell me they fear for the well-being of their kids, notably their young men. They have said the same to the Ottawa Police.
And that’s what takes me to the awful story of last weekend, where Anthony Aust, a 23 year old Black man, jumped or fell from his 12 story apartment window following a police raid that looked like a military intervention. Did this need to happen? How could the answer be “yes”?
But here’s the real question: why do we fear Black men in this city? What other explanation helps us grasp why Black or Middle Eastern men are more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to be on the receiving end of police violence?
We are better than this. I know many police officers, community members, and politicians who will privately agree. But this is a public conversation, and we need public solutions.
We must address police violence through systemic reforms, and invest in the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. That is what the Justice for Abdirahman coalition has said at every moment of their public advocacy. That is the case the ONDP Black Caucus has made in this fantastic paper, which I invite you to read.
The Ottawa I love is full of compassion, and a deep commitment to justice. Whatever happens next Tuesday, let’s not lose sight of that. Let’s fight for a city where everyone is safe.
My very best,