The death of a black citizen while being arrested has sparked Black Lives Matter protests in Canada.
Thousands gathered to protest the death of a mentally ill black man following his arrest. Protesters are condemning the death of the Somali-Canadian citizen in police custody as race-based police brutality. In a country that has always prided itself for being one of the most tolerant in the world, the incident has sent shockwaves.
People rallied in Canada’s capital on Saturday to protest the death of Abdirahman Abdi while in police detention. Abdi, 37, died after he was allegedly beaten by Ottawa police officers on July 24. Witnesses allege the police had responded to calls of disturbance. According to CBC News, police reached Bridgehead coffee shop at the intersection of Wellington Street West and Fairmont Avenue after someone reported about a woman being groped. There was some commotion, with people demanding the police be summoned.
A witness claims he saw Abdi running out of the coffee shop, but he returned sometime back, only to be prevented from reentering the shop. Police officers restrained Abdi outside the coffee shop, but witnesses insist he wasn’t arrested there. Instead, the officers chased Abdi for about 250 meters from the coffee shop, outside his apartment building. What happened later is sketchy, but according to the official Special Investigation Unit report, sometime during the arrest being made, Abdi suffered “medical distress.”
Though the SIU’s report is light on details, eyewitnesses insist the first officer used a police baton on Abdi, while the second officer, who arrived later in a cruiser, rushed in and started delivering severe blows to Abdi’s head. The report mentions that an ambulance was dispatched to the location following reports of “a man of unknown age who has been pepper-sprayed and is bleeding from the mouth and unconscious.” The paramedic, who checked Abdi, confirmed his vital signs were absent, indicating he may have died. Abdi was shifted to The Ottawa Hospital, reportedly in “critical condition,” where he was declared dead. A doctor allegedly confirmed to Abdi’s family that he had died before he was taken to the hospital.
Abdirahman Abdi’s death echoed events in the United States, where a string of police killings of black men and allegations of police brutality and racial bias have sparked protests, reported Reuters. Following a quick police autopsy and investigation, the mentally ill black man’s body was handed over to his family, who conducted the last rites in a mosque, where Abdi’s community members gathered to pay their respects. The funeral was attended by Mayor Jim Watson, who attempted to assuage the growing dissent about the police force,
“This is a time for grieving and not finger pointing. I think what we have to do is allow the SIU to do a full and thorough reporter… and let the judicial system take its course.”
The president of the Ottawa Muslim Association (OMA) Naeem Malik said Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau wanted to attend, but was told it was not a good idea, reported CTV News Ottawa. Speaking about him, Malik said,
“He wanted to come, and we actually said to wait until we tell you. See we feel some of the people might get emotional, we don’t want that happening.”
Abdi’s funeral was attended by close to 2,000 people, noted Malik. Subsequent to the funeral, many protesters marched about 3.5 kilometers from Somerset Square Park in Ottawa’s Hintonburg neighborhood to the Elgin Street police station in downtown Ottawa this afternoon. The crowd chanted “Black Lives Matter,” and added slogans like “Silence is violence.”
Two Ottawa police officers are being investigated, reported CBC News. Bordeleau noted that one of the officers under investigation is now on leave and the other has been taken off patrol duty and put on investigations.
[Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images]