Sunday October 25, 2020
By Megan Gillis
"We need to feel safe in our city," said Ifrah Yusuf, incoming chair of the Justice For Abdirahman Coalition. "Change needs to happen, not empty gestures."
Ifrah Yusuf, incoming chair of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, leads the march from its starting point at McNabb Park on Saturday. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia
Hundreds of people shut down city streets Saturday as the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition delivered its demands for local action following a police officer’s acquittal on charges laid in connection with a Somali-Canadian man’s death after a violent arrest in 2016.
The mask-wearing crowd first rallied at McNabb Park, where Muslim demonstrators prayed on unfurled carpets and an Indigenous leader called for solidarity, before marching south on Bronson Avenue.
“No justice, no peace,” crowd members chanted as they carried placards with slogans such as “Police are not judges, juries and executioners.”
“Black lives, they matter here,” came the call. “They say get back, we say fight back,” came the response.
“Say his name,” was followed by “Abdirahman Abdi.”
Where Bronson met Catherine Street, the march brought traffic to a standstill as organizers unfurled yellow caution tape around the intersection.
“We need to feel safe in our city,” Ifrah Yusuf, incoming chair of the Justice For Abdirahman Coalition, told the crowd. “Change needs to happen, not empty gestures…
“Enough is enough. The time is now. Justice may have been denied in the trial of the killer of Abdirahman Abdi, but we can still choose justice as a city and make our community safer for us.”
Yusuf delivered the coalition’s five demands through a megaphone four days after Const. Daniel Montsion was found not guilty of charges including manslaughter in the death of Abdi.
The coalition called on the Ottawa Police Services Board to freeze the police budget to the 2020 level at its next meeting Nov. 9 and called on city council to oppose any budget increase for police. The money should instead go to public health and social services for Ottawa’s Black and Indigenous communities, the group argued.
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition protest started in McNabb Park before turning into a march, blocking traffic on several nearby streets. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia
Justice for Abdirahman called for “demonstrably racist, misogynist and/or violent officers” to be fired, naming officers including Montsion and Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof, and for the City of Ottawa to seek an exemption under Ontario’s Police Services Act to have more control and oversight over the size of the force and its budget.
Finally, organizers demanded an immediate alternative to a police response to intervene with people who are in mental-health crisis, as Abdi was at the time of his arrest outside his home in Hintonburg after he led police on a foot chase.
Seventy per cent of people who die in incidents involving police in Canada are in mental health crisis, Yusuf said.
“We need to stop sending untrained people with guns when our neighbours and loved ones are in crisis,” she said, adding that the next Justice for Abdirahman action was scheduled for Oct. 28, the date of city council’s next meeting.
The Justice for Abdirahman protest started in McNabb Park on Saturday. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia
From Bronson and Catherine, the protest march made its way east before stopping in front of the Elgin Street police station.
“No more deaths, fire OPS,” crowd members chanted as darkness fell in a Facebook Live video shared by organizers.
“Defund the police,” they shouted as organizers held Black Lives Matter and Justice for Abdirahman banners.
The event ended with a silent walk back to McNabb Park.
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition protest started in McNabb Park before marchers headed to Ottawa Police Service Headquarters on Elgin Street. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia
Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin Anishinabe from Kitigan Zibi First Nation, opened the event at the park with a land acknowledgement and a message of support to Abdi’s family.
Organizers told Commanda she’d need to raise her voice to be heard through the megaphone, she said.
“I don’t mind screaming because we need to scream our voices very loud of what’s being going on to our people,” she said.“We must come together. I’m going to say it as loud as I can: Their fists may beat us, their guns may kill us, but they will never, ever silence our voices. Our voices are the most powerful of tools and the most powerful of weapons …
“The killings of Indigenous peoples and Black people, it must stop.”
Montsion was acquitted Tuesday on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon after Ontario Court Justice Robert Kelly ruled he was left with reasonable doubt that the officer’s actions during the July 2016 arrest, including blows delivered while wearing reinforced gloves, led to Abdi’s death.
Elder Claudette Commanda spoke at the start of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition protest in McNabb Park, expressing solidarity. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia
A Justice for Abdirahman protest started in McNabb Park and then turned into a march, stopping traffic on nearby streets, Saturday October 24, 2020. Before the protest began a group of the supporters took a moment to pray. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia
A Justice for Abdirahman protest started in McNabb Park and then turned into a march, stopping traffic on nearby streets, Saturday October 24, 2020. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia