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Why we can’t trust SIU to probe death of Abdirahman Abdi

We must wait quietly and respectfully for the SIU to produce all the facts into the death of Abdirahman Abdi, right? This is a tall order


 
A man casts a shadow near a message written in chalk during a vigil for Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali immigrant to Canada who died after being hospitalized in critical condition following his arrest by Canadian police, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 26, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

A man casts a shadow near a message for Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali immigrant to Canada who died July 26, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

“I heard the screaming,” Abdirizaq Abdi told CBC. “I see my brother lying down, police hitting so badly … I’ve never seen something like that in my life.” Interviewed as his brother was being transported to an Ottawa hospital, Abdirizaq described the horror, which he shared with other members of his family, as they watched what police officers did to Abdirahman Abdi. The videos that emerged of the encounter do not tell the full story, but witnesses, the Special Investigations Unit and Ottawa Police have filled in many of the details. And yet, in the face of another Black man dead at the hands of police, the Canadian conversation on anti-Black police violence demands our silence and obeisance to a broken system of accountability.

Here is what we know so far. According to the SIU, police responded to reports of a man groping women at a coffee shop on Sunday morning. Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau says Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year-old man with a history of mental illness, fled on foot. He was chased by officers to the apartment where he lived. Witness Ross McGhie told CBC that an officer caught up to Abdi at the building’s entrance. McGhie says the officer proceeded to beat Abdi with a baton about the legs, arms, and body. Then another officer arrived, McGhie said: “The officer emerged from that car very rapidly … pulled up right in front of the building … immediately jumped into the altercation and administered a number of very heavy blows to the head and face and neck of Mr. Abdi.” Multiple videos were shot — one, obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, shows Abdi lying bloodied on the ground for nearly 10 minutes before paramedics arrived.

We have heard and seen these things before. We know it by rote. Whenever Black bodies, lives, and communities are ripped asunder by police violence, we await the voices of the public officials who serve us. Those voices always arrive heavily laden with moral cowardice, and shoddily draped in conventional wisdom. In that fashion, Chief Bordeleau, Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Jeff Leiper, and the Ontario attorney general made statements, asking the public for their patience while the SIU investigates.

Others took this cravenness to outrageous lengths. Before Abdi’s condition was publicly known, city councillor and decorated veteran Jody Mitic tweeted: “I fully support the @OttawaPolice and its members as they put their personal health& safety on the line for us. #ThinBlueLine” (He later tweeted condolences to Abdi’s family, and expressed his trust in the SIU investigation). Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof went even farther, insisting that discussing the blindingly obvious race issue is “inappropriate,” and that it was “unfortunate” that conversations on race and policing are bleeding into Canada.

Here is the difficulty in following their logic. According to these voices, we must ignore the words of Ottawa Police, the statement from of the SIU, video evidence, and the multiple witnesses who watched Abdirahman Abdi be beaten. Instead, we must wait months – maybe more than a year – for the SIU to produce all the facts. To do otherwise would be an unfair rush to judgment. And in order to judge in a way they deem fair, we must accept the SIU’s legitimacy. Given the organization’s history and operation, this is a tall order.

The mandate of the SIU is to investigate policing incidents involving civilians that result in death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. In the 2014-15 reporting year, 94.9 per cent of officers investigated by the SIU were cleared. Even in the rare occurrences when the SIU places criminal charges, it is rarer still that officers will be convicted, much less imprisoned. Fair judgment requires we accept that police face no sanction when they are less than co-operative with the SIU, which happens in more than a third of investigations. It also requires the acceptance that virtually all SIU investigators are white men over the age of 50. Most are former police officers themselves who think nothing of brandishing their police pins, rings, and tie clips about their bodies while they interview witnesses.

Once the investigation is concluded, it is highly unlikely the public will know the full story anyway. Yasir Naqvi — MPP for Ottawa Centre, and Ontario’s attorney general — knows this, as the attorney general is the one person entitled to the SIU director’s report. The rest of us receive a news release. Aside from the investigation into the 2015 death of Andrew Loku (spurred by the Black Lives Matter sit-in at Toronto Police headquarters, as well as massive public outcry), the SIU director’s report has never been made public. That lone exception, by the way, was a partial and heavily redacted version of the Loku report. We still don’t have all the answers.

In fact, if the SIU had full control of this investigation, the names of the officers — Const. Dave Weir and Const. Daniel Montsion — would not be known. Under the agency’s rules, the names of officers under investigation aren’t made public unless charges are brought against them. It was the dissemination of witness video that helped identify one officer, whose name badge was visible. The other officer was identified by Postmedia. The duties of both officers have not changed; if circumstances were different, residents in the Hintonburg neighbourhood would never know that officers patrolling the streets had viciously beat a man in broad daylight.

These officers, by the way, belong to a department with an already troubled history of unjustifiable violence against Black residents. In 2005, a young Black man named Chad Aiken claimed he was punched in the chest by an officer after he asked why he was being pulled over. When he asked the officer for his badge, the officer responded “666,” the number associated with the devil. In 2008, a young Black woman named Stacy Bonds was arrested after asking why officers stopped and questioned her while she walked down Rideau Street. While in custody, she was slammed to the ground by officers, stripped of her shirt and bra, and left half-naked in a cell.

With a history like this, we are asked to be patient and wait for answers after we have watched the horrifying manner in which Abdirahman Abdi died. The officers, sworn to protect and serve, milled about his bloodied body and waited long minutes for an ambulance. Rather than perform CPR, the two of them chatted while crouching over Abdi’s body. This image is searing, devastating, beyond comprehension. These officers are not likely to face consequences.

This is the system and circumstances we have been asked to trust. When we demand accountability for police officers, we are instead scolded for our impatience by those with the means to tear down this farce of a system. They ask us to refrain from “suggesting race is an issue,” as though speaking aloud the history of police brutality is more offensive than the brutality itself. They ask us to trust in a process designed to accomplish nothing, while our names continue to be ripped from our bodies and added to a sepulchral constellation of hashtags. It is a system that hears neither our grief, nor our pleas.

For Black Canadians, that is the justice we can expect. It is most certainly not blind.

But it is deaf.


 

Why we can’t trust SIU to probe death of Abdirahman Abdi

  1. I quit my office job and now I am getting paid 92 Dollars hourly. How? I work-over internet! My old work was making me miserable, so I was forced to trry-something different. 2 years after…I can say my life is changed completely for the better! Check it out what i do… See Here. —>>> http://ow.ly/vsmT302IITO

  2. Lol, OMG. I, like, toats read the headline, like, and thought, like, Dashwante is like toats speaking my, like, language, LOL OMG BFF.
    Shouldn’t MacClean’s be hiring people whose native language is English? Or at least educated foreigners? Maybe they can send Shatteeqwa back to Journalism school and teach her to write before they subject us to this navel gazing subliteracy again.

    • well said, Ron
      These essays are so over the top it’s as if the adults have left the building.
      Of course it’s clear we are witnessing affirmative action in progress (which I actually support) but surely they could have found a more worthy candidate.
      Andray’s rhetoric is colorful but childish, and always manages to run up against common sense.

      • This author has clearly pointed out facts! How (outside of trolling) are you combating the truth that over 90% of investigations are thrown out with zero punishments? Attacking a mans writing style does not prove his facts are not justified and true.

        The hierarchy is as follows.

        1. government
        2. siu
        3. police

        All are under the same banner of lying to public and in truth broadcasting the fact they cheat, lie, steal and murder on every newscast and newpapers where corruption is reported on a daily basis and swallowed whole by the sleeping public. Whether politicians funneling money unpunished, police/rcmp entrapping, ‘drawing down’ the youth. This incident is not based on religion or race tbh. This incident is because the police are bred psychopaths working for a corrupt agenda.

        So, instead of talking about the problems… you want a solution? The solution is people getting together and using our numbers collectively to rid the planet of these evil people and bring real justice back to humanity. All people need to free up some time from the rat race to reflect on what is actually going on. People need to escape the current go go go lifestyle before they can do that…

  3. OK Andray, so you don’t trust the SIU. But from the way the article is written, it really doesn’t matter who does the investigation unless they come back with a decision that matches your preconceptions of justice. I agree that it doesn’t look good for these cops with what is currently known, but you clearly have already made up your mind.

    So here’s a question: Since you clearly do not trust the current process to render a just decision, what alternate do you propose? If you’re serious about making our society more just for people of colour, surely you have some ideas on how to make this work?

  4. What I see is 3 ugly comments, none of which question the very troubling contentions in the article. Ron Carle, Allan Sorenson and Kiethbram. You all attack the messenger. Shoddy and lazy. What all of you have in common is the care with which you veil your underlying attitudes.

    • Sorry Bill – you have me wrong. I very much want to see equal justice for all. But this article is prejudging the outcome of an investigation. The author (a) is assuming guilt and (b) is assuming the SIU will cover up that guilt. Yet, he proposes no alternative.

      This article isn’t a thoughtful critique; it’s simply a venting of spleen. While I understand his frustration, it would be far more helpful, as a member of the black community, if he were to suggest concrete changes that would give the black community faith in the outcome.

      A simple venting of anger does little to move us forward. And I, for one, want to see progress. Don’t you?

      (And yes, I have a number of ideas. But as a white male, I think the ideas should come from the community most affected.)

  5. This author has clearly pointed out facts! Over 90% of investigations are thrown out with zero punishments? I guarantee that if you ask the youth or anyone who has had run ins with the police if they have been abused during the interactions, they would tell you stories of horror. Do people actually think that this is an isolated incident that only happens once in awhile? Police beat people on a daily basis and get away with it – Progressively we are seeing they are taking things a step further and blatantly murdering people… Sammy Yatim, Abdi in the States, the recent videos removed from facebook, people handcuffed in police custody (US) being executed… the list goes on and on. They claim police are the victims, do the research you will find over 1000 people have been murdered this year by police and only 10 police have been murdered… so after they murder 1,000,000 innocent unarmed people, they will have suffered on 1000 lost with that ratio in mind. They are trained to know they have no repercussions for there actions – They should be disarmed and dismantled~!

    How are you going to say that fairness in part of the game they play…? On hand washes the other the whole way down the pipeline. How are you going to re-train rabid dogs? The hierarchy is as follows.

    1. government
    2. siu
    3. police

    All are under the same banner of lying to public and in truth broadcasting the fact they cheat, lie, steal and murder on every newscast and newpapers where corruption is reported on a daily basis and swallowed whole by the sleeping public. Whether politicians funneling money unpunished, police/rcmp entrapping, ‘drawing down’ the youth. This incident is not based on religion or race tbh. This incident is because the police are bred psychopaths working for a corrupt agenda.

    So, instead of talking about the problems… you want a solution? The solution is people getting together and using our numbers collectively to rid the planet of these evil people and bring real justice back to humanity. All people need to free up some time from the rat race to reflect on what is actually going on. People need to escape the current go go go lifestyle before they can do that…

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