Protesters riot during annual anti-police brutality demonstration

Protestors took to the streets in downtown Montreal on March 15 for the 23rd annual anti-police brutality demonstration. The event was initially peaceful, beginning in the evening with a gathering at Norman Bethune Square. Food Against Fascists provided meals to the crowd and community members took turns delivering speeches highlighting the history of police brutality continuing in Montreal.

Jeremy Thomas, Welding and Fitting student at Laurier Macdonald Vocational Centre, described how intense police surveillance has affected his career. Although he does not believe his situation will change, he came out in support of his fellow residents.

“The police have actually completely destroyed my life,” Thomas said. “I started in Calgary. I was involved with gangs and crime, [and] when that was going on, I had lots of run-ins with the police and justice system. The police became very emotionally attached to me due to the fact that they can’t get me through the justice system. They got me fired from my jobs and constantly bombarded my house with drones, airplanes [and] helicopters.”

From May 2016 to April 2017, the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) launched a pilot project to evaluate the feasibility of deploying body cameras. 78 patrol members wore the cameras during the project, but the decision to deploy them was rejected by Montreal’s public security committee due to their cost and ineffectiveness. Member of Mouvement Action Justice Robin Edgar claimed that the police’s abusive power extends beyond physical brutality and includes misconduct like false arrests and repression of speech. Edgar believes that body cameras promote better behaviour by police and suggested that officers of the SPVM begin to employ them.

“I think the SPVM has too much influence over politics,” Edgar said. “They have too much power making excuses like, ‘it’s too expensive.’ I do a lot of videoing of police myself and they behave better when they know they are being filmed.”

Event organizer and member of the Industrial Workers of the World Tessa Mascia denounced the SPVM for the shooting of Nicholas Gibbs, an unarmed 23-year-old father from Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, in August 2018. Mascia went on to provide more vivid accusations of how he believes the SPVM have abused their power.

“We have the displeasure today of being surrounded by Montreal’s supposed finest, the SPVM,” Masica said. “Whereas as firefighters have a specific mandate to save people, the state agents of the SPVM do nothing but further tax the already burdened working class with more state fines. They’re the goons of the condo developers when they push out homeless people, and their hands are dirty with the neocolonial genocide of natives in precarious social conditions here on the island [of Montreal] itself.”

Mascia believes that police brutality is a serious problem in Montreal, rife with both physical violence and discriminatory behaviours. She claims that the SPVM targets marginalized groups to reach their ticket quota and she does not believe that policing has any place in today’s society.  

“We need to make policing obsolete, not just by talking about this [issue], but by gathering together and building those better communities [and] those better services,” Mascia said. “There’s absolutely nothing [the police] can do to better train or protect its citizens. The only [solution] is if we as a people dismantle the institution of policing.”

Immediately after the speeches, the group of a few hundred protestors stormed north. They marched down Sherbrooke, setting off fireworks, throwing flares, and chanting ‘No justice, no peace, f*ck the police.” Some individuals began to smash the windows of stores and parked cars, uttering threats and breaking out into fights. The demonstration quickly began to resemble a riot and police were on standby in riot gear.

As a smoke bomb was set off, the SPVM ordered the protestors to disperse due to illegal behaviour that was ‘endangering safety and public order.’ The SPVM has reported on Twitter that two arrests were made for mischief and uttering threats.

 

A previous version of this article originally stated that the demonstration was hosted by the organization It’s Going Down. In fact, It’s Going Down only publicized the event. The Tribune regrets this error.

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