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Black Lives Matter: Abdirahman Abdi mattered

By: 
Chantal Sundaram

July 27, 2016

Those were the words written on a restaurant chalkboard in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Hintonburg on the evening of Tuesday July 26, when hundreds gathered at a vigil for Abdirahman Abdi—a 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man with mental health issues who police murdered in that neighbourhood on Sunday July 24.

Abdi lived in the Hintonburg neighbourhood, and was unarmed when a call from a coffee shop brought police in. According to witness Ross McGhie and his partner, as reported on CBC news: "It really kind of looked like an officer just approaching somebody who had posed a minor disturbance, so it was really surprising to see what happened happen. I think the both of us were really surprised when the second officer arrived and immediately started beating the suspect with his fists in the face and head. From a total layperson perspective, it appeared that it escalated way too quickly for the type of resistance being put up by Mr. Abdi. It went from zero to 100 very, very, very fast.”

Vigil

The vigil two days later was large and very diverse, bringing out both people from the neighbourhood and the Somali community from around the greater Ottawa area. Somerset Square Park, next to the residence where Adbi lived and was killed, was overflowing and surrounding streets remained full long after.

During the vigil, a local alderman spoke, and a speaker from the family said they were very grateful for the community support. The overall message was that the entire community, black and white, was standing together.

Jocelyn Iahtail, First Nations activist who now lives close to the Ottawa neighbourhood where the killing occurred, also gave greetings of solidarity. Iahtail herself has a son with special needs, and her grandmother and mother received an official apology in the House of Commons in 2008 over residential schools. She came to the vigil to represent the link in Canada between the treatment of Indigenous people and people of African origin in Canada’s racist justice system. As a next step in demonstrating this in practice, she announced the commemoration of Prisoners’ Justice Day at the Ottawa Human Rights Monument on August 10.

The end of the Ottawa vigil was marked by Muslim sunset prayers by members of the Somali community in the streets of Hintonburg, Ottawa, with the support of their allies, many of whom stayed long after speeches were done to light candles and bear witness together to a grave injustice that affects us all.

State violence

Canada has a shameful history of oppressing and torturing Somalian civilians abroad, so terrible that it led to the disbanding of the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment for the 1992 beating death of Somali teenager Shidane Arone, who merely came into the compound looking for food. Canada also has a long and ongoing history of anti-Black racism at home, from carding to killing.

In Ottawa, the commemoration of Prisoners’ Justice Day at the Ottawa Human Rights Monument on August 10 was announced at the vigil for Abdirahman Abdi as a way to commemorate all victims of state-sponsored police violence. It will be a way to locally demonstrate that Black lives matter, that Muslim lives matters, that Indigenous lives matter, that the lives of all people of colour matter, and that their allies know it.

Join Prisoners’ Justice Day, Wednesday August 10 at 1pm on Parliament Hill

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