Coalition says race real factor in Abdirahman Abdi's death
Published Thursday, August 4, 2016 4:56PM EDT
A group calling itself "Justice for Abdirahman" is calling out Ottawa’s mayor for how he has handled the death of the young Somali man. They said he's sending a clear message that black lives don’t matter.
The Coalition started off with a list of recommendations they want implemented to address Abdirahman Abdi's death.
But the news conference quickly became about what went wrong and who is to blame. And top of their list was Ottawa's mayor.
They have marched, they have mourned. Now they are coming together as a coalition demanding answers and action.
“There is a problem, a serious problem,” said Margaret Parsons, with the African Canadian legal Clinic, "Our police officers perceive race to be a threat before all else. Before they saw Mr. Abdi's mental health condition, they saw his skin color first.”
37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi died July 24th, after what witnesses described as a violent encounter with Ottawa police. Police had been responding to 911 calls at a local coffee shop about a man groping woman. The Ottawa Police Association has vehemently denied any connection to racism. Abdi’s death has sparked a probe by the Special Investigations Unit
It's also sparked anger and accusations by the Somali community and social justice groups across Canada.
“Mr. Abdi's death sent a message to the citizens of Ottawa that we may fall victim to police brutality,” said Kamal Hakim with the Coalition.
At a news conference in the councillor’s lounge at Ottawa city hall, the coalition proposed ten recommendations, including a task force to analyze statistics on deaths involving police forces, body cameras for police and better training when it comes to the mentally ill. Members of the coalition then accused Ottawa's mayor of sleeping on the job.
“It’s clear that the mayor's response is sending a message to black individuals in Ottawa that our lives are not as valuable as others,” said Yamikani Msosa with the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa.
“If the mayor had any backbone,” added Margaret Parsons, “rather than showing up for a photo op at Mr. Abdi's funeral, he would have arranged through his office a meeting with the Somali community.”
Mayor Jim Watson is away for a few days but said in an email that he has reached out to the Somali community and that a meeting will be held at a later date.
“At this early stage, it is essential for us to wait for the SIU’s findings rather than jump to conclusions and contemplate policy changes. I have confidence in the system and I want to let them do their work. Like many in the community, I look forward to seeing the findings of their final report,” he said in an email.
“In the meantime, I have reached out to Ottawa’s faith leaders and representatives of the Somali community and immigrant-support organizations to invite them to meet and discuss the incident and its impact on our residents. At the request of the representatives of the Somali community, this meeting will be held at a later date. I look forward to hearing their thoughts.”
The Ottawa Police said they couldn’t comment while the SIU was investigating, but in an email added "we know that some of our valued community relationships are being tested, and we need to continue our outreach work to strengthen trust."