Don't let Dallas shootings distract from anti-racism efforts, Montreal's black activists say

Black activists in Montreal say the killing of five police officers in Dallas is only part of the story of oppression, fear and violence faced by black people in the U.S. and Canada every day.

The Dallas shootings leave Montreal activists with a complex mix of emotions

Dallas police officers escort residents near the scene of Thursday's shooting. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Black activists in Montreal say the killing of five police officers in Dallas is only part of the story of oppression, fear and violence faced by black people in the U.S. and Canada every day.

Ricardo Lamour, a Montreal activist, rapper and artist, sighed heavily as he told CBC News he was still processing what happened.

"It's rare to see that five police officers are attacked and killed," Lamour said.

Montreal black activist and rapper Ricardo Lamour says he's 'surprised, but not surprised' about killing of police officers in Dallas. (Amarilys Proulx/Radio-Canada)
"At the same time I feel like it's a part of the tragedy, but let's see what brought us there."

Lamour said he was "surprised, but not surprised" at the Dallas shootings, which came after a week where two black men were shot dead by police in the U.S.

"People are fed up, and some people are feeling like they need to resort to intense and extreme reaction."

Officers often unpunished

Lamour said part of the problem is that police officers who kill black people in the U.S. and Canada often seem to go unpunished.

"The solution for a lot of people is not to wait for the end of the investigation. Because a lot of times those police officers that are involved in the deaths of civilians, they're put back into service or they're taken care of," he said.

"People are tired of that, and they feel like it's outrageous."

'War on black people'

Former police officer turned black activist Will Prosper told CBC News that the killing of the police officers in Dallas was "unfortunate," but he's worried about where it will take the discussion.

"It's always easier for the vast majority of the population — the white population — to be more sensitive about what's happening to the police officers, because they feel like it's somebody they can connect with," Prosper said.
Will Prosper says racial profiling remains a big issue, especially in Montreal. (CBC)

"But what's happening to these officers — who've been shot unfairly — is what's been happening hundreds of times to black people being shot by police officers."

He said the U.S. needs to be more honest about its collective fear of black people.

"This is a country where everything is called a war — the war on terror, the war on drugs," Prosper said of the U.S.

"But they're afraid right now to call it a war on black people, because that's what it is."

'Black people are tired'

Emilie Nicolas, left, with the group Quebec Inclusif says it's naive for Canadians to think the situation for black people here is better than in the U.S. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

Emilie Nicolas is the founder of Quebec Inclusif, a group that has been pressing the Quebec government to hold a public inquiry on systemic racism.

"I'm feeling tired. I think black people are tired. They want justice and they're fed up with the nonsense,"  Nicolas said.

She said black people should not be expected to apologize for the actions of the shooter, or shooters, in Dallas.

"People ask if you're going to condemn this violence. That sort of nonsense makes you feel guilty for stuff you have no connection to whatsoever," she said.

Is Canada any better?

Nicolas also warned Canadians that they're naive if they think the situation for black people is better here.

"Racial profiling happens here as well. Death by policemen happens here as well," she said, referring to the recent death of a man in Montreal North after he was hit by a rubber bullet fired by police.

"You have black men in Montreal who've been stopped by police 20, 30, 40, 60 times, and they're not criminals. That's not exceptional," Nicolas said.

She said the only real difference between Canada and the U.S. is that there are fewer guns here.

"The fact that there are less guns in circulation means sometimes racial profiling doesn't end up in death, but the reality is the psychological violence, the physical violence leave marks on the community," she said.

"What's going on in the U.S. is absolutely terrible, but we should be very careful here in Canada not to use that conversation to cover up what's been going on here."

Continuing calls for commission on systemic racism

Nicolas, Prosper and Lamour all said that the violence in the U.S. this week only reinforces the need for a provincial commission on systemic racism.

Quebec's minister of immigration, diversity and inclusion, Kathleen Weil, refused to commit to calling such a commission when asked about it earlier this month.

Emilie Nicolas talks to CBC Montreal's Debra Arbec about inclusion and diversity in Quebec. 3:01

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.