Hundreds gather for memorial to Abdirahman Abdi

Hundreds of people gathered for a memorial Tuesday evening in the park across from where witnesses say Abdirahman Abdi was beaten by police during an arrest on Sunday.

'We just need to know why this happened the way it did'

Hundreds of people attended the public memorial, which took place at Somerset Square Park Tuesday evening. (CBC)

Hundreds of people gathered for a memorial Tuesday evening in the park across from where witnesses say Abdirahman Abdi was beaten by police during an arrest on Sunday.

Abdi, a 37-year-old Somali-Canadian with mental health issues, lived in an apartment building at 55 Hilda St. with his family, who moved to Canada eight years ago.

Halima Said used to live there and she was shocked to hear about the violent incident.

"I raised two kids in this building," Said recalled while holding a candle at the memorial. "I know a lot of people in this building. I work in this community, so this is home to me and we have never had this type of incident in our building."

She came to show support for the Abdi family, who lost a brother and son. She said there needs to be answers and accountability about the way he died.

"We just need to know why this happened the way it did," Said said. "And, most importantly, those who committed this crime need to be held accountable for people to renew their faith in the police force, especially people from the black community."

Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, is handling the investigation into Abdi's death. They have not  yet determined whether the officers did anything wrong, and the investigation could take months.

On Sunday morning, police had responded to a call of a man groping people at the Bridgehead coffee shop, which led to a foot pursuit.

Abdi's death was confirmed Monday, though the family says doctors told them he died before he arrived at hospital on Sunday morning.

Abdirahman Abdi, 37, was a Somali-Canadian with mental health issues whose family moved to Canada eight years ago. He was pronounced dead Monday afternoon after losing vital signs during a confrontation with police on Sunday morning. (Abdi family)

'It could've been me'

Said said Abdi's death made her worry about the safety of her 18-year-old son.

"What if my son is one day stopped by the cop — what will happen to him? Will his colour of skin be an impediment for him? Would he be treated different?" she asked.

"That subject, you never want to talk to your kids about, but one has to do that."

Moses Mutabaruka came to Hintonburg in part because he's worried about his own safety when dealing with police in Ottawa and his neighbourhood in Gatineau.

"I thought it could've been me," he said. "I've been stopped walking on the street and thrown on the front of a police car and searched for no reason at all other than I looked like a suspect in the neighbourhood that I happened to live in."

Both Said and Mutabaruka said they took hope from all the different people who came to the memorial.

"Not just dialogue, because I think we talk too much," Mutabaruka said. "Some kind of solution has to come out of this sad event."

Gatineau resident Moses Mutabaruka attended the memorial and says he came in part because he's worried about his own safety dealing with police. (CBC)

Funeral to be held Friday

The memorial was described as an informal gathering and there were very few speeches and no organized program. Muslims in attendance stepped aside for the evening prayer with some supporters saying they would stand behind them during their prayer in support.

Abdi's brother-in-law, Khalif Ismail, thanked the people who gathered on behalf of the family.

"They're really happy to see this ... everybody from all kinds of people, all kinds of colours. We really appreciate and [are] thankful to everybody for the support of this family," he said.

He also announced Abdi's funeral would take place Friday at the Ottawa Mosque.

Abdirahman Abdi's brother-in-law, Khalif Ismail, thanked people at the memorial in Hintonburg. (CBC)
People left candles at the memorial for Abdirahman Abdi at Somerset Square. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)