Black and 'scared': Torontonians mourn, call for action after Somali man's death in Ottawa
'Seeing a cop drive by, I get scared. If I'm going to be honest with you, I get scared because of that.'
About 150 people gathered at Toronto's Ryerson University Friday evening to call for action after a confrontation with police in Ottawa in July that left a Somali man dead.
The event, organized by the group Black Lives Matter Toronto, was held in memory of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi, pronounced dead in hospital one day after losing vital signs during a violent arrest outside his apartment building.
Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is investigating the circumstances around Abdi's death. Two Ottawa police officers, Const. Dave Weir, and Const. Daniel Montsion, are currently the focus of the investigation.
But while Abdi was killed hundreds of kilometres away from Toronto, the group's members say his case bears a striking resemblance to several others in this city and that many in the community here feel worn down by a string of deaths of black men in recent years at the hands of police.
"The system continues to target us, criminalize us, brutalize us, in hostility to our Blackness," the group's Facebook page said. "We saw it with with Jermaine Carby. With Kwesi Skene-Peters. With Marc Ekamba. With Andrew Loku."
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Ayub Abdulle, 15, who attended Friday's gathering, said the death rocked him and has only heightened his existing anxiety about police.
'I get scared'
"There is a fear," he said. "I can tell you, from my own experience going home at night and seeing a cop drive by, I get scared. If I'm going to be honest with you, I get scared because of that."
Before Abdi's death, not many in Abdulle's family appreciated the problem of police brutality and didn't necessarily identify with the Black Lives Matter movement, Abdulle added.
"We're always, you know, in this dilemma," he said. "You're too black to be Muslim and you're too Muslim to be black."
But when Abdulle told his mother and aunt about Abdi's death, he said the reality of the problem hit home. Since following the case, he said they have a much deeper understanding of the discrimination that he says Somali men regularly face -- on the basis of their skin colour and their religion.
"At first they didn't really give much care… But once it was their own, they're more involved in it," he said. "Now that they felt that it's part of their community, they want to join in."
From grief to action
Yusra Khogali, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, said Friday's gathering was a chance for the community to grieve for Abdi's loss and its impact on the Somali community in particular.
"We we wanted to create a space where we are able to speak to the intersections of what it means to be Somali within blackness."
But while the past two weeks have been a time of mourning, the group's next move will be to demand action. Exactly what that looks like, she said, is something the group is still considering.
Earlier this year, Black Lives Matter called for charges to be laid against officers involved in the shooting death of Andrew Loku, a South Sudanese father of five, who, like Abdi, also suffered from mental health issues, and died on July 5th, 2015 after officers said he refused to comply with demands to drop a hammer. The group also wanted the officers involved be identified and video footage of the incident to be made public.
"There was no justifiable reason" for Abdi's death, Khogali said Friday, adding that especially as someone who dealt with mental health issues, he should have been protected instead.
"We are living here in Canada and treated as if we are not citizens of this country," Khogali said. [It's] as if we are not tax-paying citizens that pay police officers to serve and protect us."
With files from Nicholas Boisvert