Black Montrealers say Minneapolis protests are hitting close to home

Kenrick McRae says he’s been pulled over more than a dozen times while driving his Mercedes. Two officers who arrested him in 2017 were later found to have abused their power.

This happened not in a U.S. city but in Montreal. McRae and others from local black communities say the police protests in Minneapolis this week are hitting close to home and bringing up their own feelings of anger and exhaustion.

“If they weren't video-recording, the police would have [gotten] off,” McRae says.

Montreal police have faced many allegations of racial profiling and excessive use of force. One example was the death of Fredy Villanueva, who police shot after they broke up a dice game in a Montreal North park. Villanueva’s death led to rioting in the streets, too. 

In another example, Pierre Coriolan was in the midst of a mental health crisis when he was killed by Montreal police in 2017. 

And a year later, Nicholas Gibbs was shot and killed after police tried to arrest him while speaking only in French—though Gibbs only understood English.

“Whether it be the United States or Canada, we see that stuff lots,” says Alain Babineau of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations.

Babineau spent 30 years as an RCMP officer. He says that what happened to George Floyd, the man whose death sparked the riots in Minneapolis, was not just an American problem.

“The reason is very simple,” he said. “Black males are believed to be more violent, to be more prone to criminality, and it often triggers a much more disproportionate reaction by police officers.”

Floyd, a black Minnesota man, died on Monday. A bystander captured video of a police officer kneeling on his neck before he died, while Floyd repeated “I can’t breathe.”

That officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged today with third-degree murder and manslaughter. But protests are continuing tonight in Minneapolis and many cities.

Montreal criminal lawyer Marie-Livia Beaugé says that black Canadians, too, are “getting tired and don't know what to do.”

She says a lot needs to change, and not just with the criminal justice system. 

“All the images that we see of black people in the media, it’s most of the time negative,” she says. “Even in movies, you always see black people being criminals or bad [people], and it's really unhealthy.”

Although black Canadians make up less than three per cent of the country’s population, she points out, they account for nine per cent of Canada’s prison inmates.

She works with youth who belong to racial minorities to help them become leaders and fight injustice, whether at the hands of police or others. But, she said, there’s a sense that nothing is changing fast enough.

“No matter how hard we work, no matter how good we are, we still get killed,” she said.

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