Demonstrators remember man shot to death by police, renew calls for defunding

Dozens of Montrealers gathered in NDG on Saturday to protest a police shooting that left a man dead and to renew calls to defund the city's police force. 

In a statement announcing the event, Black Lives Matter organizers in Montreal said they don't have faith in Quebec's police watchdog agency.

They also pointedly said that language is key to addressing racism. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has, for months, refuted the idea that systemic racism exists in the province.

"We expect from government bodies that they name and identify the issue at hand, that they take responsibility for it, and that they end it," said Marlihan Lopez, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Montreal in a statement the group posted on Facebook on Friday.

Saturday's demonstration was held in NDG's Trenholme Park, about a half-hour walk from the corner of Cote-Saint-Luc Rd. and West Hill Ave., where Sheffield Matthews was shot and killed last week. Attendees laid flowers at the spot where Matthews was shot.

They also encouraged people to bring flowers to the site of Matthews's death.

Matthews, 41, was a father who worked at a seniors' home. He was in the midst of a crisis and brandishing a knife when officers arrived on the scene at around 6 a.m. last Thursday, according to the agency that investigates police violence.

After the officers shot and killed him, their actions came under investigaton by the watchdog agency, which is called the BEI. 

The Black Lives Matter organizers said this news didn't give them much faith.

"The BEI, which began operations in 2016, is increasingly criticized for its handling of such cases," the group wrote in its statement.

"The BEI opened 133 investigations between 2016 and 2020. Only five of these cases have resulted in charges against a police officer and none has resulted in a conviction."

They also said that Matthews was the third Black man to be killed over the years by police in NDG alone, and that the bigger pattern across the city is also unacceptable.

"Of the 64 people killed by the SPVM between 1987 and 2020, 12 (18 per cent) were Black, even as Black people represent just 9 per cent of the Montreal population," they said.

They presented more numbers around the SPVM's record on mental health calls, saying that in recent years, the police force has killed four Black men who were "in distress": Nicholas Gibbs, Pierre Coriolan, Alain Magloire, and Matthews.

“To be Black and in distress should not be a death sentence, but this story keeps repeating itself, year after year,” said Chiakoun Yapi, another organizer with Black Lives Matter Montreal.

“We have known for decades now that police responses to mental health issues are often deadly and always inadequate. There are clear alternatives, focused on mental health care," Yapi said.

"Despite this, and despite the cries from our communities, the government refuses to implement caring alternatives to the police.”

The group is calling for police to be defunded -- the term used to describe how part of the police budget could be moved to social services -- but also says it wants police to be disarmed, mental health services for Indigenous, Black, and other people of colour to be better funded, "and eventually, the abolition of police." 

Lopez also slammed the government for "the inaction that follows... commissions, reports, and consultations" and the media, which Lopez said "only shows interest in violence perpetrated against Black people when it is American."

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