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Community Grapples with Aftermath of Riots

by Archives September 2, 2008

Local groups are calling for action after the tense situation in Montreal North erupted when 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva was shot and killed by Montreal police.
A new coalition of over 20 organizations in the area has formed to address racial relations and many other problems arising from the incident on Aug. 9, when officers shot three young men during an alleged altercation in Henri-Bourassa park.
Solidarité Montréal-Nord, a movement to raise awareness about the young Honduran immigrant’s death, has been examining the events following Villanueva’s death – members of the community rioted and set fire to many buildings and cars after hearing the news.
“We’ve been working to find an easier mode of communication between police and youth since then,” Solidarité organizer and long-time resident Victor Henriguez said.
Montreal police chief Yvon Delorme agreed that the only way to help those affected is by hearing their cries and filing their complaints about his officers.
“We have to exchange and listen as a police department to what they have to say and we have to change our program to be better,” he said.
However many are skeptical about police attempts to mend their relationship with Montreal North.
Executive director of the centre for research on race relations Fo Niemi believes you cannot just say everything is getting better without giving hard evidence.
“We’re trying to remind people that this is a serious shooting because one person is dead and two other youths were wounded under very mysterious circumstances,” he said.
Niemi works with young men and women from disadvantaged areas like Montreal North and said he hears a lot about them being mistreated by police, but he still wonders how something like this could happen.
“The youth involved were not violent, they didn’t have any visible weapons on them and it arose out of a typical police intervention which apparently occurs very regularly, but for some reason led to the death and serious injury of two other people,” he said.
And with a riot following closely after the police shooting, Niemi thinks the public and the police need to really acknowledge the underlying sentiments, the anger, the frustration and the sense of injustice felt in this community.
These are feelings that Victor Henriguez notices regularly in Montreal North, where he’s spent the last seven years trying to help organize and inspire youth to make positive change.
“Just because you’re poor it doesn’t mean it’s your destiny to remain that way . . . the youth need to see that their dreams can become a reality,” he said.
But police chief Delorme sees this whole dilemma not as an issue of poverty, but as youthful anti-authoritarianism.
“Youth and police didn’t mix together for years and years . . . when I was young I was against police for sure, but we have to understand each other, we have to listen to them and we have to bring them that model that they need to be better citizens,” he said.
From Niemi’s extensive work on this exact issue, he’s finding that police in poor neighbourhoods is intentionally targeting young men, especially those of colour ranging in age from 14 to 35.
“Within the last five years we have piloted a lot of cases of racial profiling and racially discriminatory policing before the human rights commissioner of Quebec, as well as before the Quebec police ethics commissioner.”
Both of these watchdog organizations are places for citizens to voice concerns and make complaints about unusual police practice.
“We don’t act on what you are, but what you do, so we respect the law to intervene on certain occasions, but when we have to arrest someone we don’t look at how they look, we look at what they did,” replied Delorme.
Now that the public has been paying close attention to Montreal North, Henriguez and Solidarité hope to keep the interest alive.
“You have 23 different cultures represented and 15 languages spoken in Montreal North. People from all around the world move here to make their lives better,” Henriguez said.

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