Saturday, January 07, 2006

Protesting the Police Killing of a Young Moslem in Montreal

It was a cold minus seventeen degrees this morning, as i joined almost two thousand people for a 10:30am demonstration through downtown Montreal – we were protesting the death of Mohamed Anass Bennis, a young Moslem man killed by the police last December 1st.


On that morning the Quebec Provincial Police, RCMP and Montreal city police were carrying out an operation regarding an alleged ring of scam-artists. According to the Journal de Montreal, the alleged criminals were suspected of ties to “international terrorism” – though this has been denied by the QPP.

On that same morning Mohamed Anass Bennis went to morning prayers at 6:30am at the local mosque. On his way home, he came across the police and – according to these self same cops – took out a knife and attacked one of them, for absolutely no apparent reason and with no provocation whatsoever!

Got that? According to the cops, Mohamed Anass Bennis just went off to the mosque that morning with a knife and, on his way home, decided to stab a cop!

Anass Bennis was shot twice at close range and died soon after as a result of his injuries. Police later confirmed that he was in no way connected with the alleged criminals they arrested that morning, that he didn’t have any drugs or alcohol in his system, and that he had no previous record of problems with the police or legal system. He is being universally described as a “model citizen.” Not only can nobody explain why he would attack a cop, but they have not shown the knife he allegedly used, nor have they released any of the video footage apparently shot by a nearby surveillance camera!

Need it be mentioned that Anass Bennis, who was born in Morocco, had a beard and was wearing a djellaba and a turban?

As the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality has asked:

What happened between 6:35 and 7 :20 AM when a young Muslim traditionally dressed was in the middle of a police operation potentially linked to terrorism? Also, the fact that Mohamed had wounds on his face and that the police officer was wounded in the leg leaves us to believe that he might have been arrested and brought to the ground before being killed. Finally the fact that the police refuse to show the video cassettes, the wounded officer and the knife, reinforces the theory of a police killing, and leads us to believe that the police want to now hide what really happened (what is referred to as a cover up).

I certainly agree that it sounds like a fishy story. Shades of Jean Charles de Menenzes, if you know what i mean… one thing is for sure: if the tables were turned – if a cop ended up shot dead by someone claiming self defense, that the cop had a knife and wanted to stab them – you can bet the shooter would have already been tried and found guilty by the media, and certainly would not be walking the streets. But in this case not only was the shooter never identified in the media (so we are left guessing as to whether or not he has a known record of violent or racist behaviour) and the police version of events uncritically repeated, but the Montreal Gazette (to give one example) essentially tried to bury the story (pages A7 and A10).

It is now over a month since Anass Bennis was killed, and today was the first public protest to be held. It was organized by the Muslim Council of Montreal, and the chief demand was a “transparent public inquiry” and “sensitivity training” for the police.

I had mixed feelings as i took the metro home from the march. On the one hand, it had been good to see so many people out despite it being the coldest day so far this winter. It was also nice to see so many people not from the radical left – this was a demo organized by and within the Moslem community.

At the same time it was unfortunate that so few of the usual suspects did show up – there were maybe a dozen people from the NOII/COBP/etc. kinda scene, and that’s all i saw. I may be pessimistic about most leftists, but that doesn’t mean i’m not disappointed when they’re not there.

Politically, even though i didn’t expect much in the way of radical politics from the organizers, it was still somewhat shocking how speaker after speaker – including Mohamed Anass Bennis’ brother – thanked the Montreal police for escorting the demo (!) and were at pains to stress that most police are good people doing a good job. My take on this is that in the current climate of Islamophobia and racism, people may feel the need to reassure the powers that be that they are loyal Canadians (there were quite a few maple leaf flags) and good citizens – as one speaker repeated over and over “I have faith in Canada, I have faith in the system.”

Now doubtless the vast majority of Moslems and immigrants are actually loyal Canadians and "good citizens" – i may bemoan this fact, but i have no illusions about it – what i find sad is that despite this example of the bloody and nasty nature of what Canada and “the system” are all about, this kind of rhetoric still gets such loud play. Don’t get me wrong – given the current repressive climate such professions of loyalty may be understandable – it’s just that they are also sad.

The fact of the matter is that police shoot people quite regularly, and every year i’d say at least one unlucky person gets killed by them. Anthony Griffin, Martin Suazo, Richard Barnabe, Marcellus Francois – the names of the victims in the most egregious cases may ring a bell. Sometimes the shootee was “doing something” – like the guy who was killed over the summer “advancing on police” with a metal pipe in his hands – and sometimes they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, as seems to have been the case with the young Mohamed Anass Bennis. But none of them deserved to die.

The solution to this problem – a world without cops – seems quite utopian as every year brings us more cops, armed with nastier weapons. But as a tactical response, one can only note that the stronger and more rapid a mobilization can be built around a police killing, the more seriously it is taken by both the media and the political establishment. But as i write this i realize i’m missing the point…

Many of the signs at today’s demo called for “Justice,” as did several of the slogans. In a situation where someone is dead and cannot be brought back, i’m not sure what form “justice” – meaning fairness – can actually take, because at bottom getting killed by trigger-happy cops just isn’t fair no matter what the consequences. So to rephrase – and correct – my observation: it is through sustained and large, strong and rapid, mobilization that we pay our respect to the victims of State violence, and that we force ourselves to take these questions more seriously.

With the hope that by tracing the outlines of protest today, we may bring about change tomorrow…

There is an online petition with the same demands as this morning’s demo – if you wish you can “sign” it

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  1. wow, that's a big turnout for such cold weather!


    Bennis' brother's website. Go take a look.