Monday, November 27, 2006

December 2nd: A Second Vigil for Mohamed Anas Bennis

The following is a call for a second vigil for Mohamed Anas Bennis, to be held this Satruday December 2nd in Montreal. Translation by yours truly...

Early on the morning of December 1st 2005, on the corner of Kent Street and Côte des Neiges, an incident involving one (or more) Montreal City police officers took a tragic turn, costing the young twenty five year old Mohamed Anas Bennis his life.

One year later, the circumstances which led a police officer to use his firearm to kill Anas with two bullets, one of which in the heart, have still not been explained. Despite an investigation by the Quebec Provincial Police and an investigation by the Coroner’s office, despite an abnormally long procedure, we still do not know what happened. A few days ago a terse statement simply informed us, without giving any further details, that no charges would be laid against the police officer implicated in this incident. We learned that the entire file has been placed under a publication ban by the courts.

Even the lawyer of the family of the deceased, Pierre Paquette, had his request to see the file rejected by the Minister of Public Security.

Such secrecy obviously looks very bad, both to the family of the deceased and to all Montrealers, Quebecois and Canadians who care about the civil rights of this country’s citizens.

Public opinion continues to demand explanations as to this incident, that the truth be told and that justice be done for the late Anas Bennis and his family.

Towards this end, the Justice pour Anas collective is organizing a vigil – a peaceful silent citizen’s demonstration - this Saturday December 2nd, at noon, on the corner of Kent Street and Côte des Neiges, to demand :

  • an end to the secrecy surrounding the investigation

  • justice for the late Anas Bennis and his family
Rachid Najahi Groupe Atlas Media Tél.: 514-962-8527

The Case of Mohamed Anas Bennis, Eleven Months Later

Mohamed Anas Bennis,
shot dead by Montreal's killer cops
on December 1st 2005

Montreal's Collective Opposed to Police Brutality have released the following document summarizing the past year's bullshit whitewash of the police killing of Mohamed Anas Bennis. This killing, the brazen secrecy and disrespect on the part of the government, and the "mum's the word" complicity of the media are all scandals, and threats to take seriously.

There is a vigil organized by COBP this Friday December 1st at 5pm, and another one organized by the group Justice pour Anas on Saturday December 2nd at noon...

Translation provided by yours truly...


Communique from the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality - (514) 859-9065 - -

The Case of Mohamed Anas Bennis, Eleven Months Later:
No charges are to be laid against the killer cops Bernier and Roy, and none of the questions have been answered...

Montreal, November 13th 2006: On November 4th 2006, the government of Quebec released a brief statement to the effect that “no criminal charges will be laid as following the death of Mr Mohamed Annas Bennis” as “a thorough examination of the evidence did not lead us to conclude that a criminal act had occurred.” (1)

More than eleven months after the incident where an officer from the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM – Montreal Police Department) shot Mohamed Anas Bennis twice, once in the heart killing him, a brief review of the facts is in order.

What Happened and What the Police Say Happened

On December 1st 2005, at around 7:20am, on the corner of Kent Street and Côte-Des-Neiges, the twenty-five year old Mohamed Anas Bennis was killed, shot twice by an SPVM officer from Neighbourhood Station 25. Mohamed was killed in the midst of a joint police operation involving the SPVM, the Quebec Provincial Police, the RCMP and even perhaps the FBI. “Operation Glory,” which ended up not to be so glorious after all, targeted a network of alleged Algerian scam artists who were suspected of ties to “international terrorism.” But although he was a young bearded Moroccan on his way home from Mosque wearing a skullcap and djellabah, Mohamed had absolutely nothing to do with any of this.(2)

The next day, the police version of events was published in the Journal de Montreal: Mohamed, described as “unbalanced,” was said to have jumped on a police officer with a kitchen knife, for no reason, stabbing him in the neck and in the leg. The officer then fired the two fatal shots, apparently in “justified self-defense.” (3) This version of events was challenged by Mohamed’s friends and family, who described him as an easy going young man who had never had any problems with the police, or any psychological problems. Furthermore, as his sister pointed out, “The idea of Mohamed Anas walking around with a kitchen knife as he left Mosque on the morning of December 1st, there is no way we’re going to swallow a story like that. We’d do better to believe in Santa Claus!”(4)

The Service de Police de la Ville de Québec (SPVQ – Quebec City Police Department) was charged with investigating the case, as according to the “policy of the Public Security Minister of Quebec, that when a death or serious bodily injury which might result in death occurs during a police operation or period of detention” no police force can investigate itself or events in which its own officers caused someone to die.

The community mobilizes
Mohamed Anas Bennis’ father, Mohamed Bennis, as well as the Atlas Media Group, set up the Association for Truth Regarding the Death of Anas, which quickly received support from many people and organizations concerned with civil rights. On December 2nd it was reported that the police officer in question was “treated for superficial injuries which did not require hospitalization.” On December 5th, the SPVQ officer in charge of the investigation confirmed that there was a video tape of the incident. On December 6th, the father hired the lawyer Luc Trempe to expose what he referred to as a “bavure policiere.” [A term which means “police error,” but which is used to refer to police killings. - translator] The father traveled to Quebec City and met with Lieutenant-Detective Jocelyn Bélanger, who told him that the investigation was now in the coroner’s hands. On December 8th a source confirmed that on the police radio one could hear police shouting “Show us your hands!” to Mohamed. The police also claim that the video recording is of poor quality and “cannot be used.”(5)

On December 11th 2005, the Atlas Media Group devoted a radio show to the Anas affair, inviting a member of COBP to speak about police brutality. On December 15th, there was a special report on the case in the Atlas Media newspaper, with a circulation of 10,000 copies; other articles would be published in January and November 2006. Mohamed’s father denounced the bavure policiere, suggesting that his son was the victim of racial profiling, killed because of how he looked and the stereotype of Muslim terrorists. The fact that the killer cop was only 25 years old and has only been on the job for four years added to suspicions that Mohamed Anas Bennis was in fact a victim of racial profiling. (6) The family also denounced the investigators’ lack of transparency and the lack of communication from the police authorities. In an interview with La Presse, Mohamed’s brother Mohamed-Labri Bennis said “They refuse to tell us why” Mohamed Anas was killed. Even if the police were telling the truth, he asked “Is this the only way that two police officers with firearms can immobilize a man with a knife?” (7)

On January 7th 2006, a day when the temperature dropped to minus seventeen, roughly 2000 people participated in a demonstration called by the Association for Truth Regarding the Death of Anas. The vast majority of the demonstrators were from the Moroccan, Arab and Muslim communities. In fact, the Imams had put out a call to participate through the Mosques. Chanting “Justice and Dignity, We Want the Truth!” the demonstrators denounced the slow pace of the police investigation and demanded a public inquiry to shed light on the case. Speeches by family and organizers asked people to be patient and have faith in the police and the system. They even thanked the SPVM for having escorted the demonstration, and when someone shouted out “Killer Cops!” he was quickly told to be quiet by the protest marshals... Speeches called for “Montreal police to be better educated about Islam and the Muslim community, as many police officers are ignorant about how Muslims dress and their religious practices,” because without this “members of the police force will be influenced by the islamophobic and stereotyped media propaganda regarding Muslims.” (8)

Representatives of the Muslim Council of Montreal and the Black Coalition of Quebec also took part in the march, as did the former Liberal Minister of Immigration, Denis Coderre. Many people were justifiably shocked that this man, nicknamed “Mr Security Certificate,” had been invited to a demonstration for Mohamed Anas Bennis. Indeed, a campaign had just been launched to “Vote Against Coderre” and “deport him from parliament.” Amongst other things, Coderre had been responsible for signing three security certificates, one of which was for Adil Charkaoui (who was also present at the march). Coderre also oversaw almost 18,000 deportations, lifted the moratorium on deportations to Algeria, and had police brutalize undocumented Algerians in his Ottawa office, amongst other things. (9) Right in the middle of an election campaign and the sponsorship scandal, Coderre’s appearance at the demonstration was nothing but a disgusting attempt to get some political capital out of a man’s death by pretending to denounce police brutality and posing as a “friend” of the community... “Mr Security Certificate” was also invited to speak on the Atlas Media radio show the Sunday following the demonstration.

The cover up and clearing the police
Three days after the march, Katherine Wilton of the Gazette reported that the police “promised yesterday all the facts in the bizarre case will be made public once their work is complete.” She quoted Constable Hugues Lavoie of the SPVQ as saying “We are professionals and we have no interest in hiding anything.” (10)

According to officer Jean-Sébastien Roy of the SPVQ (we do not know if he is related to the officer Roy of the SPVM who was implicated in the incident on December 1st 2005), “our report was finished in March and we sent it to the Crown Prosecutor in Rimouski.” In late September 2006, Mohamed Anas Bennis’ sister Najilaa told the Journal de Montreal that “They are trying to hide something from us. We want to know the truth, whether my brother was a victim or was the one to blame. Yet we have no news. It is not normal.” Prosecutor James Rondeau, who had received the file on April 13th, claimed to “understand the concerns” of the Bennis family, but blamed “a heavy workload before the summer” and “sick leave following surgery on his arm” for the time it was taking. Trying to be reassuring, he explained that “I am not the kind who only does half the job. I spent some time on this file. I even went to Montreal to see where it happened. (...)” He said that it would be known before December 1st whether or not charges would be laid in the case. (11)

And so it was more than eleven months after the death of Mohamed Anas Bennis, on November 4th 2006, that the “substitute associate chief of the Attorney General of Rimouski” James Rondeau released his decision in the form of a press release. No criminal charges would be laid against the police officer who killed Mohamed Anas Bennis. Apparently “a thorough examination of the evidence did not lead us to conclude that a criminal act had occurred.” (12) And yet the report of Coroner Rafaël Ayllon, signed on January 31st 2006 in Montreal, left no room for doubt: he concluded that this was a “violent death” caused by a “hemorrhagic and cardiological shock which resulted from one bullet in the thorax and one in the abdomen which struck several vital organs including the heart.” The autopsy conducted by Dr André Bourgault on December 2nd 2005 showed that “Mr Bennis’ death is due to hemorrhagic and cardiogenic shock which resulted from two bullet wounds in the thorax and the abdomen. These wounds perforated several vital organs including the right lung, the stomach, the spleen, the left kidney and the heart, which caused serious hemorrhaging.” The report explained that “There were two wounds in the thoraco-abdominal area caused by two bullets shot from a firearm. The first wound was situated in the second intercostal space and the left clavicle measuring .9 cm in diameter and the second on the posterior surface of the left arm measured .7 cm in diameter.” The external examination confirmed that Mohamed also had cuts on his nose, mouth and forehead and “a superficial third wound (...) on his left hand at the base of the thumb measuring 3.5 cm in length.” (13)

The coroner’s report also revealed the names of the two SPVM officers implicated in the incident, without saying which one fired on Mohamed: officers Bernier and Roy of Neighbourhood Station #25.

This is how the coroner explains the circumstances surrounding Bennis’ death: “In the police report from the SPVM’s Station 25, officers Bernier and Roy were heading towards (...) Kent Street in order to join personnel participating in an operation headed by the Quebec Provincial Police that had been going on since 6:30am. The two officers were walking on the sidewalk towards the building when Mr Bennis headed southwest in their direction; when he reached the police he stabbed one of the officers in his neck and in his right leg for no known reason. The officer fired on him with his revolver and the individual fell to the ground.” Ambulance services took Mohamed to the Jewish General Hospital and “tried to revive him,” but he was in a “critical condition when he arrived,” and “at 8:04am his death was declared by the doctor in charge.” As for the police officer, he was brought to the Montreal General Hospital. (14)

Unanswered Questions
On December 7th 2006, the Bennis family’s lawyer Pierre Pâquet met with Prosecutor James Rondeau at his office. Rondeau read him a legal opinion which stated that “there is no reason to lay charges against the police officer involved,” but he refused to hand a copy of this opinion over to the lawyer! Rondeau also told him that he would have to fill out an Access to Information request in order to receive a copy of the SPVQ’s report. As the victim’s father said, “We have waited almost a year for information, and still we have received nothing official.” He added, “Everything is verbal, nothing is concrete” and “what they have told us is very contradictory.” (15)

In the November 9th 2006 edition of their newspaper, Atlas Montreal denounce “a press release which hardly says anything, which is empty, and almost anonymous as it comes from an information agency and not from the office of any authority.” Noting that the Coroner’s Report “did not say anything that the police press releases in December 2005 were not already saying a year ago,” they asked “What was the point of having fifteen investigators work for twelve months if it was for such meager results?” They also noted that “All of the questions that were being asked last December 2nd remain unanswered, and there are new questions too, such as why was the Bennis family’s lawyer denied access to evidence in this case, forcing him to rely on Access to Information requests to get around this bizarre ‘secrecy’, having to wait eight months to see if this would work.” In conclusion, “Let us speak plainly: what is there to hide in the Anas Bennis affair? Who has an interest in hiding these things, and why?” (16)

A spokesperson from the Minister of Justice told the Gazette that there would be no other statements beyond this press release. Prosecutor Rondeau from Rimouski could not be reached for comment, perhaps due to his “heavy workload” or another “sick leave”? As to the SPVM, they did not respond to any requests for interviews... the Bennis family’s lawyer Pierre Pâquet stated that “it has been a year that the family has not been told anything (...) So far all I have encountered are closed doors. I have been refused access to anything having to do with the investigation, as if it were all secret. It is very strange, because if it is as simple as they say I don’t see why the family cannot be told what happened.” Even some sources within the SPVM say they are frustrated as the lack of transparency in this investigation, but not for the same reason: they say they are certain the police officer shot to defend himself from an unprovoked attack... (17)

On November 8th 2006, La Presse quoted Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur as also denouncing the “abnormally long procedure” saying that the duration of the inquiry for an incident “as clear as a mountain stream” is “aberrant and sends the wrong message to police officers.” While he insisted he “sympathizes with Anas Bennis’ father’s pain,” Francoeur thinks it is especially hard on “the young police officer who was stabbed and forced to fire and who has to wait all this time. He started having doubts.”

As for Mohamed Anas’ father, he “questions the entire investigation” and has stated that “when a citizen is in a conflict with a police officer, there is another law which is applied. This decision may not sit well with the Arab and Muslim community.” (18)

In an interview with Atlas Montreal, Pierre Pâquet notes that if Mohamed had survived, he would have been charged with armed assault on a police officer, and would have access to any evidence and would have the chance to cross-examine witnesses. “So,” he asks, “why, when he is dead, should these rights which all citizens enjoy cease to apply? Why can’t his family get a hold of the file?” He explains, “There are a few possibilities that I can think of; I have heard 27 different versions of what happened in this case; I have a lot of unanswered questions in my head; but all of this does not measure up to one document, written in black and white, but they tell us we cannot have access to anything written and this is difficult to accept because I have this horrible feeling that the basic rights of the victim and his family (...) have not been respected.” (19)

Atlas Montreal asked these questions : “The public would have liked to know why a copy of the report, sent to the victim’s father and not to the family’s lawyer as it says in the press release (“I was never contacted,” says Pâquet), is dated January 2006 yet was only released to the concerned parties several months later (“a typo” was the official explanation given to the Bennis father). We would have also liked to know why the final report contains no mention of any video recording; why, despite Mr Pâquet’s expressed request, this recording was not safeguarded...” They conclude that “In the final analysis, we have the overwhelming feeling that someone, somewhere, is deeply embarrassed by this case, for reasons which remain to be made clear and which ‘they’ certainly do not want to see made clear...”(20)

The Moroccan newspaper Le Reporter also asks some pertinent questions: “How is it that a young quebecois, known for his easy going personality, came to attack a police officer for no reason? (...) How is it that a young man who weighed only 66 kilos, with no police record, constituted a serious threat to an entire team of police? To immobilize the aggressor, could the police not have fired anywhere but in his heart? The refusal to produce the so-called knife and video recording of the incident make one think that this is an attempt to cover up a police mistake just like what happened in the London subway.” (21)

Finally, one of the main questions (perhaps the most important one) which remain to be answered is that which the father asked back in December 2005: “Anas left the Mosque at 6:30am, and was killed at 7:20am. But nobody has been able to tell me what happened in those fifty minutes. Everything else comes after this. So the truth remains to be seen.” (22)

Mass Media Complicity
On his blog, Kersplebedeb has also criticized the role of the media in this affair: “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).” (23)

He adds that “Again: this is a case where the police version of events was initially the only version presented in the media, and is still the main version. It is a case where protests by the community have been downplayed, and reassurances by the authorities have not been questioned. It is also a case where no reporters have done any real investigating of their own.” He notes that in actual fact “The Gazette tried to downplay this too – reporter Ann Carroll, who later admitted not even attending the march, simply wrote that ‘as many as 200 people rallied’ – while other media reported that ‘hundreds” (CTV) or even ‘a thousand’ (Journal de Montreal) people showed up.. None of them gave it the coverage that it deserved,” as it was “the largest demonstration against a police killing in years (...) and this on the coldest day in winter.” He asks “following the mass protests that surrounded the police killings of young Black men like Anthony Griffin and Marcellus Francois in the late 80s/early 90s, and after the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality and other groups managed to repeatedly call attention to police killings throughout the 90s… why are reporters so keen on not challenging the police and not actually reporting? Why are the papers burying these stories so much more than they did twenty years ago? Why are we no longer told the name of the cop who kills someone – shit, looking through the Gazette archives I note that in many cases we are not even told the name of their dead victims! Is there some new media protocol for how to handle police killings? Now that’s something that someone should report on…” (24)

Another interesting fact: an unofficial, or at least “plainclothes”, spokesperson for the SPVM, “Freezbee”, posted a text on the Centre des Médias Alternatifs du Québec (CMAQ – the Quebec indymedia – translator) on November 5th 2006 in which he quotes (without revealing from where): “The SPVM administration feels it is necessary to make the results of the investigation public in order to maintain a sense of trust between citizens and police. While we remain sympathetic to the family of the deceased, the SPVM is satisfied with the conclusion reached by the Substitute Prosecutor. The Service would also like to note that the police officers concerned have returned to work and are doing well.” It must be pointed out that there is no official statement on the SPVM website, and so this unofficial “statement” from the SPVM on the CMAQ website seems to be another attempt by the SPVM or one of its officers to convince people who denounce this police killing that “the police acted appropriately in this case,” according to one of Freezbee’s comments. (25) It is worth noting that another “Anonymous” made the same kind of comment on Kersplebedeb’s blog, stating that “The reason the Gazette is ignoring this police related death is that it was 100% justified”... (26)

As the people at Atlas Montreal note, what is at stake here is the confidence people have (or do not have) in the police and the government. In effect, “The community is greatly disappointed, and this fragile and vulnerable community may even lose confidence in those that govern and are charged with protecting citizens and safeguarding our rights and freedoms. Never mind the cynicism of this administration which didn’t pass up an opportunity to bill the Bennis father ten dollars for a copy of the Coroner’s Report and two hundred dollars for transporting Anas’ body from the site of the incident to the hospital where he died!” (27) Already last December the stated that if this turned out to be a case of racial profiling “It would be serous, very serious (...) It would mean that, as in other country’s which we will not name, xenophobia is rearing its head and that the violent death of the younger Bennis will not be the first, nor the last, case of racial profiling which we will have to endure and which will bring tragedy to our lives. If it turns out that this is the case and that the dramatic events on Kent Street were the result of cultural differences, then punishment – either administrative or penal – for the police officer concerned will be less important than making sure that no firearm meant to keep the peace is ever again used to sow death and disturb the lives of citizens.” (28)

Stop Police Brutality and Racism!
As for us, COBP denounced the decision of Prosecutor James Rondeau, the result of eleven months of what we expected: a cover up of a police killing that resulted from racial profiling, plain and simple. Everybody in Montreal should have the right to know if officers Bernier and Roy have in fact returned to work, and if so in what capacity (desk work or on the street) and if they are on the street, in what neighbourhood are they with their guns? It is impossible for us to have any trust in the SPVM which gets away with murder, the SPVQ which covers up the truth or the Quebec Minister of Justice which protects killer cops. The death of Mohamed Anas Bennis is certainly not the first case of its kind in Montreal: we remember Anthony Griffin, Martin Suazo, Richard Barnabé, Jean-Pierre Lizotte, Rohan Wilson and far too many others... We also remember that on February 17th 2006 SPVM chief of police Yvan Delorme released a statement in which he said he was “satisfied” with the decision to not lay any charges against the police who shot a man to death on July 4th 2005. (29)

The attitude of Yves Francoeur, president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood, certainly does nothing to make us trust the police. In an opinion piece he wrote after the January 7th 2006 demonstration he complained that, “We find it difficult to accept that people are trying to make Montreal – a city with hardly any racial tensions, compared to other big cities in North America – look like a banana republic where the police shoot citizens on sight because of their clothing or race.” (30) He also stated in August 2006 that “accusations of racism (...) are unjustified. The Montreal police are not racist.” (31) And yet even Alain Kashama, a football player with the Montreal Alouettes who was arrested last week in Little Burgundy, has said that “Yeah, it’s racism” (which led to their arrests) and that “That’s what happens when Black people drive nice cars...” (32)

It is past time to set up an independent public inquiry into the death of Mohamed Anas Bennis, before any more people fall victim to the SPVM. One week after Mohamed’s death, the president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood stated that “banning handguns is an excellent idea” and that “for years the Brotherhood has supported attempts to control firearms and impose longer sentences for criminals who use firearms.” (33) COBP thinks that it would be an excellent idea for the SPVM to lead by example by no longer using firearms and condemning killer cops.

One thing is for sure: the fight against police brutality is far from over! What’s more, this struggle knows no borders, for police everywhere kill people: in Oaxaca in Mexico, in Colombia, everywhere... As they say in Colombia: For the victims of State violence, nor a moment’s silence, but a lifetime of struggle!

(1) "Aucune accusation criminelle ne sera déposée à la suite du décès de monsieur Mohamed Annas Bennis": 2006/04/c8616.html

(2) For more details, see the January 5th 2006 statement from COBP published on CMAQ, "Affaire Mohamed Anas: Un policier tue un jeune marocain à Côte-Des-Neiges":

(3) Fabrice de Pierrebourg, "Abattu par la police en pleine avenue Kent, il venait de poignarder le policier", Journal de Montréal, 2 décembre 2005.

(4) "L'affaire Anas: Un marocain tué par la police au Canada":

(5) "Le fil des événements", Atlas.Mtl, No 30, janvier 2005-décembre 2006, p. 4:

(6) "Mais que s'est-il réellement passé rue Kent ce matin-là?", Atlas.Mtl, No 30, janvier 2005-décembre 2006, p. 5:

(7) Hugo Meunier, "Jeune homme abattu par la police à Montréal, La communauté marocaine se mobilise", La Presse, 29 décembre 2005,

(8) "Communiqué de presse sur la mort de Mohammed Anass Bennis, abattu par un policier à Montréal", Bel Agir, Montréal, 10 décembre 2005:

(9) "Votons contre Coderre! Déportez Denis Coderre, alias 'monsieur certificat de sécurité', du parlement":

(10) Katherine Wilton, "Details of Shooting by Cops to be Held Till After Probe", Montreal Gazette, 10 janvier 2006:

(11) Fabrice De Pierrebourg, "Enquête/Des questions, La famille gardée dans l'ignorance", Le Journal de Montréal, 25 septembre 2006:

(12) "Aucune accusation criminelle ne sera déposée à la suite du décès de monsieur Mohamed Annas Bennis": 2006/04/c8616.html

(13) "Rapport du coroner", copie conforme, Noël Ayllon, Montréal, 31 janvier 2006, publié dans Atlas.Mtl, No 44, 9 novembre 2006, p. 4:

(14) Ibid.

(15) "Family not given a copy of report on son's death", Montreal Gazette, 7 novembre 2006:

(16) "Affaire Anas Bennis, Un an après...", Atlas.Mtl, No 44, 9 novembre 2006, p. 4:

(17) Paul Cherry, "Police officer cleared after bizarre shooting, Investigation cloaked in secrecy. No criminal charges will be laid against cop after he fatally shot man who stabbed him", Montreal Gazette, 7 novembre 2006:

(18) Fabrice de Pierrebourg, "Mort d'Anas Bennis, La thèse de la bavure policière écartée", La Presse, 8 novembre 2006:

(19) "Affaire Anas Bennis, Les questions qui se posent encore, Entretient avec Maitre Pierre Pâquet, avocat de la famille Bennis", Atlas.Mtl, No 44, 9 novembre 2006, p. 5:

(20) Ibid.

(21) "L'affaire Anas: Un marocain tué par la police au Canada":

(22) "Un appel du père de la victime", Atlas.Mtl, No 30, p. 4:

(23)"Kersplebedeb", "Protesting the Police Killing of a Young Mulsim in Montreal", 7 janvier 2006:

(24) "Kersplebedeb", "The Police Insist: "We are Professionals And We Have No interest In Hiding Anything", 10 janvier 2006:

(25) "Freezbee", "Montréal: Résultat de l'enquête sur une personne arabe abattue par la police" et "réponse", 5 novembre 2006:

(26) "Anonymous", 6 février 2006, 12h20AM:

(27) "Affaire Anas Bennis, Les questions qui se posent encore", Atlas.Mtl, No 44, 9 novembre 2006, p. 5:

(28) "Mais que s'est-il réellement passé rue Kent ce matin-là?", Atlas.Mtl, No 30, janvier 2005-décembre 2006, p. 5:

(29) « Deux policiers exonérés à la suite de la politique ministérielle du 4 juillet 2005 », SPVM, 17 février 2006 :

(30) Yves Francoeur, « Restons calmes! », Fraternité des policiers de Montréal, 13 janvier 2006 :

(31) « Les accusations de racisme contre les policiers de Montréal : la Fraternité en a ras-le-bol », Fraternité des Policiers de Montréal, 7 août 2006 :

(32) François Ferland, « Kasnama et Estelle s’en sortent sans accusations », Le Journal de Montréal, 9 novembre 2006.

(33) « Bannir les armes de poing est une excellente idée… », Fraternité des policiers de Montréal, 8 décembre 2005 :

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière
Collective Opposed to Police Brutality
(514) 859-9065
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Opposing the Far-Right in India... in New York City

i just finished listening to this great interview with Biju Mathew, an anti-capitalist and anti-fascist Indian activist living in New York City. Mathew was interviewed by Montreal radical journalist Jaggi Singh about the connection between neo-liberalism, migration and the rise of the Hindu fundamentalist far right within the South Asian diaspora. The original interview aired on CKUT’s South Asian Community News show, which can be downloaded from Radio4All. (it took me over an hour to download the show, so i have excerpted just the interview and uploaded it to my blog here)

The interview with Mathew is one of those pleasant treats – hearing a community activist discuss anti-fascism with a class perspective, always honing in on what elements of society are most susceptible to far right ideas and why.

Mathew explains that the Hindu far-right draws most of its support from the well educated professional middle class. Not surprisingly, this is in direct contradiction to the liberal myth that it is the “backwards” and poor classes which are drawn to fascism – while i certainly don’t want to pretend that the global far right is homogenous, there are many many other examples of fascism growing within the most “advanced” and “modern classes,” regardless of the traditionalist drag they may hid behind.

This professional, modern base for Hindu fascism creates the complex background in which far right ideology is much more widespread amongst the Indian diaspora than in India itself. As Mathew explains

There’s a particular way in which Hindu nationalism is more alive [...] more virulent and vigorous here in the diaspora, than even back at home. Because if i stand on s street corner in Bombay and stop the first ten people who are going by me and ask them what they think of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism... i can be almost certain that i won’t find more than 1 or 2 adherents to the ideology. Whereas if i stand in Queens’ Jackson Heights or Oak Tree Road in New Jersey which is the Indian hub, and stop the first ten people who come by me i’ll find the density of Hindutva adherents to be a lot more. And i think it’s just the class composition more than one in ten people.

Tying in into class once again, Mathew notes that Hindutva is less dominant in Canada, where most Indian immigrants tend to be more solidly working class.

This interview is a really good complement to discussions on fascism here in North America. Obviously, far right tendencies within “minority” communities are not going to have the same importance for most North American anti-fascists as white nationalist groups like the Klan or boneheads. Nevertheless, for people living within these communities fascist elements can be of utmost strategic and personal importance. As Mathew explains, much of the support for Indian anti-fascist action in New York City comes from young Indian women, “Essentially second generation women who have in a certain sense taken the brunt of the kind of neo-fascist traditionalism that has crept into the ‘upper class Hindu’ households.”

In terms of solidarity work, the international activities of these different fascist movements are well worth disrupting. Fascist activists here in North America can play an important part in supporting and funding the movement for genocide in India, and one of the campaigns Mathew has been deeply involved in has been to expose the activities of the India Development and Relief Fund. The IDRF claims to “to support volunteer-based, honest and highly experienced non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India in serving their populations’ critical needs around education, healthcare, and welfare, without regard to religion, caste or creed.” But in actual fact eighty percent of the funds the IDRF sends to India go to the fascist Hindutva movement.

It is genocide in India – the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in particular, and the most brutal subordination of all women – that is being funded by these fascists. Again: by this movement of the well-educated modern professional middle class...

Anyway, enough bla bla by me... just listen to the interview!

(and check out the Stop Funding Hate website for more info on the campaign against IDRF)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

[Marginal Notes] About Being Raped, & Surviving

From Marginal Notes: an entry about being raped and belittled, about the realization that this culture okayed the author being raped, and about the way forward from there. Worth reading.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stephen Harper Confronted in Montreal

The following about an action in Montreal earlier today...

MONTREAL, NOV 24 2006. -- Over twenty people held a demonstration this morning to disrupt a press conference given by Stephen Harper at the Montreal General Hospital, in front of a hand-picked audience of young Conservatives from McGill University. Despite heavy RCMP and Montreal police presence, demonstrators we able to let themselves in to the room where Stephen Harper was speaking, before being kicked out by security.

One member of Block the Empire, Jaggi Singh, was arrested as he sat in the conference oom waiting for Harper's talk to begin. Members of BLEM asserted that it was a public talk and they had the right to be there, despite the security guards telling them the event as 'invitation only'. As members of BLEM were aggressively removed from the room by police, one member of BLEM was sexually harassed by a cop, who said "we should go out for a beer some time", as he pushed her back repeatedly.

To view pictures of the action, click here:

Our message to Stephen Harper: you're not welcome in Montreal (or anywhere else for that matter). Everywhere you go, you will be confronted.

Below is a copy of the flyer that was handed out at the demonstration.

(This demonstration was organized by Block the Empire Montreal and No One Is Illegal Montreal. For more information, please contact or


Friday, November 24, 2006 -- Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is sneaking into Montreal today -- a city where his party has little to no support or respect -- for a scripted public relations event at the Montreal General Hospital, stacked with eager young Conservatives from McGill.

We're here to disrupt Prime Minister Harper and to expose his far right-wing agenda. Real democracy means getting in the face of decision-makers, not sitting politely while we're fed empty sound bites and stage-managed photo ops while surrounded by cops and security guards.

Why are we here? Here are just some of the reasons:

Canada out of Kandahar, Bush out of Baghdad!

Steven Harper is an ideological soul mate of George Bush, and an unabashed defender of Bush's disastrous "war on terror". Canadian troops are currently in Afghanistan to allow more US troops to occupy and kill in Iraq. Bush and Harper have put forward a false choice between supporting Western soldiers or the Taliban, and would have us
believe that their brand of Christian corporate free-market fundamentalism is supposed to be the basis for the liberation of average Afghanis.

The killing of civilians is not "justified and measured"

This summer, when the Israeli Defence Forces brutally attacked civilians and the infrastructure of Lebanon, in acts widely recognized as war crimes, Steven Harper expressed his unconditional support for Israel. Even after an entire Montreal-based family were massacred in their home in southern Lebanon, Harper continued to describe the Israeli invasion as "justified and measured". The Harper government has
also continued to side with the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The anger that brought us out in large numbers on the streets of Montreal this past summer to denounce Steven Harper's complicity in war crimes brings us to confront him personally today.

Extinguishing indigenous sovereignty
One of Steven Harper's closest advisors, and ideological mentors, is Calgary neo-conservative professor Tom Flanagan. Regarding the rights of indigenous peoples, Flanagan has written the following: "Europeans are, in effect, a new immigrant wave, taking control of land just as earlier aboriginal settlers did. To differentiate the rights of earlier and later immigrants is a form of racism."

Equating indigenous persons as "immigrants" is tantamount to extinguishing indigenous rights. The Harper Conservatives stand for assimilation; in the context of continued self-determination struggles at Six Nations, Sun Peaks, Grassy Narrows and elsewhere, the Harper Conservative position is tantamount to continued genocide.

The National Insecurity Agenda

Not surprisingly, the Conservatives have entrenched the previous Liberal government's national insecurity agenda, promoting fear and paranoia, and using the "war on terror" to justify more repressive police and security measures. Public Security Minister Stockwell Day intends to arm border guards, while Steven Harper self-servingly pronounces on the guilt of suspects in Toronto. The Harper Conservatives create fear to justify their own "law and order" agenda.

Continued Deportations and Detentions
Under Immigration Minister Monte Solberg and Stockwell Day -- who is responsible for the Canadian Border Services Agency -- the Harper government has accelerated the policy of deportation and detention, entering homes, workplaces, shopping malls, subway stations and even schools to detain migrants.

Under the current Conservative government, CBSA officials have entered primary and secondary schools in Toronto on at least two occasions to detain children. In Montreal, deportation agents have raided carwashes to detain workers, as well as entering buses to check IDs and detain individuals. The net effect has been to create fear within immigrant communities.

Harper Homophobia

The Harper government has decided to re-open the same-sex marriage debate, in a blatant attempt to mimic the US neo-conservative tactic of provoking homophobia to win votes. Re-opening this settled debate also serves to ignore the substantive issues -- such as health care, youth homelessness, etc. -- that effect the wider queer community.

Environmental Degradation
In a clear attempt to appease the oil and gas industry, the Harper government remains in denial about global warming, and continues to promote ecologically destructive policies.

Cutbacks to Social Funding
The Harper Conservatives -- under the leadership of former Mike Harris thug and now Finance Minister Jim Flaherty -- have deepened Liberal cutbacks to social programs, undermining services to women, the poor, immigrants, indigenous peoples and queers.

We're here today as members of diverse anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-oppression and social justice groups in Montreal.

Steven Harper and his crew of right-wing men Stockwell Day, Monte Solberg, Vic Toews, Michel Fortier, Jim Prentice, Jim Flaherty, Tom Flanagan and others need to understand that they will not pass through Montreal without a confrontation and disruption.

This action is organized and supported by Block the Empire-Montreal, No One Is Illegal-Montreal as well as other groups and individuals. --

1960s-80s Political Repression in Mexico

Mexican authorities recently released a report on the government's use of violent repression to crush its opponents during the 1960s-80s. The full report has now been posted on the Web site of the National Security Archive.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Robert Seth Hayes Facing Harassment

On November 11th political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes had his cell searched, and had several papers seized “for inspection.”

While no itemized list of seized documents was supplied to Seth (as the prisoncrats are supposed to do), amongst those items confiscated were the 2006 and 2007 Certain Days Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar on which Seth has worked.

A former member of the Black Panther Party who went underground in the early seventies, Seth has spent over thirty years in prison, having been convicted of the murder of a police officer in 1973. (It is worth noting that Seth has always maintained his innocence in this matter.)

While it is possible that this is a case of some power-tripping bullies in uniform, one always worries in the present political climate that it could be more.

For more information, please see the Free Robert Seth Hayes website.

[Italy] Terraces and Peripheries: Left snobbery and the radical right

The following is an interesting article about the influence of far right ideology on the Italian working class. I’m reposting it here (i first spotted it on the aut-op-sy list) as the dynamic described by Quadrelli is not limited to the European scene. In North America too, despite some differences from the European class structure, the rise of the far right can be traced to the left’s disconnection from the working class.

The person who posted this to aut-op-sy explains that “The text appears in German translation in issue 77 of 'Wildcat', although it's not online yet as it's still the current issue. It was written by Emilio Quadrelli, a Genova-based researcher who has spent years insisting (from first-hand experience on many levels) on the inseparability of developments in the class structure of work, prison, 'crime' and political insurrection. (The original Italian text doesn't seem to be online anywhere; if anyone wants it please contact the English translator at .)”

A note from Sketchy Thoughts: i believe most of us here in North America would use the term “suburbs” rather than peripheries.

Terraces & peripheries. Left snobbery & the radical right

If anyone still had any doubts much has happened to dispel them. Many of the terraces of the Italian football stadiums are controlled to an increasing degree by the radical right. This is a fact. And it is necessary to start from here to attack, politically and not morally, a phenomenon which has been spreading for some time in metropolitan peripheries and which only becomes worthy of attention when it gains heavy media visibility. Only in the presence of swastikas, celtic crosses or explicit holocaust references dominating stadiums are many people stupefied, as if they were in a remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, and they forget at least a thing or two.

First, they [i.e. the fans associated with the radical right] don't come from the moon, they also have a social life outside the stadiums, lived quite coherently with the 'values' expressed on the terraces. In other words, adherence to the nazi 'lifestyle' is not something purely symbolic and extemporaneous, adopted in a framework where carnival prevails, but a total and in many cases totalizing 'lifestyle', with effects on everyday life. The second thing is the consent and legitimation which – without any kind of forcing, it should be noted – they can claim across areas which cannot necessarily be reductively described as belonging to the world of the radical right.

To speak only of the Roman situation, it is worth recalling the 'dead boy' derby match. This spurious story was circulated by some hardcore fringe fans, regarded by the 'experts' as marginal, isolated from the rest of the crowd, but it immediately became the unquestionable truth for the whole stadium. Essentially the story accused the security forces of killing a young boy during the baton charge that preceded the match. The denial by senior officers and by the highest municipal authorities met with a long deafening, chorus of 'shame, shame' (from Lazio and Roma fans alike), which left little room for interpretation and showed that, when it came to choosing between the institutional truth and the illegitimate truth of 'small groups' of 'unruly fans' the whole stadium showed little doubt about which side it was on. And this is only one of many episodes which could be cited. Posing a few questions, then, seems legitimate to say the least.

As they are not aliens, the 'stadium extremists' do not come from outer space, they inhabit urban areas which are not particularly hard to identify: the peripheries. For the left, this should pose a problem. Why have the traditional urban environments of the left suddenly become the ideal breeding grounds for the radical right? Why are the 'culture' and the 'lifestyle' of 'fascist subversion' able to become hegemonic to a large extent in the stadiums and, to a lesser extent, in the peripheries? Perhaps there are 'deep' explanations that require particularly acute insight, but, even when restricted to the 'surface', it is possible to say something. Passing through any periphery, we enter into a desolate panorama which, to put it bluntly, confirms the lack of interest and the unattractiveness of these territories which, a bit hurriedly in the wake of the latest sociologisms, have been assigned to the world of non-places. The prosaic fact that millions of people live there is regarded at best as a mere nuisance, a simple residue or the undesired collateral effect of the postmodern era. But what is so unpresentable about the inhabitants of the peripheries? What faults mark them like the indelible mark of original sin? Plenty to tell the truth. If they work they do low-status manual jobs; 'productive' or 'unproductive' is not a difference that matters very much. For the most part, moreover, when they don't work, instead of contributing to the oh-so-fashionable world of 'post-work' they plunge into the prosaic condition of the unemployed, revealing once more, if that were necessary, the '20th century' residue they always carry with them. But they don't stop there, dated and unpresentable though these conditions already are. In more than a few cases they devote themselves to illegal activities. And once again in this case they show little sign of participating in the contemporary world. Instead of dedicating themselves to illegal practices which are at least respectable as trends, such as computer piracy, they steal, rob, deal drugs, etc. In a word, they don't manage to be cognitive or immaterial in anything, not even in crime. And when, as often happens, together with a few other million individuals they put on a 'blue collar' and every day confront Capital on the terrain of the 'working day', perhaps imagining themselves still to have, if not an historic role then at least a social one, the latest new philosopher rushes to tell them they should stop worrying because, although maybe they haven't noticed, in reality they no longer exist. Not only that: it's often explained that the search for a strong identity is historically obsolete and, objectively speaking, a reactionary operation, because it inhibits the subversive element which, perhaps in spite of itself, the global capitalist era has put into circulation: the age of the individual. But playing as an individual requires the possibility of being one. A dimension which to large swathes of the population can only be denied.

In the global era, as in any other great transformation, if someone wins, someone else can only lose. If many, through still a minority, are enabled by the opportunities global capitalism offers to free themselves from all restrictions (although as Carosone would say, this opportunity almost always depends on mummy's purse) and to assume the light identity of the free individual in the free market, for most life's expectations look quite different. Their destiny can only be that of the perpetually marginal. And that is the only plaintive 'identity' permitted to them.

What does the right offer these masses without history and without future? Not much, to tell the truth. It offers them a collective glue, which, unfashionable as it may be, is still something. Above all it offers them an enemy. The elites, who can regard with cynical and ironic detachment the hold which the conceptual pairing 'friend/enemy' has on the world, are the sole exception: for the majority, those excluded from the gilded world of individuals, the enemy continues to be the indispensable element able to define the 'strong' borders of friendship. To put it simply, the radical right directs the hate of the peripheries towards something 'concrete'. It offers an identity and a hope. In essence, they say: if we are reduced to this today, it is their fault, the inhabitants of the 'centre', who have the money, the means and the power and use it against us. But we will not submit any more. We exist and they will have to take notice soon.

History is always moved by an 'us' which is counterposed to a 'them'; it never escapes from this dimension. The radical right, on the peripheries, concocts a tailor-made 'us' which in some way is able to turn hate into an identity and a project. Certainly it can be objected that all this is laughable and grotesque, but it must always be borne in mind that choices are made on the basis of what is concretely available. And on the peripheries there do not seem to be any alternatives. Through no merit of its own, simply because it has no rivals, the radical right unexpectedly finds itself in a monopoly on the peripheries. It is well known that, for a long time, the left has abandoned friend/enemy rhetoric, opting for 'visions of the world' where the philosophy of 'benevolence' prevails. Moreover, having without qualms adopted the cause of individuals, the left cannot help but show itself to be distant from the anonymous masses of the peripheries. A snobbish attitude which, however confusedly, the anonymous masses perceive. These worlds receive very little attention, aside from small realities where political militants have been unafraid of contamination with the 'base instincts of the people', as in the case of the Livorno football fans, who are regarded by the left as pure folklore. And what is true of the terraces is even more true of the gyms, another instance where the nazi 'lifestyle' has easily achieved a kind of hegemony. In this case too, an ill-concealed intellectualism has consigned these worlds to the realm of 'bare life', which everyone knows there is no reason to take any notice of. A space which the radical right has not done much to occupy, and on which it would be worth the effort to work, even just to investigate.

In its renunciation of everything, the left has ended up regarding it as inappropriate to maintain any kind of organic link with the 'people', who by definition are not (and never have been) very presentable in sophisticated settings, whether economic or intellectual. The result, as everyone who takes the trouble to do the least work on the ground will easily find out, is quite depressing. In the peripheries, the left is perceived, without too many fine distinctions, as one of the various faces of the 'centre', people who come from outside, who live a gilded life out there (or so it seems) in the world of inclusion, of individuals, of post-work and post-something, but who have nothing to do with those for whom every day is a struggle.

This impression is not far from the truth if, for example, we take a look at the isolation in which the revolt in the French peripheries was left last autumn. The biggest and most powerful insurgency from below of the age of global capitalism, at least in the West, was instantly liquidated by the left, when it wasn't stigmatized as a pure cry of pain and desperation from the beggars of the République. That said, despite the far from idyllic situation, a lot of people are taking notice of the urgency and the need to return to occupy the proper spaces of the left and of antifascism. If from this point of view the Livorno fans can be regarded as the reality which has best been able to guarantee a militant and antifascist presence within the stadiums (and not just there), other realities, though objectively smaller, nonetheless exist, and in the present climate this is by no means insignificant. At the end of this summary, perhaps what it makes sense to propose is that experiences like these be socialized across a wider network, so that they become the common property of all those realities (in a minority but still present in a large part of the world discussed here) for whose existence antifascism and class struggle for socialism continues to be an indispensable reference point.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

[Montreal] Vigil for Mohamed Anas Bennis this December 1st

There’s a vigil being organized for Mohamed Anas Bennis, the young Muslim man who was murdered by Montreal police last December 1st:


VIGIL at the corner of KENT and COTE-DES-NEIGES (Cote-Des-Neiges metro)
December 1st, 2006, 5 to 7PM

On the morning of December 1st, 2005 officers BERNIER and ROY of Station 25 of the Montreal Police shot two bullets and killed 25 year-old Mohamed at the corner of Kent and Cote-Des-Neiges. On November 4th, 2006, we learned the decision of prosecutor James Rondeau from Rimouski was to not lay any charges against the officers who pled “self defense”. The authorities refused to give access to any evidence of the file to the family’s lawyer. What do they have to hide, if not another police killing?

We demand a public and independent inquiry on the death of Mohamed Anas Bennis!

Disarm the Montreal Police!
Stop police brutality and RACIAL PROFILING!

Collective Opposed to Police Brutality
(514) 859-9065

Saturday, November 18, 2006

[Montreal] Sunday: Two Movies i STRONGLY Recommend!

Today i saw Songbirds (about women in prison, singing) and Cottonland (about Oxycontin, or “hillbilly heroine” in Cape Breton Island), two excellent movies at the documentary film festival, the RIDM.

i want to write about both these movies, but don’t have time now. So instead, on the off chance that some of you in Montreal are reading this tonight or tomorrow, i want to encourage everyone who can to go see them tomorrow night (Sunday Nov 19th) at the Cinemateque Quebecoise (335 de Maisonneuve East, mero Berri UQAM) at 5pm.

Cottonland is a respectful and smart look at prescription drug addiction in a working class community when the major industries decide its time to lay everyone off and go elsewhere for profits. It’s not an analysis of drug addiction under capitalism – but it at times comes close. Certainly providing more context than a lot of crap one might see on the subject.

Songbirds is... hard to describe. It’s about women’s resistance to and victimization by patriarchy. It’s about women in prison. It’s about women outside of prison not being free either. Not only is it largely in the women’s own words (extensive interviews with women prisoners in England), but it’s then put to verse. I had no idea what to expect, but this musical documentary about women in prison really works. And it’s incredible.

Really, if you’re in Montreal tomorrow – see these movies!

Another Veteran of the Liberation Wars Dies in Exile

The following from Associated Press (byline ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer Fri Nov 17, 4:50 PM ET):

HAVANA - William Lee Brent, a Black Panther who hijacked a passenger jet to communist Cuba in 1969 and spent 37 years in exile, has died on the island, his sister said. He was 75.
Brent died Nov. 4 from bronchial pneumonia, Elouise Rawlins said in a telephone interview from her home in Oakland, Calif.
Rawlins said she learned of her brother's death through telephone calls and messages from friends and acquaintances, but has not received official word from the U.S. or Cuban governments.
Rawlins said she had not seen her brother since he used a handgun to hijack TWA Flight 154 from San Francisco to Havana on June 17, 1969, but said they stayed in contact through e-mails and telephone calls.
"We didn't even know he was ill," Rawlins said. "I don't know about the burial or anything — just that he passed away."
The telephone rang unanswered Friday at Brent's Havana home, which he shared with his wife, travel writer Jane McManus, until her death last year. They had met and married in Cuba.
Brent lived a relatively isolated life during his nearly four decades in Cuba, spending much of his time in his later years listening to his beloved jazz music collection in his apartment.
In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, he said he missed the United States and the American black community. But he was unwilling to return home to face certain life imprisonment for aircraft piracy and kidnapping, and had resigned himself to never seeing his country again.
"I miss my people, the struggle, the body language," Brent told the
AP. "The black community in Cuba is very different."
Still, he said he had no regrets about hijacking the plane. "I was a soldier in the war for black liberation," he said.
A decade ago, Times Books published his memoirs, "Long Time Gone," which told of his coming of age on Oakland's streets and of joining the Black Panthers when he was 37, rising to become a bodyguard for leader Eldridge Cleaver.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in October 1966
in Oakland, by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. They called for an end to police brutality in the black community, and carried guns as they patrolled the city documenting police behavior.
In his book, Brent chronicled a July 1968 police shootout in which two police officers were critically wounded. Cleaver ordered him kicked out of the revolutionary group.
To avoid trial the following year, Brent used a .38-caliber handgun to hijack the plane to Cuba, where he believed he would be treated sympathetically as a militant black leftist. None of the 76 people aboard the Boeing 707 was harmed.
He also told of stepping off the plane in Cuba to be immediately hustled away by Cuban police.
Although never formally convicted, he spent 22 months in an immigration jail while Cuban authorities tried to figure out what to do with him. Eventually they let him stay to live out his exile.
Brent earned a Spanish literature degree from the University of Havana and taught English at junior and senior high schools, but he never became a Cuban citizen.
"I am an American, an African-American, a black man," he said in the 1996 interview with the AP. "And my fight was always in the United States."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Let Them Eat Brains - Thoughts on Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette

I watched the fairly empty and completely uninformative movie Marie-Antoinette the other day – really a film which is only of interest as a clever commentary on cluelessness.

Many of us, after all, know who Marie-Antoinette was, have some idea of how the majority of people living in France suffered great poverty and deprivation under her reign, and know that eventually she was beheaded following the French Revolution. So the film “works” for us in that we see Kirsten Dunst playing a monarch concerned with pastries, clothes, lovers, theatre and her own marriage and children... and largely oblivious to all else. This “all else” is completely missing from the film right up until the last five minutes, when suddenly the king and queen must flee Versailles as a revolution suddenly sweeps in.

To those who don’t know their French history, the masses must appear as a jarring and improbable deus ex machina. Stranger than fiction, so to speak.

Which could be seen as a clever commentary on many things. The way many are blinkered by their class perspective. The fact that your ignorance won’t save you, won’t be accepted as an excuse. Perhaps even that the make-believe world of American civilization is not only unreal, but blocks so many of us – so many of us sitting in theaters here watching this clueless queen – from seeing the real life drama we are all enmeshed in. What we think is important in our lives may not be what turns out to be important, may not even be relevant when seen in its proper perspective.

Or it could just be a completely vapid movie, tarnished by the need to mention that the masses did indeed intrude on Marie-Antoinette’s life, no matter how little she may have thought about them before they took center stage. A movie that otherwise would have just been a watered down version of Sofia Coppola’s previous exploration of emptiness (in which Dunst played a more minor role), the horrendous Lost In Translation, albeit with prettier clothing and no Japanese extras.

That a politically interesting film about Marie-Antoinette could have been made goes without saying. Everything from the crimes of the monarchy to the way in which popular revolt was channeled both into support to the bourgeoisie and into a kind of xenophobic misogyny directed at the Austrian-born queen, who was an accused of engaging in incest, bestiality and lesbianism in revolutionary porn pamphlets with names like “The Royal Dildo.”

I don’t know if this reminds me of Hugo Chavez claiming Condoleeza Rice wants to bed him (“a sacrifice i am not willing to make for my country,” said the Venezuelan left-populist) or the kind of fun the tabloids have with Hillary Clinton... and i certainly am not implying that the queen (any more than Rice or Clinton) had a right to hold onto her head... but y’know it’s an angle i’d love to see explored more.

An interesting cultural cross-connection in the movie: if you watch it, pay attention to the scene as the royal family flee Versailles. What does this remind you of? It’s twilight and it’s quiet and it’s creepy, and the only characters are looking out at an empty landscape. What they had previously known as a tamed garden now appears as supernatural wilderness.

I don’t know about you, but my conditioned reflexes went “Where are the zombies?”

It’s true: the peasant mob of old reappears in all manner of movies as the modern zombie. Subhuman, sub-rational, scary and unpredictable. I’ve suggested before that zombies are pop cultural representatives of the insurgent oppressed, embodying all the things the privileged expect of their lessers. Part Mau Mau, part leper, cannibalistic and all bad. Or at least so the metropolitan mind would have it.

Imagine the possibilities were George Romero to make the next movie about this headless monarch...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Trials of Zolo Agona Azania, Political Prisoner: Videos Online!

Zolo Agona Azania is one of many Black revolutionaries who have spent most of their adult lives in prison, punished for their politics by the racist American “just us” system.

I have been in touch with Zolo for some years now, and have been privileged to publish a pamphlet of his writings and full-colour postcard book of his artwork, as well as keeping some documents regarding his case up on the Kersplebedeb website.

Certain New Afrikan revolutionary nationalists, prison activists, and opponents of the death penalty have supported Zolo over the years, and in Chicago today there is a No Death Penalty for Zolo! committee. Also, the People’s Law Office has been representing Zolo legally over the past several years, to good effect.

Yet for various reasons – most of which say nothing good about the state of our movements – neither Zolo nor his case are well known within the broader left. Unlike many political prisoners and prisoners of war, Zolo was framed at a time when the liberation movements were in retreat, in a smaller working class city without a big trendy scene. He was a young guy at the time of his conviction, so he had no track record going back to the glory days of the late sixties/early seventies.

Which means that his case is in extra need of publicity, of something to make people take notice… which is why i’m all the more glad to see that videos of Zolo’s lawyers slugging it out with the evil empire are now available on the “Oral Arguments Online” section of the Indiana Courts website. (Thanks to the National Lawyers Guild Chicago Chapter, who also have a blurb about Zolo on their website, for this link.)

There is a real sense of the issues that comes out in these video transcripts – no matter how dry and boring one might expect them to be – which is less obvious in written accounts. Definitely, if you have a couple of hours, they’re worth checking out.

And y’know, pointing you towards court videos wouldn’t be right unless i also mentioned that some good people in Chicago are putting together a documentary about Zolo’s case. While i don’t know the details behind this project, based on the trailer available on myspace i have high hopes.

If these videos help bring attention to Zolo’s case it’ll be about time, for this comrade has suffered too long with too little support.


In 1981, at the age of 21, Zolo Agona Azania was convicted of murdering a police officer during a bank robbery gone bad. Unlike his two co-defendants, Zolo was arrested unarmed, walking down the street miles from the scene of the robbery, and has always maintained his total innocence of any involvement in the crime.

Yet it was Zolo who was singled out as the triggerman who killed a police officer “execution style,” and who received a death sentence… while the two men who were caught in the getaway car with weapons received prison sentences.

Did i mention that Zolo was the only one of the accused who was a political activist? The only one who had his picture in the paper as a model for rehabilitation? The only one with an African-sounding name and look?

While the men who were caught red handed had close family members on the police force?

As the article Star Chamber Racism recounts:

  • At the time of his arrest Zolo had been active in community and civil rights work in Gary, and in the Chicago area. He was involved in the campaign to make the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's. birthday a national holiday, was a budding artist, and an outspoken supporter of self-determination for Black people in the United States. He had done campaign work for Steel Mill labor union candidates. Zolo had also received some local news media attention because of his successful graduation from a G.E.D. (General Education Diploma) program after his release from prison in 1980 for a voluntary manslaughter conviction when he was eighteen years old (which had been subsequently reversed).

  • Allen Superior Court judge Alfred W. Moellering allowed armed uniformed police with their white gloves on to line the courtroom walls and corridors. Moellering let the state prosecutors make hand signals to the witnesses who testified against Zolo. The all white jury was allowed to watch and read the prejudicial headline news at home about Zolo’s case on television and in newspapers everyday.

  • a paraffin gunshot residue (G.S.R.) test failed to indicate that Zolo had fired a gun, but this evidence was hidden from the defense.

  • prosecution witness James Charles McGrew lied for the police, claiming that he saw Zolo hiding a gun in some bushes and fleeing the police. McGrew later admitted to lying, explaining that he felt that his life would be in danger otherwise, as he had been told by police and a court bailiff to identify Zolo.

As a result of these lies and dirty tricks being exposed, in 1993 the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the death sentence – but incredibly left the guilty verdict in place.

Zolo was to be sentenced again, this time by a new jury… which consisted of 11 whites and no Blacks.

Again, his court-appointed lawyers provided ineffective counsel and presented no mitigating evidence about his life and accomplishments.

Nevertheless, at the time of this second sentencing Zolo did raise the question of why there were only five Black people in his jury venire of 189 people. (A venire, from what i understand, is the group of people who are called to court, and from which the court selects the twelve people who will sit on the jury.) He filed a motion to challenge the exceptionally white make-up of the venire, but at the court hearing the main clerk who was in charge of the jury system came in and testified under oath that the system was working properly and randomly in the selection of potential jurors.

So Zolo’s motion was rejected, and – left before a jury with no Black people on it, and with no effective legal representation – he was sentenced to die for a second time.

Only thing is, it later came out that this pool was neither representative nor random. In fact, it was revealed that Allen County had gotten a part time student to write the computer program that drew up the pool of jurors, and this program was written in such a way that 87% of Wayne township was in fact permanently excluded from the pool. As the urban center of Allen County, the exclusion of Wayne township meant that 48% of Allen County’s Black population were permanently excluded from serving on juries.

Now i have no idea if this was an intentional “glitch” or just a badly built program, but it’s completely immaterial – judges, attorneys, court officials and journalists saw all these juries sworn in with substantially less Black people than there should have been and nobody even noticed?!? That’s the racist outrage here, so far as i can see – you can add bleach to whiten what’s supposed to be a key democratic institution, and America is so racist everyone just thinks it’s normal. I guess they figured Black people weren’t smart enough to read their jury summons or something like that…

After fifteen years of this – that’s right: years, not months or weeks or days – they finally figured out that something was funny. At this point, it is both a sign of the State’s arrogance and of the weakness of our movements that the prosecutors did not simply and quietly agree to letting those convicted under the whitened juries have new trials.

Instead they dared to send Deputy Attorney Christopher Lafuse in to argue that it doesn’t really matter, because there aren’t enough Black people in Allen County for this to make a difference!!!

The first of the two videos on the Indiana Courts site consists of Zolo’s lawyer Michael Deutsch, who in 2002 appeared before the Indiana Supreme Court, arguing that the second death sentence should be reversed due to the racist jury selection process.

It’s great to see Deutsch kicking the Deputy Attorney General Christopher Lafuse’s racist ass over this “computer glitch” issue. And pretty incredible to see Lafuse putting on one sorry excuse after another…

Check out this back and forth between judge Rucker (the only Black judge on the Supreme Court) and the racist Deputy Attorney General:

Robert Rucker: In your brief you argue in favour of absolute disparity as the test this court should employ in addressing this claim. If you do that with the 10% cut off that means that the 8.5% of African-Americans that were in this pool would be all excluded and using absolute disparity that would be ok with you.

Christopher Lafuse: Yes. And I know that’s somewhat a harsh position to take here but I’m going to… I do have some explanation… the eight and a half percent, I mean the ten percent absolute disparity test really created a bright line standard for the Sixth Amendment violation. The Sixth Amendment I think doesn’t quibble about percentages. I think when the Supreme Court in Durham talked about -

Robert Rucker: So if 100% - if all African-Americans – were excluded from the jury list, that’s ok with you?!?

Christopher Lafuse: Well, we’re talking about unintentional exclusion first of all.

Robert Rucker: Yes.

Christopher Lafuse: So it’s not a Fifth Amendment where the county’s out to get minority jurors. That’s clearly a violation of the Fifth Amendment… there seems to me that there is a line somewhere… we’ve… the Supreme Court acknowledged in Durham that if we’re going to have jury selection we don’t require a perfect cross-section, only a fair cross-section. So it seems to me we’re drawing a line at some point, and wherever we draw that line there’s going to be groups that are below that line. So if that’s the case, then yeah, there has to be some groups that are so small in proportion to the entire community that the Sixth Amendment will sanction their unintentional exclusion from the jury source list.Now whether 8.5% is the proper line to draw, the courts really are all over the place on exactly where the line is but most courts have said 10% absolute disparity is really where you need to get before you really start looking closely at Sixth Amendment violations.

(To which judge Boehm said: “Eight percent sounds like a pretty good number to me, it’s one out of every twelve jurors… it’s enough to be a juror.”)

Zolo won that round, and so it’s fun to watch. Really, not boring like i’d imagine a court video would be – we know it’ll be the good outcome and this is so surprising that it makes the whole back and forth as interesting as it is on Law & Order or some such. But really, when you think about it what’s so nice to see is the surprising result, that in this instance the racist DA actually lost. His argument – that “minorities” can be excluded from juries if they live in areas where they form less than 10% of the population – was so racist – as it would essentially disenfranchise people of colour throughout most of the United States – that it just couldn’t fly. Might upset the neo-colonial apple cart, you know.

As Deutsch points out, this “glitch” reduced the possibility of getting even one Black juror by 25%... and yeah, lo and behold, surprise surprise, Zolo was sentenced to die by a jury with not a single Black person on it.

What difference might even one Black juror have made? Well, the issue is spelled out in this exchange between judge Boehm and Lafuse:

Boehm: The fact that this is a death penalty recommendation, gives us the statistical correlation between African-American jurors attitudes towards the death penalty as a basis for thinking that even if you’re generally correct that this is acceptable or at least not reversible error, in this procedural posture it is. Would you comment on that point?

Lafuse: With regard to the constitutional claim I’m not aware of any case anywhere that has held that death penalty cases are different analysis under Durham than non-death penalty cases. I don’t believe that there’s any case that so holds and I suggest to you that this is not a case that you should so hold.

Boehm: Well it gives us some hard evidence as to the prospect that this might really have made a difference in the result, that you don’t normally have.

Lafuse: I don’t think there’s any evidence in the record to that effect and I’m… I would not… well there may be some… I’m… I’m not sure that that’s a proper basis for this court to review this claim…

The judges ended up deciding against Lafuse, holding that Zolo’s death penalty should indeed be reversed (or “vacated”).

In 2005 Zolo’s attorneys went to the Allen County Superior Court, arguing that the State should not be allowed to seek the death over twenty years after the fact, after having had such a sentence reversed twice already. Judge Steve David agreed, and issued an order barring the State from seeking the death penalty.

The legal logic behind this decision is pretty straight-forward. In a sentencing hearing the key questions have to do with “aggravation” and “mitigation.” In this case one part of the State’s “aggravation” evidence is simply that the victim was a cop – it’s clear-cut and just as objectively true today as it was twenty years ago and as it will be a hundred years from now. The further “aggravating” factor is evidence that was presented at Zolo’s 1981 trial which was thought to show that Zolo had shot the cop in a particularly nasty way.

This is important. You see, the State used a make believe horror-movie scenario to secure its death penalty, claiming that Zolo (who was not even arrested at the scene, and who the GSR test showed had not even fired a gun) went over to where the police officer lay wounded on the ground, and shot him in the head execution style. For no reason, we would assume, except pure barbaric sadism. (Which is what tv teaches us white folks to expect from Black people, of course.)

The two eyewitnesses and two scientific witnesses to this “fact” are now all dead. The scientific witnesses who provided the “science” regarding the execution shot did so based on very shaky logic (Deutsch calls it “junk science”), but they obviously cannot be cross-examined today. Likewise, the eyewitnesses actually contradicted each other, but they can’t be cross-examined either.

Nor could they use videotapes or transcripts of these witnesses being cross-examined before they died… because wouldn’t you know it, Zolo’s first legal aid “defense” attorney never even bothered to question anyone about these inconsistencies!

Not only can the defense not cross examine the prosecution’s dubious witnesses, but it is severely hampered in its ability to present mitigation evidence. That is because so many of the people who were closest to Zolo at the time of his conviction, who could most powerfully speak to his character and accomplishments, are dead now. His mother, his aunt, co-workers, even his family doctor have all passed away.

(Need it be mentioned that in Zolo’s first two trials no mitigation evidence was ever entered by his inept court-appointed lawyer?)

So on “both sides” many important witnesses are dead, but because of the rigged nature of Zolo’s first trial all of the weight from this superficially “equal” disadvantage is on him.

As judge Dickson would later admit:

it seems to me that as we look at who is going to be effected by the absence of live evidence, is it going to be the defense or the State, it seems to be the argument can be made that it’s going to be more borne by the defense than by the State because the State really has no burden of proof as to the weighing issue, because the statute really puts that burden on the defense.

Or, to quote judge Rucker:

Both eyewitnesses to the alleged offense are now, to the fatal shooting, the shooting at close range, are dead. Other critical witnesses to establish the defendant’s role in the crime are dead. Relevant evidence has been destroyed. Mitigation witnesses necessary to explain the defendant’s character etcetera are dead. Those are factual findings that the trial court made.

(The Supreme Court judges’ comments were made in the June 2006 hearing to appeal David’s order… see below…)

Finally, there is a real danger that a jury will look at the fact that Zolo has been in prison for over twenty years without any negative incidents, and go “Oh my god, if we don’t give him death he’ll be out on good behaviour!”… in other words, what should be evidence in Zolo’s favour (“good behaviour”) is actually very likely to play against him.

Judge David’s decision, while it was certainly a victory for Zolo, speaks volumes to the kind of morally bankrupt system that prevails in America.

You see, David is a supporter of the death penalty, and his ruling that the State should be barred from trying to kill Zolo at this point is because he fears that doing so would discredit the judicial death-machine. In his ruling he stated that “the interest of the public” weighs against the death penalty, not because the death penalty is racist or wrong, but rather because Zolo received such a blatantly unfair trial that to pursue it would undermine “public confidence in the death penalty.”

Covering one’s ass, one might say…


So, to recap: as of 2005 Zolo’s death sentence had been overturned not once but twice. The State had been exposed as having suppressed evidence that would have pointed to Zolo’s innocence. His jury was revealed to have been “accidentally” whitened. A judge who himself supports the death penalty nevertheless issued an order barring the State from seeking it in Zolo’s case, because to do so would risk exposing the US death system for the travesty of justice that it is.

So what the fuck happens next?

Well, no surprise here: the Indiana Deputy Attorney General is appealing judge David’s decision. They say he “abused his discretion” in barring them from seeking a third death sentence.

They want another chance to kill Zolo.

So in June of this year Arthur Thaddeus Perry appeared before the Indiana Supreme Court, the latest in that long list of white men who have lined up “democratically,” “legally,” and most certainly calmly argue that Zolo should executed. (Indeed, to watch these guys talk you’d think they were comparing brands of low-fat yogurt the way they’re so blasé and dispassionate while essentially asking for permission to commit murder.)

You can check out the video of this hearing on the Indiana Courts site, too. It’s largely a recap of what i describe above.

Eyebrow-raiser: Perry had the gall to refer to Richard Moore vs. State to support his argument. This is the case of Dhoruba bin Wahad, another Black radical who the State also tried to sentence to death years after his conviction. Dhoruba unsuccessfully argued that such a sentence passed a full decade after the crime in question constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

What Perry of course did not mention – because it’s really, really telling – is that Dhoruba was never executed, in fact he won his freedom in 1990 after it was revealed that the FBI had suppressed evidence that could have cleared him of his 1971 attempted double-cop murder charge!

You see, Dhoruba – like Zolo – was the victim of a racist frame-up. Like Zolo, the State sought death both as part of its general policy of violently “making an example of” any unlucky Black person and as part of its specific program to neutralize Black radical politics.

For, like Zolo, Dhoruba was singled out because he had radical Black nationalist politics.

What it says about this “model democracy” that the best they can do to excuse one corrupt procedure is to draw on their case law from another… their jurisprudence is truly riddled with the echoes of racist crimes, of America’s five hundred year war against Black people…


Zolo Agona Azania should not be in prison. Period.

He is a revolutionary, a person who at a very young age dedicated his life to making the world a better place. Opposing the vicious oppression that America inflicts on Black people. Standng up against the violence that capitalism inflicts on poor people.

That’s why the State went all out to get him, even though the evidence pointed elsewhere. Evidence that, true to form, the cops and prosecutors had no difficulty in hiding away…

As Dhoruba bin Wahad has said, “If you do not stand up for the freedom and dignity of political prisoners who went to prison and sacrificed their lives for the movement and empowerment of their people then one day you might be a political prisoner and there’ll be no movement to support you.”

Worth remembering… worth acting on…

[Montreal, Nov. 17] Saffron Dollars: How North Americans Fund Genocide in India

"Saffron Dollars: How North Americans Fund Genocide in India"
with Biju Mathew of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate in New York City.

Shatner 302, 3480 McTavish Street
McGill University

Biju Mathew is originally from Hyderabad, India. For the past decade,
he has been an organizer with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance,
which represents thousands of New York City's predominantly immigrant
taxi drivers. He is also the author of "Taxi: Cabs and Capitalism in
New York City". Biju has actively organized against the funding of
Hindu fascist groups, as part of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate and
the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL).

For more info about CULTURE SHOCK: 514-398-7432.

Now this looks interesting...