Thursday, June 21, 2007

Black Family Pepper Sprayed By Montreal Police

Julie Cox, holding her 4-year-old daughter Kheisha at a news conference
yesterday, was arrested with her son Lynwald (right) after being
violently abused by Montreal police last week

Police officer's from Montreal's Station 25 harassed, beat and pepper sprayed a Black motorist and his mother last week, on June 13th.

Here is the story from today's Montreal Gazette:

A case of 'driving while black'?
Versions differ. Mother, son arrested by city police claim harassment
IRWIN BLOCK, The Gazette
Published: Thursday, June 21, 2007

If you're black and drive a fancy car, get ready for racial profiling by Montreal police, says the father of a family that complains of being harassed last week.

Lynwald Cox, 26, and his mother, Julie Cox, say they were harassed June 13 when police stopped him for making an illegal left turn while he was driving his Nissan Maxima near the Van Horne Shopping Centre.

The Chateauguay residents went public yesterday with their complaint to the police ethics commission, but Ryan Cox, father of Lynwald and husband of Julie, says it's part of a pattern.

He's been stopped often and he feels it's because he's black.

"I drive a Lincoln Town Car, my other son drives an Infiniti, my daughter a late-model Ford - none of us has ever had so much as a parking ticket," he said.

"If a black person is driving a certain car, you have to be a pimp, drug dealer or pusher," the senior Cox, a vocational teacher at the English Montreal School Board, said bitterly.

Montreal police will not tolerate racial profiling or discriminatory behaviour, Inspector Paul Chablo stressed yesterday.

"I can tell you with the greatest confidence that we have a zero tolerance policy for any type of discrimination or racial profiling," he said.

Chablo also cautioned it would be unfair to judge the officers prematurely, as they have an entirely different version of events.

Police in their report said Lynwald Cox punched an officer in the back of the head. They also said Cox followed a police car because "he wasn't happy about getting a ticket."

The Cox family outlined their complaint at the Black Coalition of Quebec offices yesterday.

On June 13, a police officer told Lynwald Cox, an apprentice automobile technician, he had taken a wrong turn. Cox said he replied he did not see the sign.

The officer then gave him a citation ordering an inspection for allegedly having windows that were too dark. (A check later showed they were not.)

This is where the alleged harassment began, Cox said, and where the police version differs.

Cox says he told police: "Nobody has ever harassed me about my windows being too tinted."

After receiving a ticket - which police say he was reluctant to accept - for an illegal turn, Cox left. Police "clapped their hands and said, 'Have a nice day,' " he said.

Cox says he drove up Van Horne Ave. to Decarie Blvd., where a police car cut him off. According to police, it was Cox who followed police "very closely from behind."

"Why would I follow them to get another ticket?" Cox asked.

Cox said he made a left on Decarie and police followed him. A police cruiser pulled ahead, zig-zagging and not letting him pass.

Near Edouard Montpetit Blvd. "they slammed on their brakes and cut me off again and then I honked (at) them," Cox said.

Police ordered Cox out of the car and "jumped me, pepper-sprayed me. I have bruises, I had to go to emergency and my hands are still numb from the handcuffs."

His eyeglasses were broken.

Cox claimed one officer, pointing a gun, said as he was handcuffed, "You're not so big now. Who's the man now? You're going to be sucking my d--k now."

Police contend they asked Cox, "What's the deal, why are you following us?" He became aggressive and assaulted the officer.

Cox's mother, who has worked at St. Mary's Hospital for 28 years, is charged with obstructing a peace officer.

Julie Cox, who laughed at the suggestion her son was tailing the police car, said she screamed when an officer pointed a gun at her son, then at her. "When the same officer lifted his baton ... I went between my son and the police to prevent him from hitting my son.

"We were both pepper-sprayed," she added. "I was kicked, I was pushed. I had to go to St. Mary's Hospital."

Julie Cox said she asked why the cops were doing this, and one replied: "Shut up, you're under arrest. Don't ask any questions."
Note that although Julie and Lynwald Cox were pepper sprayed, and Lynwald was beaten, what happened is described as "harassment" not "brutality". Regardless of who one may choose to believe, it should be pointed out that what is at issue is violence, which is one whole degree heavier than harassment.

For those of you from out of town, Cote-des-Neiges area is one of Montreal's mainly immigrant neighbourhoods, with many people from the Caribbean and the Philippines as well as previous generations of Jewish immigrants giving the area a unique political and national composition. It is also a mixed class area, with the overwhelming majority of Black and Philippino residents belonging to the most oppressed sections of the working class, giving these communities a different class character than most white communities, including most white working class communities, in Montreal.

Police repression is an ongoing problem in the area, with most of the heat focussed on people of colour. Racial profiling by cops from Station 25 - who were most likely those involved in the beating of the Cox family - can be witnessed on a regular basis in the neighbourhood.

Indeed, police harassment of Philippino youth has been documented by the local group Kabattang Montreal. Roderick Carreon, a founding member of KM and current chairperson of SIKLAB Canada (A Philippino migrant workers' organization), gave a talk a couple of months ago describing the situation in the neighbourhood. As the media and the police work so hard to keep such voices silenced, it is worth quoting Carreon's talk on racial profiling at some length here:

One of these cases involves twenty Phillipino youth back in 1999, who were stopped harassed and put under arrest by Station 25 and Station 26 for gathering outside Plamondon metro. When we inquired about the case, it turned out that a resident called the local Station 25 police detachment to tell them that a lot of youths were outside the metro late at night – which is 10:30 at night – and they had to respond to that call. So their answer was sending seven police cars from Station 25 and six police cars from Station 26, so from 11 o'clock until 1 o'clock at night twenty Philippino youths were on the ground in Plamondon metro being interrogated and patted down and charged with illegal public assembly. At the same time they were constantly checking the streets for gang members, and they assumed that these Philippino youths were members of criminal organizations.

Another instance involved three KM members, who were leafleting in the Plamondon metro back in 2000. They were stopped by the transit police inside the Plamondon metro, and were told that only religious organizations were allowed to distribute pamphlets or any other papers in the metro or outside the metro.

So, as KM was taught, they actually answered back, and said this is a right, this is our right to distribute fliers - and this was for an activity commemorating police brutality, which is odd. The metro police’s response was again to call Station 25, and Station 25 sent two police cruisers, and started putting three of our youths in handcuffs. The reasoning for handcuffing our youths was that two of our youths, who didn't speak English or French, because they just came to Montreal, were trying to explain their situation with their hands. So Station 25 assumed that two of the youths were actually using martial arts against them!

So they put them in handcuffs and ticketed them for distributing fliers. Eventually we won the case, and Station 25 dropped those tickets.


Racial profiling has become rampant particularly in Cote-des-Neiges. And now it's gotten worst to the point that after the September 11th incidents and of course Bush and the US war on terror, the line of questioning by Station 25 and Station 26 reached the point that they do not ask about gang affiliation any more, they are now being asked if they are immigrants, when they arrived in Canada, if their parents are citizens, or if they actually belong in Canada. And most of these kids are complaining of police harassment and racial profiling every day. I myself am being victimized every week... actually just coming here tonight while picking up my kids from school and from daycare I was followed by Station 26 for three blocks. And of course i had to stop and ask them why are following me. Its just routine check up. This is the reasoning behind every police harassment that’s happening in Cote-des-Neiges.

And these are just the documented cases - we're not even sure if most of these cases are being reported. Now in Cote-des-Neiges as a community it’s hard to ignore racial profiling when you see it, because you see it every day. Now throughout the years during KM's organizing work in Cote-des-Neiges we've documented close to three dozen cases of racial profiling - some of them are worst than the others. We have complaints by some of the Philipino youth that they were actually taken to the police station, interrogated, some of them were physically abused but never charged. The reasoning behind it: because they look different. They look different because of the way they dress, and of course the colour of their skin.

As another - and particularly tragic - example of racial profiling in Cote-des-Neiges area, one which is certainly familiar to readers of this blog, remember that this is the neighbourhood where Mohamed Anas Bennis was murdered by a police officer from Station 25 on December 1st 2005. Bennis, a young Muslim man, was killed outside the prayer room he frequented on the corner of Kent and Cote-des-Neiges. The police claimed that he was mentally deranged and jumped out of some bushes stabbing one of their officers with a kitchen knife. Investigators claimed that the entire event had been filmed by a security camera. Yet eighteen months later they remain unable to produce either the knife or the security video, which they now claim shows nothing of interest.

The fact that the police were in the area raiding a fraud ring that had been told had "possible terrorist connections", and that Bennis was dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, has lead most objective observers to conclude that he was killed as a result of racial profiling.

A Matter of Perspective

As i have noted before, in isolation each case of racial profiling remains almost unprovable. We can't read minds, and so if police insist they are "just doing their job", we are left to rely on our own preconceptions and experiences to judge precisely what's what. Not surprisingly, people who have had positive interactions with the police tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, while people who are regularly harassed by police tend to believe their victims. Thus, how one responds to claims of police racism or brutality is directly related to one's own class position or relationship to privilege and oppression.

Often police accounts of what has happened are highly improbable, but a whole series of preconceptions about who "gets in trouble", and about working class people and people of colour, lead many white middle class people to swallow any tall tale.

Let's return to the case of the Cox family, whose troubles started when they left Van Horne shopping centre, taking an illegal left turn. The news report says that to go home they would eventually take Decarie south. As anyone who knows the Van Horne shopping centre will tell you, there is only one "illegal" turn out of the centre to the left if you're heading to Decarie, the one on Lemieux. As everyone in the neighbourhood knows, people turn left here constantly throughout the day. So many people, in fact, take this "illegal turn" that a couple of years ago when the police wanted to stop people from taking it they did a little publicity campaign telling people that they knew everyone turned left, but that soon they would start ticketing people for doing so. Which they did for a little while, but which they then stopped doing.

In other words, hundreds of people make the same "illegal turn" Lynwald Cox made, and the police never stop them.

What comes next in the police version of events is simply not believable, but a certain white-vision and middle class perspective will lead many people to give them the benefit of the doubt. The cops claim that Lyndwald Cox started tail-gating them, looking for a confrontation. He would have to be crazy to do that... i mean who the fuck tailgates the cops?!? But to make it more incredible: we are told that he was doing this with his mother in the car!

As in the case of Mohamed Anas Bennis - who we are told saw a group of police officers and attacked them with a kitchen knife for no reason - this story just does not make sense.

Next Lyndald Cox and his mother Julie were pulled over, pepper sprayed and beaten. A cop drew his gun. Here it is worth noting that a study by University of Toronto academic Philip Stenning has found that in responding to ‘minor offenses’ police are four times as likely to draw a gun when dealing with Black person, significantly more liklely to use force during and after an arrest when dealing with people of colour, and significantly more likely to insult people of colour than white people. (see page 69 of Crisis Conflict and Accountability).

In other words, Ryan Cox is right: it all fits a pattern...

Police Abuse and the "New" Montreal Economy

As long as there are police, there will be police abuse.

That said, such abuse and brutality is not random. It follows a certain logic, and its character changes depending on historical circumstance.

At the moment Montreal has an expanding immigrant working class, the vast majority of whom are people of colour from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. It is still unclear exactly what the long-term class trajectories of different communities within this immigrant working class will be, but at the moment at least all these people are experiencing heightened levels of economic exploitation and police repression. The former comes in the form of irregular and temporary work, discrimination and mass unemployment. The latter comes in the form of "anti-terrorist" surveillance and repression, racial profiling, and class profiling.

For those sections of this new immigrant working class which are the most oppressed, and which are being pushed into permanent economic insecurity, struggles against police harassment and violence will take on greater and greater importance.

The ability to see racist policing for what it is, and to disbelieve the lies of the police public relations departments, will determine what sections of the left have a chance of acting as allies to the immigrant working class, and what sections become the "progressive" face of white racism.

We'll be watching to see who falls where.

1 comment:

  1. that exactly what i hate the most, i hate cops, i say it proudly to, but black people dont seem to understand, that there no question of rracist when they get arrested, im white, and my story would be worst, but i just dont waste my time , with calling the news, and saying oh well the cops was black , hes racist.... No cuz sumtimes the cops is white, and treat me like shit. And not just beeing treat like shit, so much more thing happen , but ill keep it quiet. Anyways , just to say, immigrant stop feeeling like u not part of the society and that cops hate you cuz there racist, cuz that aint true. An good exemple, my friend dad a white african, he live in afric and get beat up by the police from there , that are all black, and hes not calling the news or telling the people , that the cops are racist, cuz he white and their black.. So Take that as the best exemple, and stop saying that, theonly thing it sound like, Its that you are the racist, and cops are the victim ...