Friends and family members of Abdirahman Abdi, the black man who was killed after a violent encounter with Ottawa police last summer, were expecting the first steps towards justice to take place in court this week.
Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, which investigates police, charged Const. Daniel Montsion with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon in early March. On Wednesday, his pretrial was scheduled for May.
But a campaign amongst fellow police officers who are showing support for Montsion by wearing bracelets that say "united we stand," "divided we fall," and his badge number 1998 has reignited rage within the community, according a spokeswoman for Justice for Abdirahman Coalition.
"I think it sends a terrible message. It is a complete and blatant act of disregard for the family. The city has been traumatized by this incident and it's a blatant disregard for human life," Farhia Ahmed told VICE.
Abdi, a Somali-Canadian who had a history of mental illness, was killed last July after police answered a call from an Ottawa coffee shop. According to witnesses, two officers, Montsion and Const. Dave Weir, chased Abdi on foot, beat him with their fists (wearing armoured gloves), hit him with a baton, and pepper sprayed him. A bystander video captured Abdi lying on the ground in a pool of blood with cops around him; several minutes pass before he's given any form of medical assistance.
The death sparked an SIU investigation and accusations of racism within policing. At the time, members of the Somali-Canadian community in Ottawa told VICE they are scared of the cops.
According to the CBC, at least 1,200 of the "United we stand" bracelets have been purchased at $2 a pop.
Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau sent a note to members in the force yesterday clarifying that the bracelets are not part of an official police initiative.
"I want to remind you that they are not part of the Ottawa Police Service uniform and should not be worn during working hours."
Bordeleau said while he understands the sentiment, "We must take into account the community perceptions of actions like these wristbands. There has already been a great deal of negative commentary and we should all be concerned about the long term impact on public trust this could create." He noted Montsion already has supports through the organization.
Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, which represents the officers, told VICE showing support for an officer in this manner isn't unique.
"It's never been a public campaign," he said. "These bracelets are a personal decision."
Skof said he disagreed that wearing the bracelet could be seen as a conflict of interest.
He also said Abdi's death had nothing to do with race—a line he's been touting since Abdi was killed.
"It's not an appropriate conversation to have," he said. "There is nothing to show that race was an issue."
Ahmed said Bordeleau has seemed open to repairing the police's relationship with the black community and that he has been given a list of recommendations, including an external audit of diversity and equity practices within the force.
She said the bracelet campaign has "disturbed" Abdi's family.
"What we would like to see is for officers and members of the police service to show a little bit of discretion and professionalism… and stay away from supporting this campaign."
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