Ottawa police killing of Somali man fuels lethal force debate
In Canada, the question about police officers’ use of lethal force in many ways mirrors the debate in the United States. In Ontario alone, police have killed at least 40 people with mental illnesses since 2000. This week, disturbing videos surfaced of a 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man after he was beaten to death outside his Ottawa apartment building by city police officers. FSRN’s Jacob Resneck reports.
Videos surfaced this week of the aftermath, with family members wailing in grief as Abdirahman Abdi lay bleeding and unresponsive in police handcuffs. Witnesses said police officers tackled, pepper sprayed and beat the man – even after he’d lost consciousness. Police called paramedics.
Efforts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Police said they had been responding to multiple reports that Abdi was harassing women at a nearby coffee shop. Friends and relatives described him as a person suffering from severe mental illness who rarely spoke.
Ontario’s civilian Special Investigations Unit is investigating, but the killing comes just three weeks after Ontario’s ombudsman Paul Dubé released a report criticizing police training in the province which he says emphasizes force over dialogue.
“The gist of my report is that police need to be better trained to handle these situations,” Dubé said in June. “They need better tools and a broader skill set.”
Abdi was a member of Ottawa’s Somali community and there are charges that racism may have been a factor in officers’ use of force to subdue him.
Hana Jama is a Somali-Canadian activist who says her community suffers from racism at the hands of city police and that needs to be addressed.
“They are not talking about the issues that really need to be talked about. I mean, they are not talking about the issues that led to Mr. Abdirahman Abdi’s death,” Jama points out. “They are not talking about the intersections of being black, being Muslim and being mentally ill.”
Ottawa police say they are limited by what he can say due to the ongoing civilian investigation. But a police union representative in Ottawa defended the officers, saying they were confronted with a difficult scenario and reacted appropriately.
Abdi’s funeral is Friday. A number of demonstrations against police violence have been announced in cities across Canada.