The images currently circulating of a Montreal-North protest against police brutality show flames and shattered glass, destruction and anger. But the peaceful rally that launched the march was a far cry from the violence now making headlines.
On Wednesday night, a mourning crowd gathered to decry the death of Jean-Pierre Bony, a 46-year-old Haitian-born Montrealer who passed away Monday after being hit in the head by a rubber bullet during a drug raid.
The rally to protest his death coincided with the birthday of Fredy Villanueva, an 18-year-old Montreal-North resident who was shot and killed by police in 2008, during an altercation with police involving his brother Dany Villanueva.
As Villanueva's mother and relatives lit candles and sang happy birthday to the late teen, protesters laid down banners and hoisted Black Lives Matter placards. Cake was handed out.
Fredy Villanueva's mother, Lilian, clears snow off his photograph. (Photo by VICE du Jour)
"We understand the family, we understand the pain they must feel because we lived it, so we have that family in our hearts, along with all other families who lost loved ones in this way." Fredy's sister Wendy Villanueva said of Bony's relatives.
In a strange twist, the raid that led to Bony's death also involved Dany Villanueva, who now faces drug trafficking and conspiracy charges.
This is not the only déja-vu for the community: back in 2008, the death of Fredy Villanueva had also led to anger and violent riots, during which three police officers and a paramedic sustained injuries. The coroner's inquest into the teenager's death yielded several recommendations — including more training on appropriate use of force and changes to the way police shootings are investigated — which protesters say the city has been too slow to implement.
Writer and activist Robyn Maynard says the threat of police violence is still a constant reality for ethnic minorities in Montreal, especially in multicultural neighborhoods like Montreal-North.
Jean-Pierre Bony (Photo via Facebook)
"[Racial profiling] is something we often hear talked about as if it's some kind of American problem, but here, the proportions of black persons to the population that are incarcerated is similar to the United States, it's comparable. We just have such a denial."
"In Montreal-North and in Saint-Michel, in 2006 and 2007 alone, 30 percent of black youth had been stopped and had all their information taken by police, versus 5 percent of white youth, and black youth are seven times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana," she said.
As the slow-moving crowd began to march, police quickly swarmed the area, blocking streets and forcing protesters to switch routes.
By the time a small group of protesters began to break windows, however, the dozens of police cars were nowhere to be found. The evening culminated with the trashing of a police station and arson at a nearby bank, at which point the SWAT team showed up with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Police march in Montreal North Wednesday night. (Photo by VICE du Jour)
Anie Samson, the Montreal City councillor in charge of public safety, held a press conference Thursday morning to explain that police's decision not to intervene was a "tactical choice" and that officers were prioritizing the safety of citizens over the protection of property. She also specified that those who vandalized cars and buildings were not "an integral part" of the original protests.
"There were fake 911 calls and fires in different locations to lure police," she charged. "We realized that officers were being targeted so we determined it was better to wait."
The death of Jean-Pierre Bony is currently being investigated by Quebec's provincial police, which Maynard says is problematic.
"[The Sûreté du Québec] is right now under fire because of widespread allegations that they have been sexually assaulting Indigenous women all over the regions of Quebec, for decades," she said. "So the fact that this is supposed to be the body that is overseeing what people are alleging is racial profiling and racist violence is ridiculous, there's no way that this can be seen as a neutral body."
Police told VICE News they would not be commenting on the active investigation.
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