Welcome to Canada: Abdirahman Abdi & the Selective Silence of Canadian Leadership
Just a few moments ago I watched the Mothers of the Movement give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. To say they were compelling would be a gross understatement. These tremendous women inspired millions worldwide with their grace and resilience in the face of unfathomable suffering and monstrous injustice. They are superheroes. As a black American, witnessing them in action on that stage conjured a dizzying, chest-tightening, stomach-churning combination of emotions.
All at once I felt sorrow, rage, pride and despondency. Perhaps even a sliver of hope.
However, watching this moment as a black Canadian added even more pain and fury to this already potent cocktail. Why? Because seeing the vital issues of policing and systemic racism at the forefront of national discourse in every single American media outlet, and on the lips of every public figure made me ashamed and disgusted to be Canadian.
On Sunday, witnesses say Ottawa police pepper-sprayed and beat down Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year old black man with mental health issues. After violently subduing him and cuffing him these officers were filmed by locals kneeling on his unresponsive body while he bled profusely from the head. These same officers refused to provide Mr. Abdi with medical assistance for a considerable amount of time, instructed witnesses not to call 911 and then attempted to confiscate cameras of those who were filming. Finally, paramedics arrived, and after an even longer wait, Mr. Abdi was taken to hospital. He succumbed to his wounds on Monday.
Since then, the response from Canadian media and public figures has ranged from tepid to silent. In marked contrast to their wall-to-wall feeding frenzy when faced with American police violence, Canadian media outlets were slow to report the story if they did at all. Those that did report on it gave the telling short shrift, burying it in their coverage.
The same Canadian media outlets that have had no qualms about repeatedly circulating video of the deaths of black Americans at the hands of police and which were responsible for a veritable deluge of self-righteous condemnation in their editorial pages have fallen silent when faced with the same issue at home. When confronted about this deafening silence, some Canadian journalists have even gone as far as to express exasperation, asking what they could possibly have done better.
This from the same people who covered #DeadRaccoonTO with the same level of dedication and attention usually reserved for a mass killing or a natural disaster.
Politicians gave the murder of Mr. Abdi similar treatment. Ottawa mayor Jim Watson’s response was impressive insofar as it managed to be extraordinarily late, ill-considered and blasé all at the same time. Self-styled liberal lions Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said absolutely nothing.
I suppose when it comes to composing a Federal cabinet it’s 2015, but when it comes to black men getting beaten to death down the street it’s still 1955.
In my frustration, I tried to imagine a scenario where the DC police brutally beat a mentally ill black man, where they were caught on video leaving him to bleed to death in the street. This, sadly, was not hard to do. I then tried to imagine President Obama not even deigning to make a statement. I tried to imagine the next day’s New York Times cover bereft of any mention of the incident. This, despite America’s pitiful record on racism and police brutality, was utterly unfathomable.
“Welcome to Canada”, I muttered as I closed the screen on my laptop.