Looking for justice: Group calls for end to over-policing Black communities

(India Mosca/The McGill Daily)

India Mosca, The McGill Daily

MONTREAL (CUP) — On Friday, Feb. 10, family, friends, and supporters gathered in front of Roddick Gates for the Justice for Nicous March and Rally, organized by the Justice for Nicous Action Committee.

“We are here today to ask justice for Nicous because the system failed him!” These were the words used by one of Nicous D’Andre Spring’s close friends to introduce last Friday’s protest.

Spring died after being transported to a hospital on Dec. 24, 2022, following an altercation with detention guards the day prior in the Montreal Detention Centre Bordeaux. He was 21 years old.

Officers used pepper spray and a restraining device called a spit hood on him, resulting in serious injury.

In a recent interview conducted by CBC, Michael Arruda, a specialist in crisis interventions said he was “very concerned” about the simultaneous use of these two instruments. Used together, they can result in a choking sensation, and they were the cause of Spring’s cardiac arrest.

The unnecessary nature of these injuries was highlighted at the march. At the time of his death, Spring was being illegally detained, as a judge had ordered his release on Dec. 23.

After his death, Quebec’s Public Security Department recognized that Spring was illegally detained. Spring wasn’t the only one from whom bail was broken on that day; two other people should have also been released before Dec. 24.

At the beginning of the march, one of the speakers called out institutional racism in Canada, underlining the importance of solidarity within the Black community and the loss of trust in the judicial system due to abuses of law enforcement.

“He was a good man, but our presence today goes beyond this […] Too many times a Black man is killed. Too many times are families left to grieve. And too many times these actions are left unanswered!,” said one of Spring’s close friends.

Indeed, this is far from a single occurrence. There have been numerous other instances where police in Montreal and across Canada have harmed Black people.

“I am just looking for justice,” said Spring’s mother to the crowd. “I brought my kids here for a better life and now I had to bury my son.”

Among the demands of the action committee and his relatives is a full acknowledgment and apology from the city of Montreal, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), and the department of correction.

They additionally ask that the footage of Spring’s death be fully released and placed in the possession of his family, and to put an end to the use of spit hoods. They then demand that the officers involved in Spring’s death and the supervisor responsible for overseeing them be fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The committee further demands that over-policing of Black, Indigenous, and racialized immigrant communities in Montreal be stopped immediately and that funds directed to this over-policing be re-directed to community services such as youth centres, rape crisis centres, housing services, food security initiatives and infrastructure.

Before the attendees started the march, Marilyn, an Indigenous woman, spoke to the crowd. To the sound of her teueikan, a traditional Innu drum imitating the sound of a beating heart, she illustrated the necessity of the “support of the community” and the strength of unity.

She said, “This is supposed to be a month of celebration, and it is going to be a month of celebration because we are going to celebrate the beautiful life of Nicous and we will unify for him […] Today is not about going to the government, it is about being unified. Unity shall work. We have done it before.”

This initiated the march from Roddick Gates to the Montreal courthouse, which was joined by supporters, organizers, relatives and students, including members of the Black Students’ Network and the Black Law Students’ Association of McGill.

The Daily spoke to Danni, a McGill student, who explained that “as a student, it is important to be here because we are part of the next generation and fight injustice.”

She then, however, acknowledged that “students take on a lot of the responsibility, but McGill should officially recognize these injustices.”

As attendees marched, they sang in the streets of downtown Montreal, “What do we want? Justice for Nicous! When do we want it? Now!” They also chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “Release the tapes now!”

Then, Sarafina Dennie, Spring’s sister, spoke to the crowd, saying, “I need justice for my brother, his life was taken for no reason, and we’re really tired of being treated really messed up in Quebec by the police […] We are not stopping.”

During the march, the Daily spoke with Blain Haile, one of the organizers of the march and a member of Head and Hands, a community centre that seeks to promote physical and mental well-being for youth experiencing marginalization(s).

She explained that she “was here today because we are done, we are not waiting anymore […] we are not heard enough and this is our way of saying that we will be heard.” She concluded that “we want justice for every other Black life lost in the system.”

Since Spring’s death, a manager and an officer at Bordeaux have been suspended pending the results of investigations into the matter. The Red Coalition, a non-profit lobbying organization, has been assisting Spring’s family to file a complaint with the Quebec Ombudsman and requested that they lead an investigation into whether systemic discrimination played a role in Spring’s death.

“People seem to forget that this fight also concerns Canada,” Danni told the Daily.

Institutional racism and abuses in Canadian prisons have been well documented in different research and reports, and they seem to have increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

Deaths in federal prisons have doubled across the country since 2019, and the majority of these victims have been Black and Indigenous people.

A report released in 2022 found that while Black people represent 3.5 per cent of the Canadian population, they make up to 9.5 per cent of the federal prison population. They are also more likely to be involved in “use of force incidents.”

Another report from 2021 by researcher Guillaume Herbert revealed that Quebec’s correctional facilities categorized inmates by skin colour. Spring’s experience demonstrates the problem of illegal detention and the consequences of “pretrial detention.”

Like 40 per cent of the prison population in Canada and 67 per cent of inmates in provincial detention centres, Nicous D’Andre Spring was detained while awaiting his bail hearing, also known as pre-trial detention.

The demonstration ended with different statements from the organizers and those close to Spring’s family.

They highlighted the importance of solidarity and unity but also that it is necessary for solutions to be implemented – that justice be rendered and reforms established to avoid having to respond to another similar event.

“This passes through education,” said one of the speakers, because “education is political.”

This article was shared via the CUP Wire, maintained by the Canadian University Press.