A Call for Justice
Families Commemorate Victims of Police Brutality, Denounce Lack of Independent Investigations
As family members held close the portraits of loved ones who died from police mistreatment, nearby officers looked on in stony silence from the stoops of the police offices outside Laurier metro on Thursday evening.
Approximately 70 people gathered for the sixth annual commemorative vigil to share memories of deaths involving police brutality, excessive force or mistreatment that failed to yield justice or official answers.
The event was organized by the Justice for Victims of Police Killings Coalition, a Montreal-based community made up of families touched by police-related deaths.
Concordia student Julie Matson experienced first-hand the effects of police brutality. Matson shared with the crowd the story of her father Ben Matson, whose confrontation with the law escalated from a parking violation to being publicly beaten by officers and dying of asphyxiation while in custody.
“My wish is that the police would actually really overhaul their training and include a significant portion of it to be sensitivity training,” said Matson. “Especially with people with mental health issues and different social classes, and that goes into race as well.”
Bridget Tolley is the daughter of Gladys Tolley, a First Nations woman who was struck and killed by a patrol car driven by a Quebec police officer in 2001.
“We never saw the body,” Tolley said. “The only people who saw the body were police.”
While sharing her story, Tolley turned from the crowd and spoke directly to a group of eight officers blocking the doors to the police department.
“Since when was it allowed for a brother to investigate another brother while on the scene of an accident after [striking] and killing someone? Since when?” she asked.
There was no reply. Tolley’s words addressed the conflict of interest in her family’s case—the officer who led the investigation of Gladys Tolley’s death was the brother of the officer driving the vehicle which struck and killed her.
Police brutality and impunity have been brought to the forefront of the public eye in North America, especially in the last few years. A highly publicized case is that of Michael Brown, a Black teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer in Missouri in 2014.
The circumstances surrounding the shooting were heavily disputed, according to an article in the New York Times. After an investigation was brought before a grand jury, the police officer responsible was not convicted. The media coverage and intensity of the case sparked a landslide of discussions concerning police impunity. According to Matson, the increase of police militarization and an imbalance of power lead to these frequent cases of police brutality and mistreatment.
Wissam Mansour, another attendant of the vigil, pointed out the lack of an independent institution watching over police forces.
“When something big [like police-related killings happens], police will investigate police, [there’s] no one from the outside,” Mansour said. There are only internal investigations done on police officers who are suspected of crimes, which makes it easier, in theory, to have charges and investigations dropped with little explanation. There is a belief that the introduction of outside supervision to police forces might decrease the number of brutality cases.
As more cases of police brutality are brought to light, the need for systemic reform and a hunger for justice are also on the rise.
“It has been 14 years, but there is still no justice,” Tolley said. “I don’t want this to happen to my children.”
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