Too Quick To Crucify

  • Photo by Riley Sparks

It took almost no time for Montreal’s anti-police activists to make cheap politics of the tragic Jan. 6 police shooting of Farshad Mohammadi.

Two days after the shooting, Howl!—a collective that advocates for social justice through art—wrote, “As Canada’s Conservative government moves to enforce economic austerity measures that place the burden of the financial crisis on poor and working people, let us also mark this police killing within the growing calls for social and economic justice in Quebec and Canada.”

A speaker at Howl!’s protest in Bonaventure Metro on Jan. 10 argued that “our economic system killed Farshad Mohammadi,” and that his shooting was evidence that “capitalism kills.” Artist and activist Norman Nawrocki, who spoke to The Gazette that day, was more direct: “The police decide, ‘We’ll take care of the homeless problem for you, we’ll start killing them.’”

Yes, the cops in this city aren’t always great and they make plenty of mistakes. And yes, there are too many homeless in Montreal and more needs to be done to protect them. But the important discussion about the inequalities and economic injustices that cause homelessness is pretty academic when the manifestation of this problem is stabbing you in the face with a pair of box cutters. So let’s set aside politics for a moment, take a step back and look at the facts of the situation.

Like most details about Mohammadi, the events preceding his confrontation with police in Bonaventure Metro are unclear. What is certain is that two police officers approached him in the station and some time later he stabbed one in the chest, neck and face. After a short pursuit, the officers fired three rounds, killing Mohammadi. 

The police just can’t let a violent, armed man run around a busy metro station. Mohammadi had already attacked one person—it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for the police to believe he might try to hurt someone else. Still, did they have to shoot him? What options did they have?

If the officers had been able to clear the area, they might have worked to calm Mohammadi down while they waited for better less-lethal options. But the escalating situation and crowded scene would have made that difficult. Trying to disarm him would have been dangerous. The officers would almost certainly have been cut, and if that cut struck an artery, bleeding to death would take minutes.

Pepper spray and tasers are also not ideal for a rapidly moving situation. Neither are guaranteed to work, and can be defeated by thick clothing, wind or movement. It’s not clear if these officers were armed with stun guns—the Montreal police have only 48 in their arsenal. 

Shooting to wound also isn’t as easy as it looks on TV. Legs and arms are very small, probably moving, targets. There are major arteries in both, so even if the officer did hit their target, the person could still rapidly bleed to death. The shot is also much more likely to miss and hit someone else, as happened last year to Patrick Lamoges, who was killed by a stray police bullet.

The police have a tough job, and many of them do it well. Others, like those who shot Fredy Villanueva and Patrick Lamoges, do not. We can speculate all we want about whether these officers made the right call, but until the Sûreté du Québec investigation wraps up and all of the facts are public, no one will know for sure. 

The presumption of innocence in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies equally to all. And immediately, almost gleefully, rushing to crucify the police without knowing or caring what happened on Jan. 6 is ignorant.

Activists devalue their very legitimate cause when discarding facts to fit a prejudiced narrative of psychopathic pigs murdering the vulnerable.

Hopefully Mohammadi’s death will force the city and province to work harder to help people like him. There are many ways to prevent these situations before they happen, but there’s little the police can do when confronted by a violent, unstable person wielding a knife in a metro station, no matter how disadvantaged or marginalized he or she might be.

Social workers and counsellors, not cops, should be the ones dealing with people like Mohammadi.

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