August 24 marked a month since the tragic death of Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of Ottawa police. Similarly, it corresponded to a day of action across the country, with multiple cities nationwide rallying to demand justice for Abdi.
“Black lives they matter here, black lives they matter here!” chanted a chorus of voices, as Black Lives Matter supporters marched toward the Waterloo Regional Police Station on Frederick Street in protest of police brutality.
“Black lives they matter here!”
With each outcry came a heightened sense of urgency, and what can only be described as a fervent attempt to speak those words into reality.
According to reports, Abdirahman Abdi was a 37 year-old Somali-Canadian with undisclosed mental health issues. An encounter with police officers in his Ottawa neighborhood left Abdi bloody and battered on the street. He died shortly thereafter. He was unarmed. Abdi should still be alive.
The Black Lives Matter movement – in the U.S and Canada alike – emerged out of obvious systemic failures. The failure of law enforcement to protect the very lives they are entrusted to protect. The failure of authorities to uphold basic principles of justice and accountability, and their failure to recognize and accept the value and humanity of black lives. The BLM movement demands change and ardently refuses to permit the perpetuation of the status quo.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” By partaking in the day of action, Kitchener Waterloo as a community refused to remain idle in the face of injustices anywhere.
Tamon Scarlett co-organized the local BLM rally and explained that the demonstration was part of an organized effort “to show resistance” and “take a stand” for individuals persecuted unjustly, particularly those susceptible to violence.
“Abdirahman wasn’t only a black person but specifically a mentally ill person… [he was] a minority within a minority within a minority,” Scarlett said.
Kitchener Waterloo is made up of countless minority groups. The recent resettlement of over 1100 Syrian refugees in our city is a testament to that. With such a diverse populace, it is imperative that our community begins to have meaningful discussions on racial discrimination, social justice and community solidarity.
“Kitchener Waterloo is a transitional city for black people and recent immigrants” said rally co-organizer and Somali community member Jama Hagi-Yusuf. “So much of our struggle is just surviving.”
But supporting the everyday struggles of minority groups in general and black people in particular need not be confined to singular movements. Hagi-Yusuf points to “community led events for black folks” and “cross-cultural connectivity” as other avenues of creating and promoting sustainable change.
Although Kitchener Waterloo took a significant stance in demanding justice for Abdirahman, a single day of action isn’t nearly enough. There is still much more work to be done within our community and every single one of us is implicated. Ask yourself, in what ways can my unique life experiences, perspectives and resources make a difference in my community? How can I show that black lives matter here, too?