Muslim Family Services of Ottawa (MFSO) expresses its unequivocal outrage and dismay at the recent acts of racist terrorism that have taken place in the USA. With our brothers and sisters in Minneapolis, we mourn the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed at the hands of four police officers. We understand Mr. Floyd was a native of Houston, Texas who was beloved by his home community and his colleagues and neighbours in Minnesota.
We should mourn and condemn this act of racial terror but we should not act surprised. Minneapolis is a place where the Black community, including many Black Muslims, have faced frequent acts of racism and violence. Across both the USA and Canada, anti-Blackness and racist violence has been a defining characteristic of police, prison, criminal justice, and child welfare systems, among others.
We applaud the immediate and decisive firing of the four police officers in question by the authorities in Minneapolis. We urge that charges be laid and justice be done for the precious life of Mr. Floyd and the heartbreak caused to his loved ones and community. We pray that his family be comforted during this nightmare; we know too that prayers are not enough alone – decisive action must accompany our prayers in order to avoid hypocrisy.
Most often, police officers face no consequences for this violence. In our city of Ottawa, Constable Daniel Montsion, charged with the death of our brother and community member Abidrahman Abdi has been on paid leave since Mr. Abdi’s killing in 2016. Since this tragic death, we have seen the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) fail, time and again, communities of colour in our city. Whether it be the handling of the death of renowned Inuk artist and community member Annie Pootoogook, wristbands supportive of the officers involved in Mr. Abdi’s death, various acts of racist violence and harrassment, or recent racist memes directed at racialized members of their own force, we have been aghast at the unrepentant racism of many of our city’s police officers. We know that Chief Peter Sloly is taking decisive action against racism in our police service, and we cannot urge the Chief to act quickly enough.
We won’t let the lives lost to racial terror fade. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, and so many more in the US. In Canada, there is an epidemic of police assaults on Black lives, often those struggling with mental health issues: Matchuar Madut, Pierre Coriolan, Nicholas Gibbs, Abdirahman Abdi, Andrew Loku, and so many more. And now, Regis Korchinski-Paquet. We mourn all the beautiful lives lost, and demand justice for them all.
At the provincial level, the work of our sisters and brothers in the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition towards reforming legislation related to policing in Ontario (to, among other things, allow Chiefs to fire or place officers like Cnst. Montsion on unpaid leave), was thrown out by the current government. Canadians are as egregiously entangled in anti-Black racism as our neighbours to the South. It is worth noting that it was a white Canadian woman who recently called the police on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park in New York City after he asked her to leash her dog. In both New York City and in Ottawa, by-law and police have both been accused of unevenly enforcing COVID-19 quarantine restrictions against Black community members. And despite reticence by authorities to acknowledge it, across North America it is Black and other racialized communities who have suffered most egregiously during our current state of pandemic.
White supremacy, and specifically anti-Black racism, is a pandemic unto itself that needs to be fought with all our strength. Our own Muslim community is rife with anti-Blackness, and we cannot condemn the dehumanization of Black people in wider society without pointing out and condemning the anti-Blackness that infects our communities. We are tired of our community’s outspoken positions on various foreign policy issues but its deafening silence on issues of anti-Blackness and police terror.
We would ask mosques and Muslim organizations, national and local, to make clear statements opposing racial terror and anti-Blackness, and to collaborate with us on a Muslim-community-wide plan for addressing anti-Blackness in our communities, that builds on work already done by amazing advocates in our city and beyond. Our tradition teaches us that to stay neutral is to befriend injustice. As an organization that serves both Black and non-Black communities, and that has both Black and non-Black team members, we are committed to this work.
The non-Black members of our team want to express our unwavering solidarity and love towards our Black colleagues. We know the toll that hearing about constant acts of terror takes on you. It is okay to not be okay. We are here for you; we support you. Take all the time you need.
In love, anger, and heartbrokenness,
The Board of MFSO.