Anti-racism protests in Montreal demanded justice for a black Minnesota man who died after police intervention last week turned into a clash between police and several demonstrators on Sunday night.
The march drove through downtown Montreal on Sunday afternoon without incident, but Montreal police said the meeting was illegal about three hours after it began when they said projectiles were thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.
Tensions flared after the official rally ended and several demonstrators walked back to the starting point, under the shadow of the Montreal police headquarters in the city center.
The window was destroyed, a fire broke out and the situation rolled into a cat-and-mouse game between the protester’s pocket and the police who were trying to disperse them.
Demonstrators have gathered to denounce racist violence and police impunity – both in the US and at home in Montreal.
George Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday after asking for air while a white police officer pressed his knee.
His death has sparked protests every night in major US cities.
‘That keeps happening and it happens here’
The Montreal Rally was a meeting of solidarity with American anti-racism activists, but the committee said it was also an opportunity to express their own anger over the treatment of marginalized people in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
Some of the names that were called include the names of black men who were killed during the Montreal police intervention in recent years.
“It’s very important for everyone to be here today so we can have a lot of votes to say that the George Floyd event is not a single event,” said Marie-Livia Beauge, one of the organizers of the event. “It keeps happening and it happens here in Montreal, so being here together is to show solidarity and denounce injustice.”
The meeting drew Montreal from all lines and backgrounds, holding posters with slogans. Protesters chanted “Black Life is important” and “I can’t breathe” – what Floyd said in the video.
They knelt in unison several times in solidarity with the movement.
But when the Montreal police asked protesters to disperse, some refused.
‘If you support them, you oppose us’
Leah Blain, 20, chose to continue the demonstration and was part of a group that tried to reach the police headquarters when she met with pepper spray.
“We just stand here. We show our support and this is what happened. The police support the system against us, so if you support them, you oppose us,” he said.
On Sunday evening, Steve Haboucha was cleaning broken glass from a frame around the front window of his Koodo Mobile store on Ste Catherine Street, Montreal. The security video from his shop, he said, shows the flow of people entering cell phone shops and going with accessories for 30 minutes.
About 10 police officers were there, standing on broken glass, guarding outside. Haboucha said police told him that there were “hundreds” of stores that suffered the same fate along the route taken by the protesters.
A few kilometers to the west on the same downtown street, bursts of broken glass echoed throughout the neighborhood, ahead of a group of people who turned their destruction into seemingly random targets.
In one corner, a group of people used metal construction marks and steel stands to smash the windshield of a payday loan branch.
Broken windows, shops looted
Along Ste Catherine, people smashed windows and looted shops, while trying to avoid the police.
Before the chaos erupted, Vincent Mousseau, a social worker and community organizer, called Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, who earlier Sunday condemned “violence, racism and systemic discrimination” in a series of tweets.
Mousseau warned against empty words from leaders.
“In combating this, we need to make sure our movements are not co-opted to hold our anger in their good words and not act together,” Mousseau said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee repeatedly told people to spread out, trying to find a place where a distance of two meters could be maintained.
Although most people wear masks and organizers spray hand sanitizers, the amount present makes distance impossible.
The location adjacent to the Montreal police headquarters was crowded, with the police closely guarding the building that housed their brass.
Doctors urged pandemics to be careful
Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec’s public health, told Radio-Canada on Sunday night that he recognized the importance of the cause but urged to wash hands and for anyone who showed symptoms so that health workers knew they were attending the protest.
Around the start of the demonstration, the Montreal police took the unusual step of issuing a tweet saying they were disappointed with George Floyd’s death.
“Both the action taken and the absence of witnesses present are contrary to the values of our organization,” the force tweeted, calling for a peaceful demonstration.
“We respect the right and need of everyone to speak out against this violence and will be on your side to ensure your safety,” the police said.
The Montreal rally was followed by one in Toronto on Saturday, which remained peaceful.
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