By Mark Brown
PRIDE Guest Columnist
BLMTO hosted a Prayer and Picnic event entitled “Justice for Abdirahman Abdi.”
Abdirahman Abdi was a 37-year-old, unarmed Black Somali man killed during an interaction with two Ottawa police officers on July 24, 2016.
Soon after the killing, video surfaced on social media that showed a handcuffed Abdirahman Abdi on the ground with his pants down and bleeding profusely from the head.
“Where’s the ambulance, he is going to bleed to death?” asks an unknown witness, who appears to be filming the immediate aftermath of the interaction. Others can be heard yelling, “he has a mental illness”, over the sounds of weeping and wailing in the background.
The event, which was first planned as an outdoor event in the heart of Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, was quickly moved indoors, after thunderstorms were forecasted. The sudden change in venue did not deter the participants, as hundreds packed the Ryerson University’s Student Campus Center at 5pm on a Friday evening.
While much of the audience was made up of Somali and other African Canadians, the vast cultural diversity within the event could not go unnoticed. The affair offered both sign language translation and Somali-to-English translation for whoever needed it.
The day began with space being provided for the Muslim partakers to pray. It then continued with all the participants sharing a meal.
One of the first speakers was Akua Benjamin, who is an original member of Toronto’s Black Action Defence Committee (BAD-C).
She spoke to the diversity in the room, by not only speaking about the different races in the room, but she also spoke about allies from the women’s movement, labour movement and others in the room.
Benjamin was followed by Abdi Hagi Yusuf, a Somali Postal Worker who is well known in the GTA’s Somali Community.
Yusuf spoke about the lack of jobs for young people from the Somali community, after they graduate from post-secondary education. He further went on to make a connection between the lack of employment and the negative affect it can have on mental health.
None had the audience’s attention like Naima Hassan. Hassan, a spoken word artist from the Somali Community, quickly captivated the audience with her ability to, precisely and consistently, gather the issues at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement internationally and blast them out of her figurative cannon at the front of the room.
“White privilege means being 5% more likely to get a job with a criminal record than a black man is without one,” she stated, as the crowd jumped to their feet.
With the agility of a boxer with a combination of punches, her left jab landed: “White privilege means having an assault rifle aimed at an officer and being told ‘sir, calm down’.” By this time the roar of the crowd could be heard throughout the building.
Finally she went on to say, “The privileged has to stand up for the fallen, otherwise you are part of the problem.” Few were left in their seat when Naima Hassan was through.
Hassan was followed by Alexandria Symone, who is one of the co-founders of BLMTO. Symone brought all the exuberating energy and excitement that BLMTO is known for: “You know Andrew Loku! You Know Jermaine Anthony Carby!” she shouted from a microphone at the front of the room.
Just as quickly, she shifts into a lower gear and quietly states, “Help them to remember” — and walks away.
At the time of writing, BLMTO’s next move on this Abdirahman Abdi killing is unknown. From occupying the Toronto police headquarters to a 24-minute sit-in at Toronto’s Pride parade, BLMTO has shown, again and again, that it possesses a never-ending ability to find creative forms of expressing protest.
As such, I suggest that we buckle our metaphorical seat belts and get ready to give these young people our support, as my gut tells me this is about to get interesting.
Mark Brown is the Chair of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council’s Equity Committee, a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionist (CBTU), An Executive Board Member of the Labour Education Center and a member of the Toronto Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Mark can be contacted at: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000658149978 or Twitter MarkAAABrown.