Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Montreal -- Rioters Co-Opt Protest with Paris-style Car-B-Q

Lest we blithely accept the Car-B-Q as the official emblem of disaffected urban "youth" from Paris to Montreal, today's Globe and Mail editorial counters purposefully with a well-needed reality check -- "Mayhem is no protest."

Following the weekend fatal shooting of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva, a peaceful protest (signs, speaches, strutting, singing) against racial profiling by police in the Montreal North neighbourhood was highjacked by a non-peaceful protest (trashing, torching, looting, lawlessness).

After the shooting, roughly 100 people carrying signs began to protest peacefully. At some point, the protest turned ugly; some, perhaps many, of the protesters went home. A mob of 500 people formed. Firebombs were thrown, guns were brandished. Denis Coderre, a Montreal MP, said he thinks most of that mob were from outside the neighbourhood. But even if he is wrong about that, there is little reason at the moment to dignify the stealing of meat from small butcher shops or the burning of cars as an expression of oppressed youth.

And, of course, the self-appointed "community leaders" seize upon the opportunity to legitimize the 'rage of the neighbourhood' under the predictable banner of the "R" Word. Where have we seen this before? Oh yeah, Law and Order. Viva Al Sharpton (and his ilk).

Meanwhile, the Montreal Gazette reports that "[d]uring the riot, a female police officer was shot in the thigh and rioters torched cars, looted businesses, and set fire to a fire hall." At the same time, The Gazette tries to remind us that this is actually about real people (not just identity-politics pawns):

At the Villanueva house, Fredy's brother and sisters struggled to make sense of the death.

His sister, Julissa, said the violent turn of last night's march left a bitter taste in her mouth.

"We're devastated. Our family is feeling absolutely broken, and things like this are the last things we want to see," she said.

So, what's really going on in Montreal North? Jackboot fascism? Gangland Anarchy? Both or neither? The Gazette tries to shed some light (but the battery power is a little low):

The force says the problems are mostly gang-related, but community leaders say
the problems go deeper than that.

"The relationship between young men and the police in these (hot) areas is very difficult," said Maria Mourani, a sociologist and Bloc Quebecois politician who wrote a book about street-gang life in Montreal.

"The police are on edge because, when they get out of their cars, they don't know what is going to happen. The young people are on edge because they feel they are being harassed."

Much of the tension stems from what young people say is racial profiling by police officers who are trying to crack down on street-gang activity.

But in doing that, community leaders say police are harassing too many black and Latino youths with no criminal records and who have no ties to street gangs.

Montreal North is a community of about 84,000 people, dotted with pockets of poverty and rife with street gangs.

In other words, the blame game abounds, but chances of serious and even-handed suggestions for solutions remain more remote than a Canadian gold medal in a sport that doesn't involve logging or rowing.

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