For a week now, Montreal has been boiling with rage. The unprovoked murder of 18-year-old Freddy Villanueva, by agents of the Montreal Police Service, catalyzed an explosion that has been building for years. Within hours of Sunday’s killing, residents of the victim’s neighbourhood responded with a spontaneous march against the “assassin police.” Police attacks on the peaceful demonstrators sparked a riot - in which businesses were looted, cars and streets were doused in propane and set ablaze, and a police officer took a bullet in the leg.
|Montreal-Nord Republik Rally Manifestation 20 August 2008 |
No one cares about the rioting. Everyone is angry. Montreal-Nord, where the murder took place, is a neighbourhood where immigrants learn to give up their dreams and their children are taught their place in Quebec society. If they forget that “place,” the police are quick to remind them.
Tension is high. The immigrants - of all backgrounds, across the city - are all furious. They know it could have been any one of them, or any child of their own. In Montreal, like every other city, the police are renowned for two things: brutality and racism. But it’s not only immigrants who are angry. The poor Quebecois who live in the neighbourhood are outraged too, and aren’t afraid to show it. The police now walk street patrols in groups of four, crowding people off the sidewalk. That doesn’t help. The anger spreads, from the epicenter of Montréal-Nord, throughout the entire city.
A group of teenagers outside a downtown Metro stop: “It was right on my street. The riot cops were pointing guns at everyone. Assault rifles! And they think they’re cool with that shit!” - the speaker imitates the arrogant swagger of the Forces of Order. A Montréal-Nord business owner, a victim of the rioting, tells news cameras that he lost $10,000 in merchandise “because of the actions of the police.” The police do not dare (as they did in the similar case of Mohammed Anas Benas three years ago) to claim that they were attacked. There are too many witnesses to a murder that happened in a public park on a Sunday evening.
The serpents in Montreal’s newsrooms flick their forked tongues anxiously. They jump to the defense of their paymasters in public office, representatives of the ruling class, propagators of the myths of race and inherent criminality. At least one witness to the riots, a member of left party Québec solidaire, is misquoted by bourgeois press rag Le Devoir to call for an increased police presence (read: police budget) while he really deplored the shooting and condemned the police. Smirking reporters, imitating the coverage of the Paris riots not so long ago, eternally repeat that “Montréal-Nord” is full of Haitians and Latinos, full of gangs, a byword for high unemployment and low levels of education.
The young Villanueva was Latino, but he was neither a gang member, nor unemployed, nor uneducated. He was studying to be a mechanic. Before the attack, Villanueva and the two other shooting victims were - get this - playing marbles.
More and more, the racially-motivated killing is taking on a class dimension. The borough mayor, Marcel Parent, is quoted saying “Everything is going well in Montréal-Nord, there’s no problem. I’ve never seen anything at all happen.” The words were meant to soothe the business class of Montréal-Nord; instead, he exposes his disconnection from his voter base.
A group calling itself Montréal-Nord Republik, composed of residents of the neighbourhood, emerges spontaneously and calls a press conference on Saturday - on the lawn outside the fire station which was set ablaze a week previously. They emphasize that Parent should know this incident only expresses resentment that has been building for years. They condemn Parent’s oblivious attitude, and call for his resignation. They attribute the violence to “the political elite, not the gangs.”
“It’s not going well at all in Montréal-Nord,” says an articulate spokesperson. “The police are repressing and harassing young people. There is 61 percent unemployment among people between 16 and 25….50 percent of people across Quebec support an inquiry [into Villanueva’s killing]. Imagine if that survey had been done in this neighbourhood!” He goes on to point out that it is racial profiling which has created the cleavage between youth and the police. “To get respect, you have to show respect.” Another spokesperson blames the crisis on “the lazy politics that reflect the well-off class of Montréal-Nord. The youth have expressed what was shown to them by the police.” They point out that the riot had social causes, which have been replicated across the world, with the same results. “These people didn’t all get up one morning and say, ‘We should trash Montreal.’”
No, they didn’t. In 2003, when the Liberal government legislated savage attacks on labour standards, education, and welfare, the streets of Montreal filled with tens of thousands of protestors, shouting “Qui sème de la misère, recolte de la colère!” - he who sows hardship, will reap anger. Yes, the welfare state is crumbling, day after day, under the sharp dynamite shots of the capitalist class. An education is getting more and more expensive. Once you graduate, it’s harder and harder to find a job, and when you do, the wages and conditions are difficult to accept. If you are a visible minority - so much the worse for you. The seeds of hardship are ripening into anger.
Montréal-Nord Republik’s message, it says, is directed at “workers in the street and everyone else.” A mechanic, across the street from the press conference, walks over to see what the fuss is about. When he sees the demand to recall borough mayor Marcel Parent, he’s happy to put up two of the posters, listing the demands of the group, on the wall of his shop. The man pays no heed to the presence of the five squad cars directly in front of his garage, nor to the two foot patrols passing by. It won’t bring Freddy Villanueva back from the dead, but there is something new in the air.
Demands of Montréal-Nord Republik, after the murder of Freddy Villanueva:
1) The immediate resignation of the mayor of Montréal-Nord, Mr. Marcel Parent.
2) A public and independant inquiry
3) The end of the abusive practices of the police
4)That a piece of artwork be produced by artists of the neighbourhood and commissioned by the Bourough to keep the memory of Freddy alive.
5) The recognition of the principle according to which when there is economic insecurity, there will be social insecurity.
The demands will be presented next Wednesday evening, during the Borough Council session.