Protesters gather in NDG to mourn Black man shot and killed by Montreal police

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Last week's fatal shooting of 41-year-old Sheffield Matthews has brought back memories of other Black men shot and killed by Montreal police officers in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and it's leading to renewed calls to reform the police system in Quebec.

About 200 people gathered at Trenholme Park on Saturday afternoon, demanding police forces be defunded, with more resources being allocated to community groups that can respond to emergencies involving people with mental health issues.

Montreal police officers shot and killed Matthews last Thursday, after officers received an early-morning call about a man in distress.

The province's police watchdog, the Bureau of Independent Investigations, is looking into the incident.

According to its initial report, police say they found Matthews holding a knife and approaching their squad car. The officers remained in the car until they saw him approaching the driver of another vehicle.

Police say officers shot Matthews when he charged toward them with the knife still in hand.

"Until when are we going to keep repeating the same thing?" said Marilhan Lopez, one of the protest's organizers. "This man was in distress, and instead of being met with care, he was met with bullets."

Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada
Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada

Almost exactly 33 years ago, 19-year-old Anthony Griffin, was fatally shot by an officer just outside an NDG police station on Nov. 11, 1987.

In 2018, 23-year-old Nicholas Gibbs, who had mental health issues, was also shot and killed by police in NDG.

On Saturday, people in attendance held a moment of silence to honour the lives of Black men who have been killed by police and different speakers took turns addressing the crowd, including Remy Gibbs, Nicholas's nephew.

Gibbs highlighted the fact that the man charged with killing two people and injuring five others during a Halloween sword attack in Quebec City was not harmed by police while Sheffield was shot and killed as proof of systemic racism.

"These are not just people you're killing, these are families you're destroying," Gibbs said.

"You kill one person in a family, you're destroying damn near a whole generation."

Voices demanding that cities across North America defund police departments grew louder last spring, following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes.

During the summer, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she was keeping an open mind about the idea of re-allocating funds usually earmarked for the police.

Critics have also questioned the police watchdog's neutrality, saying there is a lack of representation of people of colour in its ranks and pointing to its track record, which has resulted in few charges against police officers.