Four days after an Ottawa police constable was acquitted of all criminal charges in the death of Abdirahman Abdi, more than one hundred protesters gathered Saturday to voice outrage at the verdict and demand more support for mental health initiatives.
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, a grassroots group of activists and community members formed in the days following Abdi's death, hosted the rally, which began around 3 p.m. in McNabb Park.
It was organized after Const. Daniel Montsion was found not guilty Tuesday of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the fatal 2016 arrest.
"We're here to pay homage to a Canadian man that was killed at the hands of the justice system," said Yusuf Faqiri, one of the many who attended the afternoon rally and march.
"We have to understand that people with mental illness — their lives are not to be [cheapened]. And as a society, we fail people with mental illness. This is not an Ottawa issue alone, not an Ontario issue — this is a Canadian issue."
Constable wore plated gloves
Police had been called to the city's Hintonburg neighbourhood on July 24, 2016, after getting reports about an altercation outside a coffee shop and a man who had reportedly grabbed women.
Abdi was chased to Hilda Street by police before being punched several times in the head by Montsion, who'd arrived on the scene as backup and was wearing reinforced or "plated" gloves.
Abdi, who struggled with mental health issues, later died of cardiac arrest.
In his decision, Justice Robert Kelly said the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Montsion's actions caused Abdi's death.
Kelly also wasn't convinced Montsion used force that was a substantial departure from what a reasonable police officer would do, or that it went beyond what's justified in the Criminal Code.
More money for public health
Since the fatal arrest, however, Abdi's death has become a rallying point for activists in Ottawa and across the country seeking police reform and an end to anti-Black racism.
His death has shone a spotlight on how officers treat people of colour, as well as the at-times strained relations between police and those communities.
Ifrah Yusuf, the incoming chair of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, said the group will continue to call for more support for mental health initiatives — along with a freeze to the city's police budget.
City council voted down a proposal earlier this month to limit the force's budget increase to 1.5 per cent, while redirecting the difference, roughly $4 million, to public health.
"We believe that money should go towards public health and to the communities who are more vulnerable," Yusuf said at Saturday's protest.
The Ottawa Police Service is in the midst of developing a strategy for handling mental health calls, with more details expected at a Monday meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board.
Protester Salma Tihani, however, questioned how successful that effort would ultimately be.
"There's a lot of talk. I'd like to see actual actions towards that," Tihani said. "So we'll see how the decision is made and what they'll actually do, what are the concrete steps [they'll take]."