Protesters talk police defunding as they rally over wrongful arrest in Montreal
MONTREAL -- Montrealers protesting today after the wrongful arrest of Mamadi Camara turned the conversation to police defunding, a rallying cry from this summer -- though they didn't agree on how exactly they envision it.
"Hold them responsible. Hold somebody responsible," said one woman, Cassandra Williams, who took the mic in the midst of the crowd for an impromptu speech.
"We can't abolish them because we do need [some things]," she said.
But the police presence needs to be shrunk by authorities, she said. She argued that citizens protesting won't make a difference.
"They don't care. We're just making them more angry," she said.
The rally was held at a plaza next to Parc metro station, in the same neighbourhood of Parc Extension where Camara, a Black 31-year-old PhD student and Uber driver, was charged with attempted murder of a police officer last Thursday after a traffic stop where the officer was assaulted.
But six days later, prosecutors backtracked and said they'd gotten a video suggesting they possibly had the wrong person. Camara was released, with all charges stayed.
Dozens attended the rally, which featured a lineup of planned speakers. However, partway through, the audience took over the mic for several minutes to make angrier comments.
Williams said she objected to police's unwillingness to admit they made a mistake. On Thursday, Montreal Police Chief Sylvain Caron said he couldn't yet apologize to Camara.
"We're all human. People make mistakes," said Williams. "So the police are perfect, so they can't make mistakes too?"
Shortly after the rally, Montreal Police Chief Sylvain Caron held a press conference and said that he was ready to publicly apologize to Camara, saying that new evidence exonerates him beyond a doubt.
A man in the crowd at the rally said he doesn't believe that police will gradually change. "You cannot reform the police. You cannot make the police accountable. It is in their... design," he said.
Organizers didn't speak to CTV about the idea of defunding, the concept of taking some money from the police budget, or all of it, and putting it into social services to build safety and security.
Alessandra Devulsky, one of the organizers, said that she wants to see more Montrealers get involved in the police debate. As for Camara's arrest and jailing, she said she thinks it's "another example of the way police see us," meaning Black people.
"We're seen as a target, an easy target," she said.
One politician was also there -- Mary Deros, a city councillor for Parc Extension. She said that what she most wants to see is the arrival of body-worn cameras for police, and that she wants to see Mayor Valerie Plante fund them.
Camara is "the one who called 911, and unfortunately," she said, "had [the officer] been wearing body cams, perhaps we would have had results faster and not had Monsieur Camara in jail for five days."
Deros said she was moved by the sight of Camara's relief, when he was pronounced free to go home to his pregnant wife.
"Those emotions, he and his wife, were extremely touching," she said.
Another man who attended the rally said his goal was simply to show support for Camara. "It's very important to show him that we're here for him," he said.