Perhaps the answer to Reverend Gray’s question as to why the city of Montreal’s Police Commanders feel compelled to show such a heavy police presence during the Cara Fest can be found in why I stopped going to it, did not allow 2 my children to go to it and hope my 5 grandchildren stay away from it as well.
I was the vice president of the Afro Canadian Club in high school. I went to high school during the civil rights push in the United States of America and the push to end Apartheid in South Africa. I attended the rallies, the sit ins and listened to speakers that spoke of centuries of North American Black slavery, injustice and suffering of my ancestors. I learned how Black people outside of Africa lost their language, religion, culture and heritage forever. I learned how we (ancestors of the African slaves) were the poster child; the one and only story of European successful forced assimilation. So successful was the forced assimilation of the Black African slave in America that we ended up having nothing in common with our forefathers. All those who enslaved us through brutality ensured that there was no going back to what we once were as proud Africans. Our African forefathers became forever lost to us as we became forever lost to them, but for that one day in the year since the creation of Cara Fest/ Jump Up in Montreal. As a single young Black man hearing the music, watching the dancers and floats, I felt:
- A sense of pride being a Black person for at least this one day, as Black for at least one day was recognised as beautiful.
- A sense of joy as the beat of the music awakened dormant feelings in me and I began to jumped up and down, dancing in a long ago forgotten way my ancestors used to do in times of great celebration; for once unashamed to have been born Black.
I say this so that the reader understands that I know what racism is and what it does to people. That being said we as Black people must start standing up for the law and stop acting like being born Black is a satisfactory explanation and justification for committing crimes. (large or small) If we believe that the police of Montreal are overly zealous and needlessly brutal when it comes to doing their job where Black people are the cause of their attention, then we must:
- Keep our children out of their clutches and one way, the best way to do that is to stop sticking up for Black hoodlums.
- Stop rioting and looting for those who bring us as a people such shame and put our innocent men, women and children in danger, by those who think that we all look-alike and making someone pay is better than not closing a crime file.
My story begins at a Cara Fest/ Jump Up parade many years ago when I was a young father and husband. Up until the time of this story I had enjoyed going to the annual Jump Up Parade in Montreal. In the years up to this one the Jump Up Parade after celebrations had always been a parade and party suitable for the whole family, fun and for the most part without major incident, until people started hurting other people with weapons.
I so wanted to share the excitement, the joy and the pure pleasure that this day gave to me with my baby girl and my young wife, so I brought them along with me to the Cara Fest/Jump Up and what a mistake that turned out to be. This was the 1st year that the Jump Up Parade travelled westward on Sherbrooke Street to a park at the end of Sherbrooke. There was a heavy police presence on that day and I remember making a comment similar to the one posted on Facebook and reported on the news as the words were said by Reverend Darryl Gray. The route had always for the parade ran Eastward in the past and thinking back I remember hearing whispers of the store owners along the parade route complaining of young Black youth taking things from stores without paying for them and clashes in the park between some French White kids and the Black youth attending the after parade party. I ignored the accusations, mostly because I had not witnessed it and a little because I believed in my heart that all White people mistrusted Black people and would stop at nothing to rid the city of this display of Black unity, pride and awareness. I guess the city’s answer to the whispers and the allegations and violence was to change the parade route from an eastward direction to a westward direction and increase the police presence substantially.
I watched the parade and watched the police and we both watched the gangs of black male youth stealing what they chose not buy, or could not afford to buy and realised that no liquor store, or convenience store was safe. For the most part the police ignored and did nothing to stop the stealing, trying to avoid confrontation; trying to avoid the inevitable use of the race card, which is almost always used the moment police intervene, no matter how justified.
I witnessed the stealing taking place along the route of this Jump Up first hand and became afraid for my family. I knew that the moment the police tried to intervene the call of racism, police brutality would go out through the crowd and the potential for violence and rioting would increase, putting my baby and wife in harm’s way. Violence and rioting was always the response when the police tried to arrest a few bad apples back in the day and is still the way. Now it can be argued that the police are racist, harder on Blacks than Whites, but can we also say that for a majority of Blacks there is no time that a White police officer can do his or her job if it requires physical force, especially at an event such as the Montreal Cara Fest/Jump Up? Can we at least admit that the fear and suspicion is mutual?
Maybe Reverend Gray was not in the city and as such did not have to live the horror of standing in a park with his family which in my case included a little girl and hearing the gun shot and witnessing the panic as people began to run screaming they shot a boy, they shot a boy. Perhaps those who liked Reverend Gray’s comment on Facebook have blinders on and refuse to see how the actions of a few bad apples are what makes it necessary for the heavy police presence that the majority of decent people just out to have a good family day find so offensive. What I remember though is that it was all I could do to grab up my little girl in one arm and pull my white wife along as the momentum of the fleeing crowd forced us eastward along Sherbrooke Street. Everyone had jumped to the conclusion that the police had shot a black kid and the mood for some changed from fear to outrage. It was a horrible scene to watch as the frightened people scrambled, trying to get out of the melee that was quickly turning into a riotous, violent, vandalising and looting mob; trying to get away before the batons would start swinging and they ended up in jail, or worse, because a few bad apples had justified the need for the police to use force to protect private property and the lives of the innocent people living in the area.
Luckily for me I had a family member who lived on Sherbrooke not too far from the park and my family and I were able to duck inside her apartment and find shelter. Her balcony looked out onto Sherbrooke and I looked on ashamed and feeling sorry for the owners of the stores whose businesses were being vandalised and whose stock was being looted as my people used what they thought was racial injustice to hurt innocent people; people who had done them no harm. As it turned out the police had not shot anyone. The fact of the matter is that a Black youth had been shot in the foot by a rival gang member. Funny thing is that day I was made afraid for the safety of my family and not because of the police, but because a few bad black youth decided to steal from every store along the parade route, settle their problems at the after parade celebrations in the park and a good number of Blacks at the after party deciding to riot and then vandalise and loot in retaliation for the police doing their job.
Whether you like the police presence or not, find it intimidating or not, let us tell the truth about why it is there, change our behaviour and prove that we are capable of holding a peaceful event and policing it ourselves because:
- The owners of the stores along the route of the parade do not have to just accept the fact that the stealing of their merchandise is just what happens when Black people hold parades.
- The police do not have to ignore crime because doing their job will be thought of by some as racially motivated no matter what the circumstances.
- Honest people of all colors would like to go to and celebrate without fear for what could happen unintentionally to their children and themselves during a riot, or clash with police.
We must as a people stop lying and pretending that we do not know why, because until we begin to see why, we cannot affect the changes necessary to fight for the removal of the heavy police presence at our special events like the Cara Fest/ Jump Up Parade. Comparing our behavior, or the police presence at other events to ours is irrelevant in my opinion; we must strive to be the best that we can be and make sure that there is no reason for what offends us to be done to us. Our being offended means little if we continue to give those who seem to take pleasure in it, just cause to do so. We as a people must start policing our own events and stop protecting Black hoodlums that bring shame upon us through their illegal activity. Every time we offer our support to a black hoodlum we are affirming for the police and all others looking in that we are all indeed criminals, or as a people condone crime and the use of violence. On the day that we begin to publicly speak out against the few who ruin it for the many by committing crimes and acknowledge that whether it offends some people or not the police have a job to do I think that as Black people we will be in a better place. On that day I know that the Cara fest/Jump Up will go back to being a social event that I can be proud of and feel safe to bring my family to and hopefully there will no longer be a need for the heavy police presence that offends so many.