Death of black man in Canada after arrest sparks race debate

Wed Jul 27, 2016 7:31pm EDT
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By Leah Schnurr

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The death of a mentally ill black man following his arrest by police in Canada's capital has sparked calls for a probe into whether race was a factor in the incident as advocacy groups voiced concerns over police violence against minorities.

Witnesses told local media that the Somali immigrant, identified as Abdirahman Abdi, 37, was beaten by Ottawa police officers. A video from a bystander showed him in a bloodied shirt lying face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back and his pants pulled down before paramedics arrived.

While incidents of this type are rare in Canada, they are not unheard of and the death echoed similar events in the United States where allegations of police brutality and racial bias have sparked protests. Some confrontations in the United States were also caught on video.

Some people have expressed frustration that Abdi's death has not attracted as much attention as a number of incidents in the United States.

"There's a thirst publicly to have this conversation, and not to have it in the American context, but to have it in our context," said Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest. Family spokeswoman Nimao Ali said in a statement earlier this week that Abdi had been dead for 45 minutes before he arrived at the hospital.

Naeem Malik, president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, which is covering the cost of Abdi's funeral on Friday, said he used to see Abdi and his brother at mosque.

"He was mentally not capable of doing things," said Malik. "He used to kind of mumble. I don't know whether it was due to the mental problem or maybe there were speech problems."   Continued...

A man casts a shadow near a message written in chalk during a vigil for Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali immigrant to Canada who died after being hospitalized in critical condition following his arrest by Canadian police, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie