“Is it because my son is Black?” she asked. “It’s not because we’re Black that we have to experience those kind of things. We’re humans. Poor child.”
Filmed at a bus stop by a bystander who has remained anonymous, the roughly 90-second video began circulating on social media this week. It shows a police officer pinning the teen down by his neck as another officer searches the teen’s bag and pulls out what the officer says is a stun gun. The teen does not resist the officers, and appears to be handcuffed.
“One year after the death of George Floyd, and we still have that kind of scene in Montreal,” Fo Niemi, the executive director of Montreal’s Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, told the Canadian Press. “It’s very disturbing.”
“A youth handcuffed with one knee on the throat — that brings us back to rather disturbing images. I didn’t expect to see that in Quebec in 2021,” Frédéric Boisrond, a sociologist who became an adviser to Montreal’s police force last summer as part of a larger effort to reduce racial biases in policing, told Radio Canada.
Montreal’s police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but officials told Canadian media outlets that the incident had occurred on June 10 after police were called to break up a fight at a high school.
While the video doesn’t show what happened before the teen was pinned to the ground, a police spokesman told Radio Canada that he and a second teen had refused to identify themselves. Police arrested and patted down the second teen, and discovered that he was carrying bear spray. The teen being held down in the video appeared to panic and reach for something in his own bag, while pushing the officers away.
Police say that they are reviewing the incident and will take action against the officer who restrained the teen if they determine that the use of force was not justified. Not all Montreal police officers are required to wear body cameras, which could hinder efforts to get a full picture of what occurred.
In the wake of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody last spring, Montreal was one of numerous cities around the world where activists demanded that police stop using chokeholds and other restraints that can obstruct breathing. The city council approved a measure saying that such tactics should only be used as a last resort, but the motion was not legally enforceable because Quebec’s provincial government, not the city, has oversight.
Seeing a police officer kneel on the neck of a handcuffed teenager has prompted a fresh wave of calls to ban the practice. The Black Coalition of Quebec noted in a statement that neck restraints have been banned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for decades, and questioned why local authorities would apply different standards.
“I’m not a police officer, but I do have questions, like, should we still be using those techniques?” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Friday, noting that the video had hit home for her as the mother of a 15-year-old boy.
Politicians are pushing for an investigation and more widespread use of body cameras. Premier François Legault said on Friday that he had been “deeply troubled” by the incident and intended to work with Montreal police to determine “what can be done to ensure we don’t see that anymore.”