More than 20, 000 people took to the streets of Montréal yesterday for the protest Justice for George Floyd, which was organized by several antiracist organizations including Justice for Victims of Police Killings, Hoodstock and Tout le hood en parle. The message was clear: Black lives matter. The many thousands of people who gathered yesterday responded courageously to the call echoing across North America to denounce the murder of George Floyd, assassinated by the police of Minneapolis. The protest also denounced police murders across the United States, as well as police murders committed in Montréal: Anthony Griffin, Bony Jean-Pierre, Pierre Coriolan and Nicholas Gibbs.
After protesters marched for several hours across the city, the police service of Montréal (the SPVM) blocked off the crowd at the intersection of Saint-Urbain and Montigny, preventing protesters from reaching the police station. Staying true to their violent nature, the SPVM barraged the crowd with teargas and charged. Chaos ensued. From that moment on, the ambiance changed drastically. Flaming barricades went up simultaneously on different streets, and the protest split into several groups of dozens and hundreds of people. In response to flash grenades, protesters aired their hatred for the colonial racist system by throwing rocks, parts of the sidewalk, and bottles against the lines of riot police, pushing them back enough so that the protest could continue.
Reflecting on her experience last night, one participant, who wished to remain anonymous, told us:
"When the racist police of the SPVM tried to break us up by shooting teargas, we tore off in several different directions. It was really a bad move on their part, for real. About 20 minutes later, I ended up in a group of about sixty people. It was a beautiful thing to see. It's rare that in a Montréal protest, whites are the minority. And with the police violence, things escalated quickly. Everyone was throwing rocks and breaking windows of banks and luxury stores with crowbars they found on a worksite. I think the message was very clear: if the police kill someone, anywhere in North America, it's going to pop off everywhere."
The store Steve's Music was also broken into and looted. Another participant related his experience:
"We were running away from the cops because they were shooting tons of rubber bullets at us, and we ended up on a street with lots of people who were kicking in windows of music stores. People went into the stores and were coming out with guitars. There was even a guy who took two guitars and smashed one on the ground. It was sick. They weren't running scared, either, they weren't afraid of being hunted down by cops. People went into the stores, came out with a ton of stuff, and kept walking calmly down the street. It was a kind of state of exception where it became normal to do things like that. It was interesting to see that the looting wasn't simply a way of redistributing wealth, but was also a way of cancelling out the value of the merchandise. It opened up a fundamental debate about private property. It's not that we came to break or steal what doesn't belong to us, but instead, we show paradoxically, that it belongs to us already, and that we are going to do as we please. This world was stolen from us by force, and we're going to take it back by force."
In his book La dignité ou la Mort--Éthique et politique de la race (Dignity or Death--The Ethics and Politics of Race), Norman Ajari explains that "when the dignity of a young black person is taken away, when he is violated or assassinated by the representatives of the state, a long history of struggle, conquest, and affirmation of African humanity all hang in the balance." To those who speak of anti-white racism, he responds: "There is no good reason why black consciousness, that is to say, the self-consciousness of rioters, would devolve into racism against whites. The concept of race riots does not concern whiteness, but blackness in revolt against the indignities that imprison it. Racial though it may be, black revolt is not directed against "Whites," but against the abject black condition itself. "
In her book Self-Defense--a philosophy of violence (Se défendre - Une philosophie de la violence), Elsa Dorlin elaborates on the concept of self-defense as theorized by the Black Panther Party. She makes things clear: "Self-defense is not simply a means of struggle, like practices of non-violent direct action, for example. Self-defense is the philosophy of struggle itself. It is generalized, and could even be described as a revolutionary offensive, the only political measure by which imperialism can be defeated."
These reportbacks, and the analyses of the Afro-descended authors mentioned above, help us to understand how and why the protests against the police assassination of George Floyd transformed into riots and overwhelmed the police, just like the other protests across North America. The graffiti sprayed onto a wall inside the Minneapolis police department said it well: DO YOU HEAR US NOW?
While we wait to be heard, another protest has been called for next Sunday. Details will follow.