FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition releases statement expressing outrage at the fatal police shooting of Greg Ritchie
(OTTAWA February 6, 2019) The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, an Ottawa-based group advocating for justice for the late Abdirahman Abdi and his family, expresses its outrage at the fatal police shooting of Greg Ritchie, a 30 year old member of the Saugeen First Nation with mental health issues, at Elmvale Mall on January 31st, 2019. We are gravely concerned by the callous and violent approach by members of the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) to situations involving Black and Indigenous people with mental health issues. We express our deep solidarity with the Indigenous community in Ottawa reeling from this tragic death and from the ongoing legacies of systemic racism and colonialism, and with the Ritchie family who have lost a beloved family member.
In 2016, just a few months after the death of Abdirahman Abdi, we expressed our outrage at the handling by Ottawa Police of the death of world-renowned Indigenous artist and community figure Annie Pootoogook, and dehumanizing and racist comments made made by Police Sergeant Chris Hrnchiar regarding her death. These comments received only half-hearted and indecisive disapproval at the time by Mayor Jim Watson and the Chief of Police. Soon after, we were condemning OPS members again for the callous distribution of bracelets expressing support for the police officers alleged to have been responsible for Abdi’s death. Since then our Coalition has also been a primary support for racialized families whose sons, brothers, sisters, and daughters have been the targets of harassment and brutality by members of the OPS.
All these disturbing events have taken place amidst our constant and unabated calls for the OPS to do better when it comes to both people with mental health issues as well as Black and Indigenous communities in our city. We have sat at tables with OPS and other City officials, have written extensively in letters, reports, and recommendations, and have given much of our time and energy to explain the need for, and the path towards, improving the OPS’s handling of such cases.
The OPS, in response to our efforts, has proceeded at a snail’s pace. Trainings for police officers for mental health and racial equity remain at worst non-existent and at best grossly insufficient. The police should be able to encounter a Black or Indigenous resident of Ottawa experiencing a mental health crisis without resorting to lethal force. The tragic deaths of Abdirahman Abdi and Greg Ritchie are clear indications that something is deeply amiss and must be urgently addressed. De-escalation training, mental health awareness training and nonviolent response strategies for OPS are a few examples of our previous calls for action.
In September 2016, we wrote that “it is important that the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Police Service take meaningful steps to tackle issues of racism and discrimination within its ranks. The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition has put forward recommendations that we believe would help us address the problem including the implementation of an effective mechanism to hold police accountable for systemic discrimination. The public must have confidence that the City and the Police force take racism and discrimination seriously and are doing everything they can to address it”. Almost two and half years later, as the trial of the officer involved in the death of Abdirahman Abdi begins, our confidence continues to be sorely tested.
Since our first vigils for Abdirahman and in support of his family, we have experienced the constant presence, love and solidarity of the Indigenous community of Ottawa, and of members and elders of the Algonquin nation on whose unceded territories we live, work and continue to mobilize as a coalition.
We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Ritchie family and wish to extend our resources and experience in this painful time. We stand for justice for Greg Ritchie.