By JANIE GOSSELIN – 4 hours ago
MONTREAL (AP) — Montreal’s mayor on Monday promised a swift inquiry into the shooting death of a Honduran teenager by police after the incident prompted violent clashes between angry youth and authorities in a heavily Haitian neighborhood.
A police officer was shot in the leg late Sunday, cars were set ablaze, stores were looted and firefighters were pelted with beer bottles in Montreal North, a multiethnic area referred to by local police as the Bronx of Montreal for its poverty and crime.
Several hundred officers in riot gear fanned out in the area, searching for a group of youths suspected of torching eight cars parked outside a fire station. Six people were arrested.
The violence erupted after a peaceful protest against the Saturday shooting by police of three unarmed people, including an 18-year-old man, identified by his sister as Freddy Alberto Villanueva, an immigrant from Honduras who died of his wounds.
Jean-Ernest Pierre, a lawyer and owner of a Montreal radio station popular with the city’s ethnic minorities, said his station was beset with angry calls from people concerned about police treatment of minorities.
Some policemen are not well equipped to face what Pierre called the new Quebec, a multiethnic society, he said, adding that many minorities feel targeted because of the color of their skin.
“People don’t trust the police,” Pierre said.
He also said there’s a gang problem in Montreal North, where poverty makes many young people vulnerable to recruitment.
About 25 percent of the residents of Montreal North are immigrants. Almost 15 percent are black and 3.5 percent are Latino, according to census data.
On Sunday, men and women of all ages crawled through the smashed windows of a pawn shop, a convenience store and a butcher shop, grabbing anything they could. They could be seen running down the street clutching TVs, cigarette cartons and slabs of meat.
Montreal police spokesman Ian Lafreniere said one police officer was hospitalized after being shot in the leg.
An ambulance technician was hit in the head by a bottle and a second police officer suffered minor injuries, he said. Both were released from hospital after treatment.
Three people were arrested for breaking and entering, one for drug possession and two others for charges still to be determined, he said.
Mayor Gerald Tremblay said he’ll meet with community leaders to ensure another riot doesn’t happen. “One thing is for sure — we have to do better than what we’ve been doing,” he said.
Tremblay promised a speedy investigation and said they must be up front about what prompted police to open fire on Villanueva and two others on Saturday.
City police have said the officers were trying to make an arrest in Henri Bourassa Park around 7 p.m. when they were surrounded by about 20 youths.
A few individuals allegedly broke away from the group and rushed the officers.
According to police, one officer then opened fire.
The officers were not wounded.
Quebec provincial police have taken over the investigation into the shootings.
Villanueva’s sister, Julissa, said the family wants answers.
“We only know what we see in the news, in the newspapers, that’s all,” she said, weeping as she spoke about her brother, a student who wanted to become a mechanic. Villanueva’s family came to Canada from Honduras in 1998.
Community leaders said many youngsters feel disenfranchised and are frustrated by what they see as heavy-handed police tactics.
“What we are seeing are youngsters, a community that is in revolt because they don’t like they way they are being treated,” said Pierreson Vaval, who leads a youth group.
“They don’t like how authorities interact with them.”
The melee Sunday night was the second large-scale riot in Montreal in four months.
In April, a downtown celebration after the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins in a National Hockey League playoff game turned violent when people began torching police cars and looting stores. Police arrested 56 people.
Police Chief Yvan Delorme said he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to mend ties with the community.
“We’re there to listen, to understand what happened (Sunday) night and to avoid these kinds of situations,” Delorme said. “We have to feel safe in Montreal.”
This incident reminds me of what happened in France about 2-3 years ago when French police brutality set off almost a week of rioting from the French Arab and Muslim communities. The most disturbing part of all this was that I sympathised with the Arab Muslims during their rioting.
Its sad to see that years of racial profiling and lack of integration from the Quebecois have led to the rioting that happened last weekend. It started when Montreal police tried to take Fredy Villanueva in for questioning while he was playing dice with a few friends at the park since he “fit” their profile for a suspect.
Fredy tried to ask what had happened and even resisted going with the police. Later local youths crowded around the scene and one of the cops panicked. The cops shot three people and killed Villanueva in the process. His parents said the police did not notify them until it was too late.
This extreme use of force prompted a peaceful protest from the community on Saturday and degenerated into rioting on Sunday. Apparently most of the ethnic minorities in Montreal North do not speak French as a first language and are mostly working class residents.
I found it disturbing that the cops would shoot to kill instead of giving off warning shots or using nonlethal force to take down some of the restless youths. I didn’t think they would try to kill a few teenagers just because they were crowding around them.
I never experienced incidents of racial discrimination in Montreal; but that was probably because I hung around their Chinatown and Old Montreal, which were major tourist sectors. However, I was discriminated when I was enrolled at a Quebecois school in Brossard (back then there were no Chinese people in that town). The racism was so bad at times that I decided to unlearn French when I moved to America and I still feel I can relate to those ethnic minorities who rioted in Paris and now Montreal.
For those who don’t know about Montreal, I would suggest simply going there as a tourist. Enjoy the local festivals, the low drinking age, the marijuana, the strip clubs, the fine dining, and the historic districts. Other than that, I strongly advise against living in Montreal or its nearby suburbs unless you’re White and willing to learn French.