Jean René Junior Olivier, a 38-year-old Black man, was shot and killed in the middle of the street by police in Repentigny, Quebec on Aug. 1. More than a year after the massive protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, which shook the United States and reverberated across Canada, this murder is a reminder that racist police violence has not disappeared. It is an integral part of the capitalist system.
‘I call for help and they kill my son’
These words from Junior Olivier’s mother, Marie-Mireille Beauce, sum up the horror experienced by too many Black people in Quebec and Canada. On Sunday, Aug. 1, Jean René Junior Oliver was experiencing an episode of psychological distress. Holding a small table knife, he said he saw men around him who wanted to hurt him. To prevent him from harming himself and to help transport him to the hospital, his mother called 911. Once the police arrived, Mr. Olivier reportedly dropped the small knife. He allegedly fled on foot, but the police shot him three times. The police then came out with their usual excuse, saying he was being “threatening” towards them.
The Independent Investigation Office (BEI), supposedly the “police of the police”, has launched an investigation. The victim’s family is also requesting that the City of Repentigny Police Department (SPVR) be investigated and placed under receivership.
More importantly, the family has also called for mass mobilizations to ensure that justice is served. “We want it to be like George Floyd,” says a family member. A demonstration of a few hundred people was held at Repentigny City Hall a few days later. The mood is one of anger: “We are peaceful, but we feel rage because in 2021, we are still fighting for equality,” said a young demonstrator.
The racism of the police is obvious. We need only recall the case of the white man with a sword who caused several injuries and deaths in Quebec City last October. The police found ways to apprehend him without ending his life, unlike Junior Olivier. Mr. Olivier’s mother is quite right when she says that “white people are not killed like that”.
The SPVR has a long history of racial profiling. At least a dozen racial profiling complaints were filed in 2019 by Black people in Repentigny who have experienced harassment by the police department. For the police, any excuse is good enough to stop, question, and search Black residents of Repentigny with impunity. An excuse is often not even required.
In Quebec, the number of reported cases of racial profiling has almost doubled in the last two years. In 2020-2021, there will be 86 new cases opened by the Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission (CDPDJ). The murder in Repentigny is the tragic tip of the iceberg.
Not only Black people, but Indigenous people and those with mental health issues are disproportionately victims of police violence. In fact, on the same day that the SPVR killed Junior Olivier, police officers from the Sûreté du Québec opened fire on an Indigenous man in the Anicinape community of Kitcisakik. Two days later, a similar case took place when a police officer shot a Black man suffering from schizophrenia who had made suicidal remarks in Lac-des-Écorces on Highway 117.
Fortunately, both of these men survived their interaction with the police. But for many, crossing the violent path of the police is tantamount to a death sentence. Black and Indigenous people die from police bullets at a rate disproportionate to their demographic weight. These two groups are between 10 and 20 times more likely to die in police action. Unlike the police, the statistics don’t lie.
Police brutality is all the more infuriating because it almost always goes unpunished. Despite the announcement of an investigation by the BEI into the murder of Mr. Olivier, there is little chance that it will be different this time.
Until the creation of the BEI in 2012, investigations of police abuse were left to the police forces themselves. And sometimes there were simply no investigations.
The BEI was supposed to eliminate bias in the investigation of crimes committed by police forces in Quebec. But former police officers often end up joining the investigation teams. In fact, according to the Quebec Civil Liberties Union (LDL), 70 per cent of BEI investigators are former police officers or employees of police forces. Indeed, a 2020 report by the LDL and the Coalition Against Police Repression and Abuse draws devastating conclusions about the BEI. The report states: “The BEI is far from independent of the police community; the BEI demonstrates a significant lack of transparency in its investigations; there are several reasons to doubt the impartiality of its investigations; and finally, the BEI has not been equipped with the means to put an end to police impunity.”
The result is that even today, police officers are entitled to almost total impunity. For example, between 2016 and 2019, the majority of complaints received by the BEI were filed by members of First Nations. All of them have been disregarded.
No capitalism without racism
A report delivered in October 2019 by a group of researchers hired by the SPVR revealed what everyone knew: that racialized people are victims of systemic police bias. The SPVR has hired this same group of researchers and they will provide a report at the end of the year. We have no doubt about the findings that will be presented. But it is not reports and investigations that will put an end to racism in state institutions. Racism in Quebec and Canada is systemic. And the system that generates and maintains racism is capitalism.
To fight racism, we can only rely on our own strength. The family of Jean René Junior Olivier, already understanding that this is the only way to obtain justice, has called for mass mobilizations. The labour movement must respond to this call. Black people are disproportionately part of the working class. Racist attacks are therefore an attack on the entire working class. The labour movement must mobilize to oppose racial profiling and racist police violence. If last summer’s protests in the U.S. and elsewhere proved anything, it is that mass mobilization of workers and youth does more to advance the struggle than any “independent” investigation.
Malcolm X said it quite simply and concisely: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” Capitalism is a system based on exploitation and oppression. By dividing workers along lines of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, etc. the small minority of exploiters can continue to gorge themselves while the workers, who produce all of society’s wealth, fight for the scraps.
The state with its main domestic armed wing, the police, is an essential pillar in defending the wealth monopolized by the exploiters. The police will be as racist and violent as the system they serve to keep in place. As long as there are classes, exploiters and exploited, racism and police will remain. To end racism and police brutality, we must end capitalism.