Lessons from riot: Violence works

If it wasn't for the violence on Sunday night, politicians and the media would have ignored the problems of Montreal North

La Gazette fait un parallèle dangereux avec le FLQ dans les années 60...

41 shots
Lena gets her son ready for school
_ She says "on these streets, Charles
_ You've got to understand the rules
_ If an officer stops you
_ Promise you'll always be polite,
_ that you'll never ever run away
_ Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight"

_ Bruce Springsteen, American Skin (41 Shots)
- - -
Dany Villanueva isn't Amadou Diallo, the 22-year-old West African immigrant whose killing by four white New York policemen in 1999 while he was unarmed inspired Springsteen to write American Skin (41 Shots) the following year.
Diallo had no criminal record and was employed as a street vendor when the policemen fired 41 shots at him, hitting him with 19, while standing in the entrance of his Bronx apartment building and reaching for his wallet to identify himself.
Villanueva is also 22 and an immigrant, from Honduras. But he is still alive to extend the criminal record he already has. He was convicted in April, 2006 of robbery and weapons offences, and is again facing criminal charges.
It is Villanueva's younger brother Fredy who is dead, at 18, one of three people shot by a Montreal policeman in a park in Montreal North Saturday while they were unarmed. It is alleged that companions of Dany Villanueva attacked the policeman and his female partner and tried to choke the latter, to prevent Dany from being forcibly taken into custody.
It has not yet been explained, however, why the police were trying to take Dany Villanueva into custody in the first place; he was released after his arrest on Saturday, and so far, no new charges have been brought against him. If he is not charged with any offence committed before police tried to take him into custody, it will be a tacit admission that they were not justified in doing so.
But Fredy Villanueva would probably still be alive if his brother had learned the lesson the mother in Springsteen's song tried to teach her son: Even if police are abusing their authority, nobody wins an argument against their bullets.
Maybe that lesson has now been learned by some of the residents of Montreal North subject to constant harassment by nervous police who are occasionally shot at and who suspect every black or Hispanic man of being a street-gang member. Think of Afghanistan, and Canadian soldiers trying to distinguish between innocent civilians and the insurgents who look just like them.
And there's another lesson that the residents of Montreal North, and others in similar circumstances elsewhere in the city, might have learned the next night and in the days since: Violence works.
Sunday night's riot might not solve the problems of Montreal North. But it's sure as hell drawn our attention to them, just as the bombings by the Front de libération du Québec in the 1960s drew Canada's attention to the grievances of French-speaking Quebecers.
Politicians didn't even have anything to say about the shooting until after the riot the next day. And then they seemed more concerned with property values and insurance rates in Montreal North (still a nice place to live, they say) than with responding to the calls from its residents for justice.
Now, instead of "What does Quebec want," the question is "What does Montreal North need?" For answers, we're seeking out the minority "spokesmen," elected by government grants, whom we had discredited in their communities by ignoring for so long. For "leaders" who don't appear to their constituencies to be effective don't remain leaders.
Their phones will stop ringing soon enough. We'll all get tired of talking about Montreal North after Vlllanueva's funeral today, unless there's more burning stuff for us to show on our front pages and newscasts (we heart flames).
Knowing this, the politicians have been playing for time, resisting calls for an independent inquiry, hunkering down while police "investigate" each other so "transparently" that they won't identify officers involved in a fatal shooting.

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