Case Study: Police Brutality in LA vs Montreal. Perri McSpadden SOCG371 Section 2

Perri McSpadden

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Section 02, SOCG 371

Police Brutality Protests: Montreal vs Los Angeles

For 20 years, The Collective Opposed to Police Brutality has held a march against police brutality in Montreal, Canada. In 2014 and 2015, these protests were shut down by police in the very early stages. The recent triggering events of police brutality include one civilian shooting in February of 2014 and a few other seemingly lesser (or at least less violent) offenses. The nature of the brutality in Montreal differs significantly from that of the US. The police preparation and response to protests is also much greater and more effective.

In March of 2014, the annual march against police brutality was begun by civilians in the streets of Montreal. According to CBC, the main triggering event for this protest despite its annual occurrence was an incident in which, “a police officer was captured on video in early January threatening to tie a homeless man to a pole… the officer was disciplined after the incident.” (2014.) Minutes after it began, Montreal police declared the protest to be illegal due to the organizers failure to provide an itinerary to the city for approval and asked all participants to vacate the area. This order was enforced by police officers on horseback and in riot gear, prepared for participants to disobey.

In VICE’s video account of the day, police herded protesters into a “police kettle” in which they were surrounded and corralled for hours in cold weather without adequate provisions. Police then carried out mass arrests, totaling almost 300. In the video’s discussion of police brutality, clips are shown of police officers engaging in physical violence (punching a protester,) and most notably, spraying down groups of people with what I assume to be pepper spray. There is no mention of unlawful shootings or other violence of that nature. No guns are visible at all, in civilian or police hands. The only mention of a police shooting that I came across is in CBC’s account of the 2015 protests, “Magloire was shot and killed by police on Feb. 3, 2014 outside the bus terminal on Berri and Ontario streets when he refused to drop the hammer he was wielding.” (2015.) Magloire’s death was also followed by the government releasing a strategy to prevent homelessness and increase homeless people’s access to healthcare.

The following year in 2015, the scheduled march was treated very similarly to the previous year. Police again used the argument that protesters failed to present an itinerary to declare the protest illegal and shut it down before it gained any steam on the streets. Protestors ignored the police order and tried to carry out the march anyway, but were quickly stopped by police. About 100 tickets were issued and 1 arrest was made. When all was said and done, a few police cars were vandalized but there was no other interpersonal violence or property damage.

These anti police brutality demonstrations in Montreal differ significantly from those across the United States in the nature of the police brutality being protested, police preparation and response, and the use of firearms. The nature of police brutality in Montreal seems less explosive than that in the US. Images of pepper spraying and some physical violence are shown in tandem with the Montreal protests as well as a description of police abuse of a homeless man is followed up by the fact that the officer was reprimanded. There is only one account of police shooting a civilian, Magloire, who was described as armed and aggressive. In recent US riots like those in Baltimore and Ferguson, there may be a history of police brutality, but the triggering events are the police shootings of unarmed young black men.

To contrast the Montreal protests with those in South Central Los Angeles in 1992, I look to chapter 7 of Race, Space, and Riots by Janet Abu-Lughod. The triggering events of the 1992 riots were the violent beating of a black man named Rodney King by four police officers and the subsequent acquittal of the involved and witnessing officers by a biased jury (page 229.) At the announcement of the verdict, riots broke out across Los Angeles, but focused in the South Central area (page 234.)

The Los Angeles Police Department was extremely underprepared for the response to the verdict. No real riot preparation was carried out and very few officers were on duty at the time. When violence broke out shortly after the verdict was announced, police were dispatched but then left without orders, forcing them to retreat. The police chief, Chief Gates, left the area altogether and gave all responsibility to his deputy. The police headquarters were the small number of on duty officers were gathered was attacked by rioters and officers were unable to venture out into the most violent and thus the areas in the most need of their services during the first night of the riots. California National Guard troops did not hit the streets for days after violence first broke out (pages 230-232.)

LA’s police response shows a complete lack of planning and leadership despite the obviously shocking and emotional verdict that was reached. Protests could be easily predicted but police leaders did nothing to mediate the anticipated backlash from citizens. This is very different from the extensive preparation of Montreal officers, who had riot gear and horses before the march even started, much less any possible violence. Montreal officers also had local government on their side and were able to declare the protests illegal on administrative terms which legitimated their presence and response. This contrast in police preparation might point to a differential in citizen control and effectiveness in crisis times between the two cities at those specific points in time. The underlying issues and triggers vary in strength as well; LA has a long history of police brutality and minority harassment. The sensational Rodney King verdict ignited deep and long-held frustration within the South Central community.

An important aspect to understanding the violence that ignites as well as the response to protests and riots in Canada and the US is firearm control. Rioting citizens in South Central were armed not only with bottles and bricks, but automatic handguns (LA Times, 1992.) Such firearms are prohibited in the nation of Canada. The guidelines on the website for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police describe prohibited firearms as any weapon that can discharge a 25 or 32 caliber cartridge or any automatic firearm of any kind. The 1992 riots resulted in at least 52 deaths and 2,383 injuries (Abu-Lughod, page 237) where as both the 2014 and 2015 Montreal protests resulted in zero deaths or injuries. It is hard to imagine that differential gun usage does not account for at least part of this difference. It may also account for the lack of the Montreal protests evolving into riots—if participants possessed firearms, they would have had the power to fight back against detaining police officers and incite great fear and violence among their fellow protestors as well as police.

The 1992 riots are painted by Abu-Lughod as a failure of police control in the face of massive public anger. The situation is much different in recent Montreal history; protests that were considered to have the possibility of violence and rioting were controlled before they could gain any traction. I will not argue that either situation was “the right thing do;” in hindsight, LA police could have done more to control the riots and help those that needed it had leadership allowed them, and Montreal’s police action may have fed into the very issue protesters were upset about. It is not a comparison of who did better, but who did what and why.


Works Cited

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

CBC News. “March against Police Brutality Declared Illegal, Broken up.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 16 Mar. 2014. Web.

CBC News. “Montreal March against Police Brutality Ends with 1 Arrest, 94 Tickets.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 16 Mar. 2015. Web.

Kelly, Amanda. “Why Should We Care about Alain Magloire?” Global News. Shaw Media, 12 Jan. 2015. Web.

“1 Arrest, 94 Tickets at Montreal March against Perceived Police Brutality.” CTV News. Canadian Press, 15 Mar. 2015. Web.

“Prohibited Firearms.” Royal Canadian Mounted Police. N.p., 4 Sept. 2015. Web.

“Protesting Police Brutality in Montreal.” VICE. VICE Media LLC, 2014. Web.

Soble, Ron. “Going Great Guns : Security: The L.A. Riots Trigger a Firearms-buying Spree in the County. First-time Owners Drive the Boom in Sales.” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 17 Aug. 1992. Web.