Muslim community want answers in police death of Somali man
Demands for answers and better police training were mixed with tears and sorrow as family, friends and members of Ottawa’s tight-knitted Muslim community memorialized a Somali-Canadian man who died after a confrontation with police.
There were also cries for justice Friday from among the overflow of mourners at the funeral service for 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi, who was taken down by police officers on a sidewalk following a disturbance call last Sunday.
“We all have many questions, but we are trying to be as patient as possible as the investigation continues,” Abdi’s family said in a statement read by Imam Sikander Hashmi. “We need answers.” Community leaders including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ontario cabinet minister Bob Chiarelli urged patience as the province’s Special Investigations Unit examines the circumstances of Abdi’s death.
“This is a time for grieving and not finger-pointing,” Watson said outside the service. “I think what we have to do is allow the SIU to take the time that’s necessary to do a full and thorough report ... and let the judicial system take its course.”
An Ottawa mosque, with a capacity of 2,000 people, was overflowing for the service with dozens of mourners forced to kneel and pray on the sidewalk in front of the building. Naeem Malik, president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, said the community turned out in solidarity.
“The family needs our support, because they are not only Somali, they are Muslim,” he said. “So we are here with them.” Abdi’s death struck the community hard, said Farhat Rehman of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, who worried about how the circumstances would affect police-community relations.
“I think it’s touched a nerve,” she said. “People are very hypersensitive to (police interaction) issues right now.”
Ontario’s SIU said there was a “confrontation” outside an apartment building down the street from where Abdi lived with his family and he suffered medical distress.
Several dozen people gathered for a vigil in Montreal on Thursday night, saying Abdi’s death highlights a widespread culture of police brutality that disproportionately victimizes people who are black or mentally ill.
The Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers, a national organization representing Somali-Canadian lawyers from across the country, has said the incident is part of a larger pattern.
A mourner reacts at an Ottawa Mosque on Friday, after the funeral of Abdirahman Abdi, who died afer an altercation with Ottawa police Sunday.