The View From Here – Ottawa police “united we stand” campaign is tone deaf to public sentiment

Tom Henihan
It appears that every issue that arises must have a vocal faction who either support that issue or oppose it. It seems that very development provides an opportunity for someone to have a platform.

Sometimes however, an issue is so contentious that opposing it is necessary, such as a campaign within the Ottawa Police force regarding the sale of wristbands that carry the phrase “united we stand” alongside the badge number of Ottawa Police Constable Daniel Montsion.

The $2 wristbands are sold and worn by fellow officers in a show of solidarity with Cst. Montsion who is charged with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and manslaughter in the death of Abdirahman Abdi.

Abdirahman, who suffered from mental illness died in the process of being arrested by Constable Montsion in July 2016.

Raysso Aden, a spokesperson for “Justice for Abdirahman Abdi Coalition” said the wristband campaign is “insulting” and while the coalition stands united behind officers “who do their job with dignity,” she points out that Montsion is charged with grievous offences.

“When we see those bracelets, for me, for the family, for the coalition, it really represents an utter disregard to human life.”

On the other hand, Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association said that the wristbands “are not making a distinction on the facts of the case” but are an expression of support for a colleague at a difficult time and that any member of the force could find themselves in a similarly difficult situation.

While, it is reasonable that people in the same profession who face the same challenges share a particular understanding of the dynamics and perils of that profession, especially the police, in this instance it is necessary to make a distinction on the facts of a case as the fact is that
Abdirahman Abdi lost his life?

The “Justice for Abdirahman Abdi Coalition” is not another hyper-sensitive alliance taking offence at every nuance that opposes its creed. The wristbands are an overreaching gesture that reinforces the perception that the police close ranks and protect their own instead of being onside with the communities they serve.

The “united we stand” wristbands seem antagonistic, they suggest a ”them and us” mentality that is inherently antisocial, especially at a time when many police departments and the officers within those departments are working to change public perception and earn public trust.

It is important to note that not all Ottawa Police officers approve of the wristbands and many see them as inappropriate, offensive and particularly insensitive to the Abdirahman Abdi’s family.

In an email sent to all members of the Ottawa Police, Chief Charles Bordeleau told members the wristbands are not a part of the police uniform and should not be worn during working hours.

He also said that while he understands the sentiment of showing support for Cst. Montsion he reminded the membership that “the Executive, the chain of command and Montsion’s association have already put supports in place” and that the membership should take into account community perceptions and the negative affect the wristbands might have on public trust.

Obviously, many Ottawa police officers need to pay attention to public sentiment rather than remaining cocooned in the inner dynamics of police culture.

The phrase “united we stand,” also begs the question: stand against what… society, the legal process, justice or the question “united we stand” for what… for the arbitrary defense of the actions of a fellow officer regardless of that officer’s conduct?

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