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Profiled by race and disability in Ottawa, Canada

October 23, 2015

by Leroy Moore

A lot of activists in the U.S. joke during election times or when things get hot that they will move to Canada, but Canada is no utopia and can be rough living especially for people of color with disabilities, just like the U.S. There have been several cases of police brutality against people with disabilities, especially in Toronto, for example:

  • Toronto police, at the direction of an Ontario Superior Court judge, have released an internal video that for more than two years the force denied existed, in a case involving the arrest and detention of a paraplegic man, Udhbirprasaud Bhikram, who claims he was assaulted by officers and urinated on while in custody.
  • In 2005, I interviewed Elizabeth Bruckmann of Parkdale Community Legal Services of Toronto about Peter Owusu-Ansah, then a 25-year-old Black man who is hard of hearing. He was physically assaulted by two on-duty police officers in September 2002. The officers were charged with criminal assault and the trial began in January 2004. Bruckman told me that “over a two-year period, in 2001 and 2002, Peter was stopped by police asking for his ID more than 17 times. He was stopped while walking down the street, while sitting in coffee shops and while riding his bicycle.” She also told me that the police took him in a dark area where he couldn’t read their lips and proceeded to beat him until he said, “Yes, sir!” A coalition of community groups at that time attended the trail and raised awareness of the dual discrimination in the police force against people of color with disabilities.
  • Two months ago I got a Facebook message from an activist named Al who got me in contact with Somali-Canadian singer and activist Sulekha Ali. Based in Ottawa, she attended Carleton University, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts in human rights with honors. Al told me about her autistic brother’s run-in with the police on June 3, 2015, in Ottawa.

Leroy Moore: First, welcome to Krip-Hop Nation and Poor Magazine on Hard Knock Radio, KPFA, here in Berkeley, California, and wish your brother, Abbey, a belated happy birthday. You are talking from Ottawa, Canada. Briefly tell us about yourself, family and brother and what happened to him on June 3.

Sulekha Ali

Sulekha Ali

Sulekha Ali: Well, I don’t even know where to start as it relates to telling you about my family. But what I will say is that my parents immigrated from wartime Somalia back in 1990. They came here with literally nothing in their pockets.

I would say that I’m always, I was so grateful for what they instilled within us – the wisdom to understand that there’s more purpose to your life than anybody could ever tell you, and that you have to actually find it for yourself. So my parents have seven children. I’m the youngest.

Abdullahi aka Abbey is actually the third child. He’s autistic and he was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 years old. And he’s severely autistic. So, he’s mute. He cannot communicate through – he communicates through touch and sound. And that’s the way that he’s able to voice his concerns as much as he can.

But what happened on June 3 is something that I’m still truly baffled about, but I’ll speak to things that I can actually speak to, because these police officers won’t give us any more information. What they stated is that they received a tip. So on June 3, the police officers – the tactical squad – came into my house with force.

They had a warrant, because they received a tip stating that they had reason to believe that somebody in this household has a gun. So that is all that they will provide us in reference to any sort of information. There were three people present at home at the time. My brother Abbey was one of them and he is 22 years old. My two other brothers were at home at the time as well. All three of them were arrested.

And one thing that I really want to address is that I’m not upset about the reason why they came into my house, because they have to do their job. They are notified. They have to – if a tip comes in, it is their duty. We as citizens have to be protected by them. And I have absolutely no qualms about that whatsoever.

What happened on June 3 is something that I’m still truly baffled about. On June 3, the police officers – the tactical squad – came into my house with force.

What I have an issue with is that if you’re going to investigate a household that you claim has a firearm, you should look into that house with information, including all the people that live in that house. So you should have known that somebody with autism could be present in the household at that time.

What I’m upset about is the lack of expectation on their part, once on the premises, prior to when they were even in my household, and then even more so, once they had Abdullahi, aka Abbey, in custody. So they arrested my brother.

My other brother was in the household at the time. He was screaming. He was trying to tell them that Abbey cannot understand their commands. They, the police officers, kept telling Abbey to get on the ground, but he was not, you know, responding to their demands, because again, he’s not understanding them. He’s mute.

So my brother’s yelling at them, saying, “He can’t understand. He’s autistic!” Well, now they have my other brother in handcuffs. They yelled at him, saying, “Why is he not listening, so we have to repeat it for the third time?”

And finally they moved Abbey outside on the stairs with his other brothers. And his brother had to calm Abdullahi down and told him: “No, do not come downstairs, Abbey. It’s going to be OK.”

So the officer had Abbey in cuffs at this point and was walking him down the stairs. And then they got my other brother in the cop car. So two of the boys who are not autistic are in the cop car at this time. Finally the third one out of the house is Abbey – and he’s barefoot!

So my brother’s yelling at them, saying, “He can’t understand. He’s autistic!” Well, now they have my other brother in handcuffs. They yelled at him, saying, “Why is he not listening, so we have to repeat it for the third time?”

They put him in the back of the cop car. All three are in there for an hour and a half. My older brother who is essentially the caregiver for him, Abbey, during the daytime while we’re all at work, is acting for his well-being. Questions starts to come out like, “Does he have water?” “Is he OK?” “I’m worried about him. Can you communicate?”

The cops are not responding to him. They’re not allowing him to speak to my brother. Nothing at all, there’s no communication. There’s no air conditioner. He has on, uh, a wet diaper. It’s already an hour and a half into the investigation, when they call my dad to come pick up Abbey from the back of the cop car.

All charges were dropped within the same day because they found nothing. They left the house in complete disarray. They will not provide any further information. I went to the police station to ask them for a report. They stated that they don’t have one ready for me. I asked them why they don’t, and they can’t speak to why they don’t.

I even contacted the local newspaper and she as a journalist said that it was really baffling to her because when she called and inquired about it, the police didn’t have any information for her. And she said it was really bizarre.

All charges were dropped within the same day because they found nothing. They left the house in complete disarray. They will not provide any further information.

Nothing has been in the media about this. And that’s what bothers me, because if they did find anything, of course it’d be all over the air. Is it because they’re at fault that nothing is in the media? And nobody wants to listen to the story.

There’s money missing from my house. We have property missing. They’ve damaged everything. They’re not willing to pay.

And I really cannot tell you how much this has fueled me to ensure that people with disabilities do not go through something like this ever again. Ever.

Leroy Moore: Definitely. Definitely. I’m so glad you’re telling your story. I’m a person with a disability, and I’m African American, so I totally understand your cause. I’m a poet; I do poetry and I do activism. And I wrote this poem called “Disabled Profile,” because I’ve been profiled a lot, like your brother. Tell us, has your brother got support from both communities, from the Black community and the disabled community?

Sulekha Ali: They did. One thing that I will say is that I’ve reached out to his advocacy worker. I reached out to him on numerous occasions, because I want to get legal representation (for my brother). And I still have not heard back from them. I’ve left them numerous voicemails; I’ve emailed him. And I have not heard back from him. But I’m hoping to get that as soon as I can.

The community in Ottawa here is amazing. My brother grew up until the age of 18 at Cooper Valley. And they have been nothing but supportive. They’ve been sharing his story on Facebook; they’ve been asking if there’s anything that they can do, wanting to volunteer to help clean the house.

So to me, those people have been truly the light at the end of the tunnel. Because it’s just nice to know that your brother is supported outside of the people within his household.

Leroy Moore: Yeah! As you know, in the U.S. we have Black Lives Matter. What can Black Lives Matter learn from what happened to your brother?

Sulekha Ali: So one of the things that people can learn is that there need to be more conversations. There needs to be transparency that relates to information about cases of this nature. Why has this not been told? Why is this story not out there? Why is it that, if only they had found a firearm – but we have never been criminals. I’ve used my words to empower people and I was never raised with violence.

Violence is not the answer to anything. I’ve never seen a gun. I barely even know how to pronounce the word gun, to be honest with you. But to me, what I want people to know about this is that we need to have the tools to understand what power do these people have?

And when I say these people, I mean the cops. Why is it that they are not protecting people with disabilities when it comes to them doing their job? There has to be a happy medium. I understand you have a job to do. My brother also has a right to be protected by you and against you.

Leroy Moore: Yeah, yeah, definitely. So what do you want activists in Ottawa and here in the Bay Area to do to highlight the injustice toward your brother.

Sulekha Ali: I think that awareness is key. If we collectively can come together to shed light on this, then maybe they will listen and understand that there’s something that they need to do to better themselves. And again, I want to keep saying that I don’t want to be seen as though I’m attacking the police force, because that’s not my mandate. I really want to empower them to empower themselves to do better by us. Because we’re living in a world now where I see more bad than good.

And is it because that’s all I’m prone to searching online? Perhaps. But it bothers me because there is something we’re going through that I have to speak on.

And I, I write music. And I try to write music so that I can get people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes – just for a second – because our story is not the only story that’s being told. And I think there is something profound with that very notion itself.

Leroy Moore: Yeah, I really believe in the power and healing of cultural work. You are an artist, a singer. Will you write a song about what happened to your family and your brother?

Sulekha Ali: I think sub-consciously I’ve already written one. And I don’t know if it’s foreshadowing. For me, the poetry that comes from the songs that I write comes from life experiences. So I can only speak to what I have written. And I can say that a lot of it has to do with atrocities against, like – I have a song titled “Somalia.”

Leroy Moore: Yeah, I love that song.

Sulekha Ali: Thank you so much. And you know, I’ve never been violated as a woman. I feel I’ve been there. But in that song I took on that role of seeing that at a young age. Those are the lessons that other people have taught me, about going to things like that and how it is important for them to heal.

Through us, words are powerful. Like the word rape is a powerful word. But it’s how we use it; it’s the context we use it in, right? So we have to use it in a way that allows them to feel empowered. Yes, it is a hurtful word, because rape is not something that anybody wants to raise their kid with.

But use it. If you’ve been raped, empower yourself to be able to say, I have been a victim of rape, but I will not allow it to define me. So my brother is a disabled individual, but he does not allow it define him. It is not the core of who he is. It’s a part of him, but it’s not everything that he is.

So for me, it’s about protecting each other. And I really want to protect his legacy.

Leroy Moore: Yeah, and I want to, as Krip-Hop, put your story out there and really tell you, your brother and others that disability is a culture. It has a history; it has a community. And you know, being in the U.S., I would love to keep on supporting him, your brother, through Krip-Hop Nation and all the work I do.

What does justice look like to you, in your definition, right now?

Sulekha Ali: Justice, to me, is somebody being able to be themselves freely. So my brother should freely be everything that he is without somebody imposing on that. And that’s what they did on June 3. They imposed on his right to be a person who cannot communicate when he’s forced outside of the realm of what he’s capable of doing.

So they attacked him in a way that he did not deserve. And they lied, really, really. I am completely shocked still. And he hasn’t been himself since. He really hasn’t. He hasn’t slept. I noticed that he’s, he’s not as affectionate as he used to be.

And again, it’s still very new, right? And I shouldn’t expect him to bounce back quickly. But freedom to me – justice rather, I should say, to me – would be for him to be himself even when somebody tries to take that away from him.

Leroy Moore: Now tell me what is next for you, and tell us one more time how can we help in the U.S. and around the world.

Sulekha Ali: Well, I think you’ve already done it just by allowing me to share the story. What’s next for me is that I am going to use this to propel this newfound love that I have for advocacy. And it’s not only limited to individuals with disabilities, but it’s about humanity.

We have a right to be protected, and we have agreed to protect one another. But for me, I found a new sense of purpose. Behind every tragedy lies some sort of light. And I think that I found that within this, as sad as it is, so I’m grateful.

Leroy Moore: Now tell us how people can contact you.

Sulekha Ali: People can contact me on Facebook. My name is Sulekha Ali on Facebook. You can also contact me by email, connectwithsulekha@gmail.com.

Leroy Moore: Is there a Facebook page for your brother?

Sulekha Ali: No. I do have an artist page, where I’ve been posting things that are related to what he went through on June 3.

However, I have made a vow to start a non-profit organization called Do It for Abbey, with the premise to create awareness for children and adults with disabilities and how police have a duty to ensure that they are protecting them from any sort of thing that they have to take on.

So ultimately this is still brand new. I’m searching for – because this is still very new for me – an idea that relates to a non-profit organization. I don’t really know where to start, but I do know that I have purpose. And I think that’s all I need at this point in time. But as soon as I get more information on that, I’d be more than happy to provide that to you.

Leroy Moore: That’s great. You know, Krip-Hop is doing a film documentary on police brutality against people with disabilities, so we would love to add your story to it.

Sulekha Ali: Absolutely, I’d love that. And I really, really can’t thank you enough, Leroy, for everything that you’ve done. I just really appreciate it.

Krip-Hop Nation founder Leroy F. Moore Jr. can be reached at Kriphopnation@gmail.com.

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