As an organization dedicated to ending street harassment and making public spaces safe and accessible, Hollaback! Ottawa would like to offer our public support to everyone affected by the arrest and death of Abdirahman Abdi. It was a horrific and avoidable situation.
It is very clear that police interactions with people struggling with mental health issues requires immediate re-addressing and rectification. It is evident that anti-black racism exists within Ottawa Police Services and needs immediate acknowledgement from its top ranks. What is also clear to us is that when police assistance is required to deal with instances of sexual harassment and/or assault, the victims should not be blamed for attempting to ensure their protection and wellbeing.
Women reported being harassed and assaulted by Mr. Abdi. We believe them. It was also reported that Abdirahman Abdi’s family had made a concerted effort to put de-escalation and community-based measures in place to ensure both his mobility in the community and the safety of others. We think measures such as this are incredible and vital to creating safer and more empathetic communities.
In the absence of such measures, the onus is on individual women to decide whether to prioritize their own safety or the safety of their community. We reject an either/or solution.
It’s completely unacceptable that women are expected to sacrifice themselves to abuse, over and over, for the good of their community. We don’t want to tell women they aren’t allowed to ask for help if they’re afraid. We don’t want to tell bystanders they can’t ask for backup if they’re overwhelmed. Calling the police was an act of desperation in an escalating situation, not meant to be a death sentence.
We all deserve to feel safe in public spaces.
The police’s failure to handle this call with the care it deserved does not rest upon the Bridgehead employees’ shoulders, individual women who were targeted, Abdirahman Abdi or his family. We should not be afraid to call the police, yet due to their storied history of revictimization, racism, ableism, misogyny and escalation of violence of those most in need, we all too commonly are.
We condemn the Ottawa Police’s treatment of Abdirahman Abdi and extend our deepest sympathies to his family for their loss. We are here for you. We also support the women who were harassed and assaulted by Abdirahman Abdi and extend our support to them. We are here for you.
We can, and should, hold both these thoughts at once. Doing so is the only way we’ll create a safer community together.
In solidarity and resistance,
- The Hollaback! Ottawa Crew