Opinion: Police solidarity wristbands are disrespectful

It’s no secret that we live in times of heightened tension. It seems nearly all sides of the socio-political landscape nowadays have some form of unwavering opinion bubbling just below the surface, just waiting for the right moment for outrage. One of the more perplexing and complicated conflicts in recent memory has pitted civilians against law enforcement.

Unfortunately, thanks to numerous high-profile shootings and deaths of racial minorities at the hands of the police, public confidence in police has swayed. In response to public opinion turning against them, the police have created their own activist movement, Blue Lives Matter, after two NYPD officers were targeted and killed on-duty. Closer to home, Toronto cops are no longer welcome in uniform at the city’s Pride Parade, following a request from Black Lives Matter. The death of Abdirahman Abdi is another incident that has caused fault lines to form between the police and the public. Abdi, a 37-year-old Somali Canadian who had mental health issues, died in Ottawa last summer after a violent encounter with arresting officers outside his Hintonburg house. Police were responding to an early-morning call that alleged Abdi had groped women at a coffee shop nearby.

The Special Investigations Unit has since charged Const. Daniel Montsion, 36, with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon. As the case awaits its pre-trial hearing on May 6, a section of police officers have begun to sell and wear black and blue wristbands with Montsion’s badge number and the words “united we stand” and “divided we fall.”

While the charitable donation to “a police benevolent fund” is nice, the overall concept is completely disrespectful to Abdi, his family, and the justice system as a whole.

Yes, there’s a brotherhood and a ton of camaraderie within law enforcement, but you don’t need a cheap rubber band to show it off. Obviously those in the same profession want to support their own, but these are the kinds of things that can be displayed and discussed internally. And yes, it isn’t every officer, but it’s clearly a considerable amount. An April 1 National Post article reported the popularity of the two-dollar bands required another batch to be made beyond the initial 1,200 ordered.

It certainly has to be a public relations nightmare for Chief of Police Charles Bordeleau to have a sect of his officers making such a statement in an ongoing case. Const. Montsion may be innocent until proven guilty, but there is no need for a branch within the Ottawa Police Service to boldly declare Montsion to already be found innocent when they’ll be on one of two sides in the courtroom.

At a time when many people already have failing faith in police, how can they think this is a good idea?

Regardless of what happens in the trial, a young man lost his life. A man with a mental illness. A man who had a family, and a right to life, and a fair trial for his charges, just like Montsion is getting right now.

Police officers should be our heroes, and in many regards they are. If every child followed through on their kindergarten predictions, there’d be an overwhelming amount of doctors and nurses, firefighters and police officers keeping everyone safe.  They all do incredible things everyday in the line of fire that go largely unnoticed, as it is just expected from them. Being a police officer is an incredibly tough profession. As our staunch line of community protectors, these brave men and women enter dangerous and unpredictable situations every day. In every call to action they’re one split-second decision away from being lauded as a hero or blamed as the villain.

In an ideal world, situations like this wouldn’t happen. But in the times we live in, it’s important to have not just inter-police solidarity, but solidarity with the general public. These wristbands do nothing but accentuate the backlash on an incredibly controversial case and shouldn’t be worn, let alone sold.

– Photo by Justin Samanski-Langille