Name: Abdirahman Abdi.
Died: July 24, 2016.
Age at death: 37.
Cause of death: Death in police custody; during beating/restraint.
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Abdirahman was a Somali-Canadian Muslim. Along with his family, he had traveled to Canada as a refugee from Ethiopia in 2009.
Abdi kept to himself. He was shy, especially around women or people he didn’t know well. He had worked at a car wash, but lost the job when the business shut down.
On the day he died, Abdi went to a coffee shop he often visited. He approached a couple sitting at a table and began to talk to them, then reached out toward the woman to shake her hand. When she drew back, Abdi left, and she called the police, apparently unnerved by his odd behavior and thinking that Abdi had intended to assault her.
Police arrived and Abdi ran from them, trying to get home. They chased and caught him, using batons and pepper spray and beating him with fists and billy clubs. Abdi began begging, but he spoke in Somali and the police could not understand him and most likely did not care to listen even if they could have understood. A bystander tried to tell the police that Abdi was mentally disabled, not a criminal, but because he was also Somali, he translated the Somali “mentally ill” incorrectly and told the police officer that Abdi was “a crazy man”. What he had meant to say was that Abdi was only confused, not a criminal; the officer heard that Abdi was dangerous. Despite the bystanders’ attempts to help and Abdi’s pleading, the officers continued to hit him.
Abdi passed out from the beating after about ten minutes, and instead of administering first aid, the officers handcuffed him. Another ten minutes passed before they tried CPR, but Abdi was already dead. An ambulance was called to take his body to the hospital, leaving blood stains on the pavement.
Abdi’s probable autism was never publicly acknowledged because people from Somalia, where he comes from, often don’t openly talk about mental health, and there is no word for autism in Somali. Socially awkward and disabled, he always greeted people with the exact same “Hi, how are you today?” He was polite and quiet. He was variously described as “mentally ill”, “mentally disabled”, and “autistic”.
Abdi’s Somali Muslim community has held vigils and protests and placed memorials to him. They report they have become more afraid of police since Abdi died.
“He was very nice, very peaceful,” a local shopkeeper said. “I think he will go to heaven.”
The man who beat Abdi to death was charged with manslaughter, but acquitted. A civil lawsuit is planned.
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