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In Memory of Abshir Hassan

Photo courtesy of Dennis Boateng.

Early Tuesday morning, Toronto teacher Abshir Hassan was shot near his apartment; he was out to move his car and avoid a parking ticket. Police say it was a case of mistaken identity—a hit gone wrong. His friend Rima Berns-McGown wrote this tribute to Hassan, and raises some important questions about the assumptions we can bring to such situations—focusing on the neighbourhood where a shooting took place or the racial identity of its victims—and how we can do better at responding to them.


I am so heartbroken. A few months ago I received an email from a young man whom I didn’t know, but who had read my work. He was working on a research project of his own, and he wanted to know if I would be willing to meet with him to talk it over. We had friends in common. We had a warm email exchange and we met in person in May. He was one of the young, brilliant, critical thinkers—a second-generation Somali youth—who are now doing smart research that is both enlightening and beginning to make enormous change. We had a short but powerful conversation and I was so excited to have met him, and was looking forward to a lifetime of conversations about getting to social justice, and activist research.

Abshir Hassan died Monday night, gunned down at close range in Lawrence Heights.

He was a good, caring person: a teacher and a student, working hard to fix everything that needs to be fixed.

If there is any part of you that thinks all Somali youth who get shot are gang- or drug-involved, send that part packing—now.

Please understand that the conditions that have created a world in which someone like Abshir Hassan is murdered are conditions that we have all helped to create, and that we all need to play a part in fixing—especially if you are an employer, a journalist, a teacher, a policeman, or a politician. Especially if you are white and have power or influence of any kind.

Please try to understand what racist power structures do to young black men, and how even the ones who have done everything they were supposed to do—who have followed all the rules, who have been successful—are still not safe.

Please honour Abshir’s memory by digging deeper, thinking more, and making your mind up to push against the grain wherever you can. Hire a Somali teen. Challenge the police to stop carding. Refuse to buy into racist, sensationalist journalism. Don’t buy the Rob and Doug Ford tripe.

Understand that resilient young Somali men and women will change their world and ours for the better. They could use your support, and they don’t deserve your ignorance.

Abshir Hassan, rest in peace, rest in power.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ

Rima Berns-McGown is a professor of diaspora studies at the University of Toronto and the past president of the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs.

Comments

  • Notcleverguy

    A good man fell victim to senseless violence. truly a sad sad day.

    I have faith that he touched the lives of many young people and they will continue to do good works in his memory and honour.

  • http://canuckfirebrand.wordpress.com/ Canuck Firebrand

    “Please understand that the conditions that have created a world in which someone like Abshir Hassan is murdered are conditions that we have all helped to create, and that we all need to play a part in fixing—especially if you are an employer, a journalist, a teacher, a policeman, or a politician. Especially if you are white and have power or influence of any kind.”

    These conditions are created by fatherless families who aren’t around to instill a sense of discipline into the children and the war-torn Somali culture. The racist author tries to elude that fact by blaming white people for their own shortcomings.

    • Rora

      You are exemplifying the very issue you just quoted.

    • Black_Fist

      You hold on to typical racist right wing ideology and echo the same mindless bigotry that the author eluded to. What do you know of this man and his family dynamic to be making such generalizations? I can tell your view of this young man is already set in stone and influences your skepticism, which further gives proof to what the author was saying and what you’re scoffing at.

      Deflecting all responsibility unto the victim is the benefit of white privilege. The same privilege that keeps crack smoking, gang affiliating mayors in office.

      • veryproudwhiteman

        Youz actually fell for that marxist BS in skooo?
        Black fist?…ooooooooohhh the all powerful has spoken..youz is all so powerful..you just wait till you see the real power of the taxpayer.

    • anonymous

      You are very ignorant. These conditions are perpetrated by people like you who have a poor and at best vague understanding of what it means to be racialized or why families come to be fatherless to begin with.

      • kizzle

        spot on!!

      • veryproudwhiteman

        More marxist BS…do you guys ever stop?
        Yeah think i’ll pack up the family and move to the congo..i will demand free food aka:food stamps,rent money,medical,dental,free electricity,water,and everything else to keep me and my family alive while contributing nothing..they hopefully have a welfare system in place or theres gonna be trouble.

    • vampchick21

      Really dude? Really? That is all you have on this issue? Some racist claptrap about black fathers. That’s it? That’s the entire root cause? Daddy isn’t around because (insert whatever stereotypical reason you want) so mommy can’t do anything so kids just shrug their shoulders and pick up guns.

      That has to be the single, stupidest thing I ever heard, and this is Rob Ford’s Toronto for crying out loud! Do you understand that? You said something stupider than the Fords. Think about that.

      There are many, many factors at play, some unique to the black community and some that don’t single out race.

      But when we have idiots, morons, bottomfeeding mouthbreathers like you spouting such stupid, stupid garbage, well, that doesn’t fix a damn thing.

      • mlr81

        Really?

        (By the way, you seem preternaturally angry in your posts here and elsewhere on the site).

        You and the post author see a problem, and your response is a cargo cult “White people come in plane, they bring problems” response? How enlightened. You then proceed to fling “You’re a stupid poopy-head like Rob Ford and I’m gonna tell the teacher on you!”

        And this isn’t supposed to marginalize POC; that you rob POC of agency so … blithely? You need to check your privilege.

        • OgtheDim

          Ur projecting.

          While a community is in mourning.

          Get a life.

          • mlr81

            You’re not in mourning any more than I am. You don’t know him or his family.

            Charles Dickens introduced us to your type with telescopic philanthropist Mrs. Jellyby. Which makes _you_ a retread. Eww.

            You’re narrating your life because signalling “mourning” and “righteous anger” and “Crusader in the Battle against Universal Incorporeal Wrongtiousness” gets you brownie points with your thede.

            *slow clap*

          • OgtheDim

            Oh look…its sottie.

        • vampchick21

          Actually that’s not what I said. Nice try though. Go troll someone else, or crawl back into your sub reddit hole.

        • veryproudwhiteman

          It’s always YT’s fault..so YT must go and hire these racists?

          • dsmithhfx

            What?

      • veryproudwhiteman

        such a violent person… stop spewing your hatred.
        “bottom feeding mouth breeders”?…you just described a whole race of people of the slowmalian community…your a racist!

    • Notcleverguy

      If you know the assailants are fatherless and Somali, you must know who they are. Don’t waste time bitching on here, go tell the cops.

    • OgtheDim

      You just saw the phrase “if your are white” and got all in a snit didn’t you.

      Others have mentionned the obvious stuff that you got wrong but I got another angle:

      ” fatherless families who aren’t around to instill a sense of discipline”

      C’est What!?!

      Since when is it a Dad’s job to be the hard ass?

      Discipline comes from many people and is derived through many means.

      Top Down Daddyism is not necessary to stop a kid from becoming a thug.

      • veryproudwhiteman

        ” fatherless families who aren’t around to install a sense of discipline”
        hey there’s proof of the fact that “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree”…yeah YT’s fault again for inventing gravity or trees or apples?..i just started marxism 101 so’s i’m still a bit confused.

    • mlr81

      It’s revealing, innit, that the ONE post here that isn’t singing from the same liturgically approved hymn book is the one that gets the most responses.

      And by “revealing,” I mean “not really revealing at all.”

      • OgtheDim

        Its revealing, isn’t, that the posts that indicate that there is not one monolithic liturgically approved approach to dealing with youth and gangs get a snide comment about being monolithic.

        More important to be snide then to be useful.

        • mlr81

          What’s revealing is that the strongest push in the posters in this corner of the thread is to get brownie points for who burns heretics with the brightest flame. “Look at me, Pastor, I can make the unbeliever squeak loudest before he burns!”

          And in the glee to “do God’s work” and be seen as an angelic savior, POC get left out of the picture. They’re your helpful, incomplete, story-less props to fill out the stage for the only real story: yours. You don’t actually plan to DO something helpful, do you? You’re just looking for a pat on the head from baby Jesus when you get to heaven – or failing that, Brownie points from the unctuous posters here.

          You’re here for YOU.

          Let me help *Up Votes Og* – anything to make you feel better!

          • OgtheDim

            Meh…I’ve been trolled by fools like you for 30 years.

            Rich Rosen you ain’t.

            *******

            In the meantime, the rest of us will get on with getting on.

          • dsmithhfx

            When’s your next appointment with “the last psychiatrist” ?

    • veryproudwhiteman

      Typical!!..YT’s fault.

  • torontothegreat

    This whole situation is just so sad.

  • Black_Fist

    When jane Creba was killed, politicians were climbing over themselves to prove who can be “tougher” on gangs and gun violence. Police were crying for more money (& got it). The media put the entire black community under a microscope. Laws were changed. I feel this man was as innocent a victim as Creba was, but alas, nothing will change. The media will shift its focus from the single black Jamaican mother onto the war-torn Somali refugee (appeasing their closet bigot reader base), politicians will recite their pre-written speeches and the police will do another million dollar raid to calm the public’s collective nerve………but nothing will change.

    R.I.P. Abshir Hassan. It’s a shame your life was only noticed by the outside world by your violent death.

    • OgtheDim

      Well said.

      Part of my issue with the relentless coverage of the Ford’s is how little effort is being spent by local media trying to find the everyday heroes. Ford sells eyeballs. Evil does that.

      Yet, hearing about good makes others do better things.

      There has to be a better way then this constant “look somebody is messing up” kick the media is on.

      • veryproudwhiteman

        You wanna see evil boy?..look at your fur that’s on top of your head..little black beedy eyeballs..hey satan wasn’t to diverse was he?

    • torontothegreat

      Very well said, it reminds me of this quote from Deep Cover:

      “No, Mr. Guzman. I think you know that there’s no such thing as an American anymore. No Hispanics, no Japanese, no blacks, no whites, no nothing. It’s just rich people and poor people.”

    • veryproudwhiteman

      So what’s the final say on who he was?..a teacher? a supply teacher? an educator? a part time supply teacher?..or maybe just maybe none of the above?…the white taxpayers are starting to talk out in the open,,we will not be bamboozled by your marxist BS.

    • veryproudwhiteman

      Don’t you dare mention that innocent girl who was shot by niggers! you demented low IQ ungrateful to the whiteman nigger!..f’kn black fist your momma boy.

  • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

    “Refuse to buy into racist, sensationalist journalism.” — absolutely. Also highlight the good, like this article I read covering an interview with Mr. Hassan’s principal (a ‘white’ ‘employer’ with ‘power and influence’), a guy who obviously gets it:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/abshir-hassan-represented-all-that-s-good-about-toronto-1.2700895

  • vampchick21

    Awwww….did I somehow hurt your little feelings?

  • Black_Fist

    He placed this man in a stereotypical view shared by bigots without knowing his background. Fatherless families have become a fail safe excuse for the ruling class to shake their collective fingers at the disadvantage. How does talking about gun violence ends up being a “single parent household” problem especially if the victim had a good relationship with both parents?

    Canuck Firebrand is trying to pigeon hole this victim into his narrow minded understanding of urban gun violence.

    • vampchick21

      I find that whole ‘dad isn’t around’ stance to be quite puzzling. Like, an easy answer to a complex issue. Also a very dismissive answer in so many ways, stereotypical yes, also dismissive of the role of the single mother as if she can’t possibly teach her own children anything or discipline them or control them, dismissive of other extended family members, of teachers and other role models in the community, and frankly, dismissive of the thousands upon thousands of kids growing up in single parent homes who don’t end up participants in or victims of gun violence.

      It’s dismissive of the victims, who may or may not be participants of this violence, who may only be, as this young man, an innocent bystander. It’s dismissive of the reasons those who are participants for making such a choice in how they lead their lives, and dismissive of their opportunities to leave it behind them.

      Yeah, it’s an easy way out, a way to shove blame, shrug one’s shoulders and carry on as if young men and women, innocent and not so innocent alike, aren’t losing their lives and their potential.

      • Black_Fist

        I agree with you 100%. Particularly among black Caribbean women, a single mother can carry as much strength (if not more) needed to raise a child with proper values, and I too find the “fatherless household” excuse to be extremely dismissive and a simplistic answer to a complex issue (as you stated).

        Those who regurgitate that tired argument usually do so with a hint of ignorance to the dynamics of single black families and a underlining prejudice towards the black community as a whole.

        When was the last time single white mothers was used as an excuse for the existence of Hells Angels or the Italian mafia?

        • vampchick21

          Well….I grew up in a small town that was economically depressed in the 1980′s and 90′s, with all that goes with that, and there were many a single mother (lots of single teen moms at that). So I did hear the single mother excuse quite a fair bit when the kids went off the rails so to speak. BTW, this town was predominantly white. So it does happen, it does get used, but in that particular case, I think it was more of a dismissive thing towards woman as sole breadwinner/caregiver than a race thing, and it was fellow townspeople just plain being classist. These mothers either collected family benefits or worked two low paying jobs, so it was as much directed towards their economic status as their position as a single parent.

          but you are correct, I don’t recall anyone saying anything about the parents or family structures of members of Hells Angles or the mafia when their violence reaches the news. It seems mainly to be applied to immigrant and minority communities in the media or at least, in the comment sections of media stories.

          And while parents, regardless of race or creed, do bear a responsiblitity for the actions and choices of their children, their children, after a certain age, bear as much or more responsiblitiy for their own choices and decisions. What needs to be understood by all is where are those negative choices and decisions coming from? At what point did they decide selling drugs or picking up a gun or joining a gang was a valid life choice? What made it seem valid? Why did other options not seem as attractive or as obtainable? Were other options even made avaliable/known to them?

          Forgive my ignorance, but has anyone bothered to ask them? Probably have.

          • Black_Fist

            You made too many valid points for me to list them all, but I never meant to make it a ‘race issue’ (just speaking from my own personal experience and perception). The funny thing is the same conditions that help create urban ghettos can be found in rural towns (ei. lack of gainful employment, large demand for illegal narcotics, bunch of angry young men etc).

            I grew up in downtown Toronto during the 80s and early 90s in public housing. The conditions was there long before I came of age, according to the stories. I remember the media and police used to say that there were no gangs in Toronto during that time and the conditions that helped fester the gangs went ignored while politicians and police went on with their status quo (profiling, cover ups, excessive violence, denial etc). Fast forward to today and you have neighbourhoods with entrenched gang presence…..why? Because the root causes were never addressed. & when they were, politics hindered actual progress.

            Nobody cared about what was going on in the poor areas until AFTER the bullets started flying….but that’s just the end result of a social boiling pot that had been culminating for years.

          • vampchick21

            Yup, I too have found the parallels between an urban ghetto and an economically depressed rural town to be very, very, very similar if not practically identical. (except that when I was in that town, it was fists that flew, not bullets. Ok, occassionally a knife or a broken beer bottle.)

            And we can all only come from our own personal perception in the end. It’s when we stop to listen to each other that we realize that we can often have the same experience or understanding and then things can get done.

            So now the issue is, gangs and violence are intrenched in some areas of the city, and that frankly, is bad news for everyone living there. And elsewhere. Because while that’s not my neighbourhood, it’s still my city. What we all collectively need to figure out and come to understand is how to convince kids that they are better than gangs and violence, that making that choice is throwing away their potential to make a difference. Every kid has potential. And every kid is better than a life of crime and fear. Every family deserves to live in peace and safety.

            This is my city, these are my neighbours, even if I have to take a 45 minute bus ride to reach them. I want better for them.

          • veryproudwhiteman

            Gee public housing…there’s a stretch!..never would have guessed that.

          • veryproudwhiteman

            Are you listening to yourself?…your a brainwashed sheep animal.

        • veryproudwhiteman

          Wow you really are stupid.

    • veryproudwhiteman

      Oh more marxist BS..”gun violence”,”urban gun violence” ain’t no such thing. you make me LOL.

  • TorontoistEditors

    The one that begins “There is a thug out there who shot an innocent man…” ? It’s displaying for us. Try reloading, and if you still don’t see it let us know.

  • Black_Fist

    That “misdirected resentment” you speak of was already there to begin with. The people of Germany were equally as complacent as the Nazis for the atrocities in world war 1, and this is no different. You can’t tell a poor kid from a marginalized neighbourhood to ‘get a job’, and in the same breath, not want to hire them because they are from a particular neighbourhood (& then turn around and act as if the practice does not exist).

    This is the frustrating reality of many poor youth.

    • veryproudwhiteman

      Maybe these frustrated poor youth should borrow some money and get the f out while they still can?you know before evil YT takes away their underprivelagism to find an airport.

  • Notcleverguy

    Funny, you signed it, “humanity”, but you certainly do not speak for me.

  • Jason

    This man’s death is the community’s loss. That being said, the author, a professor of “Diaspora studies” is co-opting it to further her own political agenda. Tragedy in the black community? White people’s fault. POC are eternally innocent and blameless. White people are the cause of everything from cancer to solar flares. The solution? More handwringing. White people need to concern themselves with the welfare of POC. But not in a direct way, that would be parochial.
    Is sensationalist journalism and are racial power structures responsible for this man’s death? According to Rima it is. Unfortunately, blaming ‘racial power structures’ and checking our collective privilege isn’t exactly a problem solving approach to preventing tragedies like this from happening again. Blaming racism for gang violence is an intellectually lazy solution that distracts us from looking at concrete proposals and instead proscribes a kind of moral cleansing of “privileged thoughts”. Perhaps the police would have been more effective at eliminating the Hells Angels by fighting stigma towards people who ride motorbikes.

    • OgtheDim

      It is possible to write Diaspora studies without using quotation marks.

      • Jason

        I prefer to enclose it in scare quotes to throw suspicion on its status as an academic discipline.

        • dsmithhfx

          Didn’t work.

          • mlr81

            But it did. Here you are.

          • dsmithhfx

            Didn’t work.

      • veryproudwhiteman

        Diaspora who?…everything the black has is attributable to the great whiteman period.without the whiteman the black man dies of hunger and disease..google “black have no water in detroit” and get back to me.imagine..blacks dehydrating in the once richest state in the universe..this is what happens when YT goes away.
        Nope,sorry, i’m a realist

    • veryproudwhiteman

      Give a low IQ marxist a white racist computer and what you think it’s gonna spew post?..hey a new word-spewpost.

      • dsmithhfx

        Oh look, another stupid troll.

        • veryproudwhiteman

          That’s all you got?..nothing else..can’t argue against the truth?…remember the truth will set you free..so will the evil whiteman if you all want to go back to the motherland..lower my taxes beotches.I’m sick of paying extra for your complete failures in a brilliant civilization.

  • kizzle

    i am sooo crushed by this story, another brother taken by the hands of a brainwashed toronto youth who wanted clout. may god bless his soul and his family.