MONTREAL — A video that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his knee on a Black youth's neck prompted renewed concerns over controversial police restraint techniques on Friday.
The minute-and-a-half long video was posted online and prompted outrage among social media users, some of whom have said the images evoke memories of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis last year after a white police officer pressed and held a knee on his neck.
A number of politicians and a human rights group called for an investigation into the incident, with some expressing concern over the kind of neck restraint techniques that have been in the spotlight since Floyd was killed.
"One year after the death of George Floyd, and we still have that kind of scene in Montreal," Fo Niemi of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations said in a phone interview. "Its very disturbing."
The video shows two police kneeling over a young Black male who is lying on the ground in front of a bus stop, with one officer placing his knees on the person's neck and shoulders as he appears to restrain his hands.
Once restrained, the youth is rolled onto his side and the officer once again kneels on him as he appears to carry out a search of the youth. The second officer holds up a square black object, telling bystanders that the individual was being arrested for possession of a taser.
Niemi believes the video shows excessive force, especially considering the suspect appeared to be already restrained and is believed to be a minor.
Quebec Premier François Legault said Friday that he was "deeply troubled" by a photo of the arrest and promised a followup with Montreal police.
"I didn’t like seeing that photo," he said. "I asked that we look with the (Montreal police) at what can be done to ensure we don’t see that any more."
The video does not show the events leading up to the arrest, but police have said it took place June 10 after officers were called to intervene at a fight outside a high school in the city's Villeray district involving about 15 young people.
"Once on the scene, the police intervened with several individuals, in particular to put an end to a gathering," the Montreal police said in an email. They said a taser and bear repellent were seized, and two minors were arrested for possession of a weapon and obstructing the work of a police officer.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said she was "shocked" at the images and said an internal police investigation into the incident was underway.
She noted that city council passed a motion last summer after Floyd's death, calling on Montreal police to stop using neck hold techniques that can affect breathing, except in cases of last resort when someone is at risk of death or serious injury.
"There’s an investigation ongoing. After that we will have to take the necessary actions to set aside techniques that maybe don’t have their place," Plante told reporters.
Some politicians went further, calling for an independent investigation of the incident.
In their email, Montreal police said they were analyzing whether the officers' use of force was justified. They said the technique seen in the video was not a neck restraint but added such restraints are taught at the province's police school and are permitted for subduing a suspect in some circumstances.
"Applied in a specific context and in particular circumstances, it makes it possible to gain control of a suspect with a greatly reduced risk of injury, when compared to the use of certain intermediate weapons," the media relations office wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press