By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
Howard Joel Munroe was 20 years old when he was stabbed to death on Monday, May 21, 2001 while attending a Victoria Day celebration in Kitchener, Ontario. Munroe was brutally slain at Victoria Park in Kitchener, where members of the Kitchener community had gathered to celebrate the highlight of the long weekend. He was targeted by a group of White supremacists because of the colour of his skin.
Munroe would now be 34 years old if his life had not been cut short by a gang of White supremacist cowards. The gang of reportedly 50 White men attacked Munroe without provocation and beat and stabbed him to death. The police refused to acknowledge that it was a hate crime and instead classified the murder of a young African Guyanese man by a gang of White supremacist youth as “gang violence”.
Admittedly there was a gang of White youth involved but this was not a case of two gangs at war; instead a mob of White youth had “ganged up” on an African youth and viciously beat and stabbed him to death. On May 27, 2001, by which time police had not made any arrests, the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) was invited to speak to members of the African Canadian community in Kitchener. BADC support was sought to bring attention to the seeming lack of police action.
Dudley Laws, who at the time was Executive Director of BADC, addressed a gathering in the Kitchener Church of God. BADC and a group of organizations and activists concerned about racism in Kitchener and the seeming lack of police action organized a protest rally for Saturday, June 2, 2001.
“Charge the killers with murder” was one of the chants as we marched since it seemed the police were dragging their feet although many people had identified the members of a White supremacist group as the murderers of Munroe. Eventually, almost three years after the brutal murder of Munroe, the police in Kitchener arrested three White men and they were charged with the murder of Munroe.
The information from “Kitchener Court File No.5212/03 Citation: R. v. Young et al., 2004 ONCJ 421” read in part: “Dirk William Young, Robert Thomas Barges and David Edward Miller. All three accused are charged jointly with first degree murder arising out of the death of Howard Joel Munroe on May 20, 2001 at Victoria Park in the City of Kitchener.” Even after they were arrested and charged, the trial of the three White men (of the 50 who swarmed, kicked and stabbed Munroe to death) did not get underway until March, 2006.
Dirk Young was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury of six White men and six White women. Robert Barges, who admitted to stabbing Munroe in the chest and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years. David Miller, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison and three years probation, only spent one day in prison after the trial because he had already spent 2 1/2 years in pre-trial custody, which was credited on a two-for-one basis. Barges and Miller are no longer in jail, but Munroe never got to celebrate his 21st birthday and will not celebrate another birthday.
Every year at this time I remember Howard Joel Munroe and the abrupt end to his life by a group of White supremacists who obviously did not think that “Black lives matter!” During the George Zimmerman trial, I travelled to Florida and I thought about Munroe. I found myself comparing the reaction of the African-American community to the murder of Trayvon Martin, to the reaction of the African Canadian community to the brutal murder of Munroe.
Maybe the memory of the murder of Munroe has stayed with me because his family comes from the Courtland/Fyrish/Gibraltar area of the Courentyne, where generations of my ancestors lived and where my father was born. This was the area where the body of Munroe was returned and laid to rest in 2001.
In June 2011 (10 years after Munroe was murdered) Statistics Canada released data that identified Kitchener as having “the highest rate of police-reported hate crimes in Canada, at just under 18 incidents for every 100,000 people”. Although Canada has not recently experienced the spate of murders of racialized people by White civilians and police as the USA when any such killing does occur, it is not as publicized. African Canadians have supported the actions of African-Americans as they protest the extrajudicial killing of African-Americans in New York, Ferguson and Baltimore.
Almost three weeks ago on May 2, “Black Lives Matter Toronto” organized a protest in front of police headquarters in Toronto to express solidarity with the people of Baltimore protesting police killings and to demand an end to police brutality in Canada, especially the Toronto police practice of “carding”, which disproportionately targets African Canadian youth.
As quiet as it is kept, Canada has a history as brutal as America when it comes to the treatment of Africans. While most of us know the horror stories of slavery in the U.S., Jim Crow, the oppression and lynching of African-Americans by White Americans, similar stories of brutal White Canadians are well-hidden.
The hanging of enslaved African woman, Marie-Joseph Angélique, in Quebec is one such story. Angélique, who was accused of burning down half of Montreal on April 10, 1734 was tortured and hanged even though the evidence was hearsay and inconclusive. On May 26, 1734, Amable Lemoine Monière (a five-year-old White child), the 23rd and last witness against Angélique, was called.
None of the witnesses had seen her light a fire, yet on May 26, 1734 after the last witness testified, the King’s attorney requested that the accused should be tortured to obtain a confession. Angélique was tortured by having the bones in her lower leg and feet broken until she confessed to the crime. She was hanged, her body burned and the ashes scattered in Montreal on June 21, 1734.
In the U.S. the stories of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin and others who were the victims of racist murderers are well documented. In Canada, the story of Howard Joel Munroe has to be gleaned from old newspapers or from the memories of those who attended the protest marches and meetings in Kitchener. Similarly the heroes and sheroes who resisted their enslavement in the U.S. are well known but in Canada the names of Marie-Joseph Angélique, Peggy Pompadour, Chloe Cooley and others are hardly ever heard. In Canada “Black Lives are worth Remembering/Black Lives Matter in Canada!”