Trust key to building police-community relations

It was difficult for Nimao Ali to stand up and speak during a community leaders Iftar dinner on June 9.

Ali, a member of the Ottawa-Somali community, was the family spokesperson for Abdirahman Abdi’s family, the man who died after a confrontation with Ottawa police last July that made national headlines. Ali filmed the confrontation from her balcony.

Since then, she tries to avoid situations where she knows police will be present.

“I wasn’t really planning to come,” she said. “I was one of the first people who came when Abdirahman Abdi died on July 24 last year. I think (that was) the last time that I’d seen five, six, seven or more police officers at the same time and today it just brings back the memories.”

But she attended and spoke about what she feels is needed to begin to mend the broken relationship between police and Ottawa’s Somali community.

“The reason that it’s so hard for me is I have a great respect for police officers,” Ali said. “When you have so much respect for somebody and then you lose somebody so dear, your neighbour, somebody you know … it’s hard to reconcile.

“There’s a lot of doubt out there. Sharing our story and getting to know each other is one of the first (steps),” she continued. “It is part of my belief to work with you even if it’s hard, even if I’m hurting, even if I’m upset. We have to work together. Community and police need each other.”

The Iftar dinner, hosted by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute and the Ottawa Police Service, featured a panel of three community leaders – Deputy police Chief Steven Bell, Veldon Coburn, member of the Algonquin First Nations community, and Ali – to discuss how to build inclusive and safe communities, and how to mend fractured relationships, through police and community partnership.

The Intercultural Dialogue Institute, located in south Kanata, is a non-profit organization that aims to unite communities through dialogue in an effort to achieve peace.

The evening culminated with attendees breaking fast on the 13th day of Ramadan, a holy month in the Muslim calendar.

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