Table of contents

  • Chapter 1: Introduction:
  • Chapter 2: Landscapes of Community, Racism and Violence :
  • Chapter 3: The Bélanger Boys:
  • Chapter 4: Out to Defend Ourselves :
  • Chapter 5: Paying the Rent :
  • Chapter 6: New Gangs and a Moral Panic :
  • Chapter 7: The Death of les Bélangers :
  • Chapter 8: What Is a Gang? :


This first critical history of a street gang in a Canadian city is a result of a four-year collaboration between a university professor (Ted Rutland) and the leader of les Bélangers (Maxime Aurélien). Out to Defend Ourselves tells the story of Montreal’s first Haitian street gang, les Bélangers. It traces how the gang emerged from a group of Haitian friends, the children of migrants from Haiti in the 1970s. It documents the forms of racial violence they experienced and their battles against them. It also documents the everyday lives of the gang members, the petty crime some members engaged in to make ends meet, and how the police actions against the gang changed its nature and function – making it, finally, a more criminally oriented and violent formation. It is a story about a gang, but it is also a story of young Haitians making their lives in 1970s and 80s Montreal and a story about Montreal in a period of great change.


“An excellent case study in how racialized moral panics fuel police power and abuse. A compelling analysis of how white Montrealers translated the Haitian community and Black empowerment into a threat during the 20th century. The rich narrative reveals how local media and public police worked in concert to constrain and contain young Black people, limiting their life chances and criminalizing those who resisted, while legitimizing vigilante white violence against young Haitians. The work is a lovely example of oral history blended with social science analysis, recounting an awful chapter of Montreal’s and Canada’s history of anti-Black racism.”

- Kevin Walby, co-author of Police Funding, Dark Money, and the Greedy Institution

“An essential contribution to contemporary histories of policing the racialization of crime, providing critical perspectives on the historical emergence of street gangs. Out to Defend Ourselves describes the lives of those who experienced the confluence of anti-Black state and popular violence, and the carceral response to a moral panic around crime. The book provides a compelling firsthand account of the development of Montreal’s first Haitian street gang, which emerged as Black community self-defence against rampant white violence and acute economic disenfranchisement, while shedding light on the ways the police contributed to the violence they purported to combat. In a moment where political leaders continue to work in direct opposition to the widely supported call to #DefundThePolice, this text is crucial reading.”

- Robyn Maynard, author, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present

“In this ground-breaking collaboration, the authors have produced a book that offers a new way of seeing the history of Montreal in the 1970s and 1980s, one that takes the reader into a world far removed from the city’s sites of wealth and prestige. A must read!”

- Sean Mills, professor and Canada Research Chair in Canadian and Transnational History, University of Toronto

“Aurélien and Rutland detail the formation of the first Haitian street gang in not as some inherently violent and predatory force — the white supremacist, police-state, and mainstream narrative — but as a defensive response by young, working-class Haitian diaspora to racist violence at the hands of white society and the police. An important book to question preconceived notions of street gang formation.”

- Asaf Rashid, author, Solidarity Behind Bars

“The spectre of the Black gang haunts the police imaginary, leading to propaganda about crime, policing, and the necessity of racial profiling. In this collaboration between Ted Rutland, author of Displacing Blackness, and Maxime Aurelian, leader of Montreal’s first Haitian street gang Les Belanger, the authors challenge us to crucially rethink the role of street gangs in political organizing and the role of the police in creating street violence. An intervention into whitewashed histories of Canada and Quebec, this book examines racism in Montreal and the strategies mobilized by Black community for self-defence. This book critically reshapes our understanding of race, gangs, and policing in Montreal and Canada more broadly, shattering myths of Black gangs through the voice of Aurelian. A crucial read at a time where policing is increasingly under scrutiny and where myths of Black criminality serve to buttress police powers.”

- El Jones, author of Abolitionist Intimacies and Live from the Afrikan Resistance!

“Maxime Aurélien and Ted Rutland, in Out to Defend Ourselves: A History of Montreal’s First Haitian Street Gang, do an amazing deconstruction of the racist police and mass media construction of Haitian and Black ‘gangs.’ In this grounded oral historical investigation based on Aurélien’s and other members of les Bélangers experiences, they show how ‘gang’ formation did not have to do with instigating violence and crime but instead with resisting racist violence against Haitians in Montreal and seizing space for Haitian ‘male’ youth. This is a powerful book that will be useful for all those resisting anti-Black racism and the police, including their racist ‘anti-gang’ policing. As the authors note, while this book is about the historical past it is very much for our historical present.”

- Gary Kinsman, co-author of The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation