Names are withheld in this article to protect the identity of the youth.
A disturbing video taken outside Bedford Place Mall on Friday evening shows the police using force against a 15-year-old Black youth.
The short clip of the confrontation begins with the youth asserting, “I can go inside if I want to.” One of the two officers in the video responds, “You’ll get arrested.” The youth responds, “For what? Speaking my mouth? For speaking?”
As the police advance upon him saying he’s under arrest, the boy yells “Don’t you touch me!” The video goes black as we hear sounds of struggle, and the youth gasp and cough. One of the officers yells “stop resisting,” as the boy asks why he is under arrest.
He was held in the back of the cruiser in handcuffs for 45 minutes, and released without charges. He was taken by his parents to the hospital, and is currently on concussion watch. His mother says his hands were bloody, and his eye is also bruised.
His mother has been following the case of Santina Rao online. The 15-year-old’s mother says she never expected, only weeks after seeing the police assault Rao in Walmart, that she would be experiencing something similar with her son.
The mother was driving with her husband when her son began sending her videos from Sunnyside Mall. Her son and his friend, a young woman, were sitting in an area of the mall when they were approached by a mall security officer and asked to leave.
The youth, who has experienced extensive racial bullying, questioned why he was being asked to leave the space. He argued that there were no signs saying the space was restricted. He alleged racial profiling, and began filming the encounter and sending the videos to his parents.
The security officer threatened to call the police if the youth didn’t leave the space. He left, but police had already been called.
The boy and his friend went across the street to Bedford Place Mall, where they were confronted with the police. The boy argued with police that he was doing nothing wrong. The police threatened him with arrest if he continued talking, took out their handcuffs, and then approached, wrestled him to the ground, and handcuffed him.
Once they received the messages from their son, his parents began calling his phone, only to have it hung up every time they called. Their son has “Mama” and “Pops” programmed into his contacts. On a call that got through, they could hear their son yelling “leave me alone.” Arriving at the mall, they ran until they found their son, sitting in a cruiser. He yelled for them when he saw them.
The police had his phone.
His mother says that ultimately, the police released him without charges, but told his parents they could have arrested him for causing a disturbance in a public place.
She says that she was scared of sharing what happened, afraid that the police will retaliate and charge her son.
I have so many conflicted feelings. I’m mad, and I’m sad. My son is sleeping right now, and I think of going in there and seeing his face and I don’t know what I will feel. But my son deserves justice. He doesn’t deserve this to have happened to him.
I’m a law abiding person. I told the police that. I’ve never been arrested for anything. I raised my children to be respectful. But I understand why my son reacted.
I saw what the police did to Santina Rao, and what happened to my son is so similar. It needs to stop.
Asaf Rashid, a criminal defence and immigration lawyer on leave from practice living in Halifax, tells the Examiner that yelling at the police is not illegal:
Yelling at the police, including yelling obscenities at them, even saying “fuck off,” is not enough to result in an unlawful act. The case law is clear in this area. A person responding, using their freedom of expression to indicate they are upset is not causing a disturbance. It is effectively complaining and it is not enough for a charge.
There is also case law that recognizes that if a person is responding out of fear to the police, it is not unreasonable for a Black person to be afraid when confronted by officers. Given the Wortley Report and the clear evidence of racial profiling by the Halifax Regional Police, it is clearly not unreasonable for a Black youth to react to the police.
In R. vs Le (2019), the court accepted that “racialized people…may experience interactions with the police differently than white people might, given the historic — and continuing — over-policing of racialized communities.”
The police are also supposed to take into account the age of a person they are interacting with. Anthony Morgan, a policy and human rights expert who formerly practiced at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, says that the police are supposed to de-escalate situations, particularly when dealing with a minor. However, he says that the wide discretion granted police makes it difficult to hold the police accountable:
The question here is one of causing a disturbance, but what causing a disturbance means in this context is largely subject to the discretion of the officers. In the absence of a clear and community informed protocol on police engagement with young people, that discussion is liable to be abused, particularly in engagements with Black, Indigenous, people of colour, or people living with mental health challenges.
The Halifax Regional Police do not have any published policies on their procedures for arresting youth.
Santina Rao, who was accused of stealing and beaten by six officers in Walmart resulting in a concussion, a broken wrist, and facial injuries, was also charged with “disturbing the peace,” as well as resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Rao also challenged the police when they began questioning her about her identification.
Desmond Cole, author of the bestselling book The Skin We’re In which chronicles state and police violence in Canada commented on her case:
We have to remember that the police are taught to do these things. Whenever we talk about training, they are trained to scream out things like stop resisting arrest even though they’re the ones doing the beating; they’re trained to tell bystanders to stay back because they’re in danger from the person they’re brutalizing; they’re trained to go up to people in these scenarios and tell them it’s illegal to film and they’re going to confiscate the cameras; they’re literally trained to get away with brutalizing Black people.
This case marks the third case of Halifax police brutalizing a Black person caught on video since chief Dan Kinsella apologized for street checks on November 29. A week after the apology, police tasered a Black man on Quinpool Road.
The police were recently granted an increase to their budget, despite my call to freeze the budget until action is taken on ongoing racial profiling.
The Halifax Regional Police show a troubling pattern of escalating violently on Black people who question them. In the case of both this youth and Rao, the police treat challenging the interaction as illegal, and use excessive force in handcuffing and arresting their targets. It is particularly disturbing that the police have no public policies on interactions with Black youth, even though young Black men are identified in the Wortley report as the most vulnerable to racial profiling and criminalization.
Black people who identify racial profiling, challenge being approached by the police simply for being in public spaces, or question police practices are not breaking the law. These arrests suggest that police are actively silencing Black people for asserting their rights
Either the police repeatedly do not understand the law, or they are deliberately intimidating Black people who question why they are being approached. Either option indicates the police seem unable to interact with the Black community without threat and force.
The youth’s mother says her child has long experience with racial profiling, bullying, and violence, and she fears what effect this incident will have on him.
It’s just not right. We teach our children to speak up when something is wrong, and then this happens. He’s a child. If they’re doing this to a kid, then what are they doing to adults?
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