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‘Brutality is not a part of your job,’ pastor tells Halifax police at church service

Halifax church service marks day to eliminate racial discrimination
WATCH ABOVE: Cornwallis Street Baptist Church held a special service with Halifax Regional Police to mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Steve Silva reports.

Halifax Regional Police employees made up most of the choir at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church as part of a service for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Sunday, and the person in charge of the event offered them an important reminder.

“Unnecessary roughness is not a part of your job. Disrespect of persons is not a part of your job. Profanity is not a part of your job. Brutality is not a part of your job,” pastor Rhonda Britton said, turning multiple times during during her sermon to deliver those words to police members in the choir, including the police chief.

She reiterated multiple times that police, politicians and others need to speak up to help address inequalities and other problems black people face.

“This community is a vital part of this city, and we deserve the care, the attention, the facilities and the amenities given to every other community, and we might deserve more because we’ve been neglected for so long,” Britton said. “Your silence makes you complicit.”

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Local activist Lynn Jones called the service “very poignant.”

She said she thought the choir might “think that all fingers are pointed in [the] direction of the police, and the fire [department], and the respondents, and the government officials, but I felt the community is honoured in this sermon because she [spoke] very much from a community perspective and what they’re feeling,” she said.

READ MORE: Hundreds march in Halifax to end violence following week of 3 homicides

Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais said he attended the service to show support for the elimination of racial discrimination.

Halifax’s mayor, a municipal councillor, and two MLAs were also in attendance.

“Don’t pass judgment or make assumptions because of what you may have been conditioned to until you’ve taken the time to truly try to understand,” Insp. Dean Simmonds, who is black, said at the lectern.

“Imagine waking up every day feeling like you have to put a piece of armour on to protect yourself from what’s outside your doors.”

He said that he has been racially targeted and discriminated against.

“I think we need to call people out when situations arise, so that we can deal with these types of incidents so that we can stop and combat it from happening again,” Simmonds told reporters during an interview after the service.

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That’s a mindset that needs to be applied to all communities the force serves, he added.

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When asked for his stance on the controversial practice of police street checks, Simmonds declined to respond.

Street checks by police in Halifax have been one focus of the Board of Police Commissioners after data was released showing black people are three times more likely to undergo such checks.

“The whole issue around street checks, obviously, is fraught with some emotion,” Blais told reporters.

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He has voiced his support for the practice, saying it helps with policing. The data is being reviewed by a third-party for a study, with recommendations expected this year.

READ MORE: Police-check numbers have ‘startled’ Nova Scotians, premier says

Britton “was very pointed in her remarks today,” Blais said.

“It comes down to the individual interactions that go on between individual officers, as well as individual members of the community,” he said.

“I think it’s just a matter of maintaining that professionalism, and for people understanding that it’s a lot more than just having some courses on cultural sensitivity — it’s on how individuals interact with one another, and that’s the key.”