Less than two months after Halifax Regional Police issued a formal apology to Nova Scotia’s Black community over the prejudicial use of street checks, the province’s police watchdog is investigating an incident that left a woman with injuries after she was allegedly physically abused by officers in a Halifax Walmart.
“It can’t be this many people with the same story and there not be reality and realness to the whole thing,” said Lynn Jones, a well-known African Nova Scotian historian and community activist.
In the eyes of Jones and many other African Nova Scotian community members, Santina Rao’s experience is all too familiar and calls for a new strategy to review allegations of discrimination and systemic racism involving police.
“We’ve said it’s not working, the relationship between the Black community and police, and we need an actual formal strategy, a formal policing strategy, for the Black community, but unfortunately the police haven’t seen this as something that is critical to deal with right now,” Jones said.
Rao says she was shopping at the Walmart on Mumford Road Wednesday afternoon when she was accused of “concealing items” while still in the store.
On Thursday, Rao told Global News she placed a bag underneath her children’s stroller and was putting items into it as she shopped.
According to Rao, she paid for all her items at the electronics section except for her produce, which had to be weighed. After paying for those items, then stopping at the toy section, Rao claims she was approached by Halifax police officers and Walmart staff, who claimed she was “concealing items.”
Rao says she urged officers and staff to check her bag, but they declined and asked for her identification. When she declined, Rao said officers used “excessive force” to put her in handcuffs.
The 23-year-old woman says the arrest left her with a broken wrist, a concussion and injuries to her neck and arms.
Rao alleges she was a victim of racial profiling.
In an email to Global News Friday, Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said the matter has been turned over to Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), which investigates all allegations of police wrongdoing.
MacLeod said he can’t speak to specific cases, but confirmed that police attended the Walmart after receiving a report that a theft was in progress.
In an email to Global News, SiRT says it was made aware of the incident Thursday night.
“We began a preliminary review today to see whether the incident appears to be within our mandate,” said SiRT interim director Pat Curran in the email. “SiRT’s mandate includes incidents in which there is reason to believe the actions of a police officer may have resulted in serious injury to an affected person.
“If an incident appears to be within the mandate, SiRT conducts an investigation.”