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Arrest of 15-year-old raises questions over police commitment to Halifax’s Black community

Click to play video 'Arrest of 15-year-old raises questions over police commitment to Halifax’s Black community' Arrest of 15-year-old raises questions over police commitment to Halifax’s Black community
WATCH: Halifax community organizers say the violent arrest of another Black Nova Scotian raises questions over the Halifax Regional Police’s commitment to righting historic wrongdoings against the community. Elizabeth McSheffrey brings us that story – Feb 24, 2020

Halifax community organizers say the violent arrest of another Black Nova Scotian raises questions over the Halifax Regional Police’s commitment to righting historic wrongdoings against the community.

“I think it’s time to question them whether or not this police chief is capable of doing this,” El Jones told Global News on Monday.

Jones’ statement referring to Chief Dan Kinsella comes as Nova Scotia’s independent police watchdog confirmed it is investigating the arrest of a 15-year-old boy in Bedford on Friday.

A video of the incident, shot on the teen’s cell phone, has since been viewed thousands of times on Facebook. It shows him asking two officers why he’s being arrested for being outside at a shopping mall and what he’s being charged with, before being brought to the ground.

READ MORE: Racial profiling and shopping while black in Canada

The Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) announced on Monday it is investigating the matter, which took place at the Bedford Place Mall.

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Halifax police say at approximately 7:30 p.m. they received a call to assist security at the mall regarding an incident involving a male and female youth.

The 15-year-old, who is not being identified, sustained injuries as he was arrested.

“If talking back to the police as a Black young man gives them cause for brutalizing you and detaining you in the field without charging you with anything, then we are in a very, very dangerous place for Black young people,” said social worker Robert Wright in a Monday interview.

Wright called on Kinsella to involve community members more directly in the creation of a new police strategy for African Nova Scotians, demanded by the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent as police apologized for decades of discriminatory street-checking.

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“It’s very hard to watch,” said the boy’s mother, Troylena Dixon, in a Facebook message to Global News the day after the incident.

It was a message echoed by Jones, who said it’s shocking to see a 15-year-old youth “being subjected to this kind of violence.”

She compared the incident to the arrest of Santina Rao, a 23-year-old mother who alleges she was racially profiled at a Walmart before being assaulted by Halifax Regional Police, and the video of a violent arrest on Quinpool road in December 2019.

El Jones speaks with Global News on Aug. 24, 2017. Alexa MacLean/Global News

All of the incidents were captured on video and come as Halifax police attempt to rehabilitate their image in the African Nova Scotian community.

Under Kinsella, the HRP have issued a formal apology for street checks, a practice which saw officers randomly stopping people and collecting personal information.

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A report prepared by criminologist Scot Wortley found street checks disproportionately targeted the black community — with Black citizens five times more likely to be street-checked than white citizens.

Kinsella described the apology as the first step to counter a series of historic wrongs.

Click to play video 'Halifax mother says she was physically assaulted by Halifax police' Halifax mother says she was physically assaulted by Halifax police
Halifax mother says she was physically assaulted by Halifax police – Jan 16, 2020

But that apology was followed by the very public arrests of Black Nova Scotians. It’s a period that Jones says hasn’t inspired confidence for Kinsella, who was sworn-in as chief in July 2019.

“What we’ve seen in the chief’s first six months has been an absolute disaster in terms of his ability to deal with the Black community, to deal with our demands,” she said.

“You hear a lot of lip service, a lot of talking, a lot of work consulting, but there’s no concrete plan.”

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SiRT has confirmed that the teen sustained injuries during the arrest and that the case was referred to their unit.

READ MORE: Santina Rao appears in court with sea of supporters

Halifax police confirmed on Saturday that two police officers have been placed on administrative leave in connection with the incident.

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident is asked to contact SiRT at 1-855-450-2010.

The police watchdog will file a public report on its findings within three months of the conclusion of its investigation.

With files from Aya Al-Hakim