Ottawa police have apologized for how they handled an incident where a white woman called 911 on a Black man resting on his bike after a trail ride, leading the operator to tell the man he’s intimidating the woman.
Video of the incident was posted on Twitter and shows a woman walking by a lone man on the Stonebridge Trail in Ottawa’s Barrhaven suburb while describing him on the phone to a 911 operator.
Joakim Bashizi posted the video taken by his brother, Ntwali, and said the woman called police because his brother wasn’t two metres away from her while they crossed a bridge.
In the video, the woman turns the call on to speakerphone and the operator talks directly to the man to tell him he’s intimidating the woman.
“Sir… do we really need to send a police officer just for you let this girl by?” the operator asks.
“I’m not stopping her from coming by,” the man said before being interrupted.
“You’re intimidating her, sir, OK, can you just stand to the side,” the operator says, as the man replies that he’s already standing to the side.
The man remains at a distance from the woman throughout the video and she eventually walks away while still on the phone.
Joakim Bashizi told Global News on Friday the incident took place early Monday afternoon.
His brother called him at home to let him know where he was and that he was being “Karened” — a term referring to white women who raise trivial complaints to higher authorities such as the police.
“He was worried something was going to happen and he needed somebody to know where he was,” he said.
Bashizi started pumping up his own tires intending to bike out to meet his brother, but received a call shortly after that the incident had ended and his brother was on his way home.
When his brother first showed him the video, Bashizi said he was “livid.”
As angry as he was about the woman’s decision to call the police, it’s the 911 operator’s directions to his brother that upset him the most.
Knowing his brother was a Black man based on descriptions from the 911 caller, he said she could have been purposefully intimidating him by threatening to send police.
“She’s intimidating my brother, she knows my brother’s appearance,” he said.
He tweeted the video at the Ottawa police on July 6 looking for accountability, not only for the woman in the video, but for the operator on the other end of the line.
The police force replied to the Twitter video on July 8, initially saying that he could file a formal complaint if he would like the incident investigated. Joakim said he spoke to the supervisor of the emergency call centre then but wasn’t convinced the situation was being taken seriously.
It was only after the tweet itself started gaining traction and the Bashizis began speaking to reporters that the OPS communications division reached out directly, he said.
The Ottawa police responded to Bashizi’s original tweet again three days later to say they were investigating the incident and would offer a “full and unreserved apology.”
“At this point it is clear that this was not an appropriate use of the 911 system and the service did not act appropriately in handling the call,” the tweet said.
Police said no charges have been applied related to the incident at this time.
“I honestly want to know what was going on in her head at the time,” Ntwali Bashizi told the Canadian Press in an interview, adding that the woman was visibly afraid although he said he didn’t approach her throughout the interaction.
“I just want to understand, or I want her to tell me what was so threatening about me. Why she allowed other people to walk by her but she couldn’t walk by me.”
The brothers say police have invited them for a tour of the station, where Ntwali said he’ll ask for the full audio from the 911 call.
Joakim Bashizi told Global News the Ottawa police response to date amounts to a “PR stunt.”
He would like to see the woman identified and charged, so that she knows the fear his brother felt when she called for a police response.
“I want them to do to her what she was hoping the police would do to my little brother,” he said.
Jaokim Bashizi said he has struggled to come to grips with recent similar incidents in the media, where white women are filmed calling the police on Black bystanders.
He said he tried to give the 911 caller the benefit of the doubt, that she might have been mentally ill.
But given how busy the trail would have been that afternoon, and that his brother was almost certainly the only one she called 911 on, he says he knows the colour of his brother’s skin motivated the incident.
“I’ve tried to be her advocate in my own head. I’ve tried to look at it from her point of view. And every single way that I look at it, unless she was mentally ill, she was just being racist.”
Since he posted the video, Joakim said he’s been heartened by the number of people who have reached out to offer their concern for his brother. He said it has especially felt good to hear from white friends and colleagues as of late, knowing that anti-Black racism is increasingly becoming an issue in their minds as well.
“Sometimes you just feel like you’re alone in this fight,” he said.
But he has also received negative comments in response to the tweet, most of which ask what his brother was doing standing on the bridge in the middle of the day.
Those comments are discouraging, Joakim said, and reflect a wider pattern of Black people constantly being asked to explain their own behaviour.
“People feel the need to ask Black people to justify the most benign actions,” he said.
“You don’t have to justify your actions if you’re not doing anything illegal. That onus is always placed on Black people and I don’t understand why.”
— With reporting from Canadian Press’s Salmaan Farooqui and with files from Associated Press.