‘We were Black’: Surrey family questions RCMP after being ordered from home with their hands up

Click to play video: 'Surrey family raises questions about police response'
Surrey family raises questions about police response
A Surrey family is asking questions over a police response to a call about a BB gun. While they were called out of their home with their hands up, their neighbours were treated very differently. Emad Agahi reports – Mar 3, 2021

Surrey RCMP say they are conducting a review of a recent response to a weapons call which saw a Black family — including a 10-year-old girl — ordered out of their house with their hands up.

Blanche Monabeka, 21, told Global News police showed up at their home around 5:30 p.m. Monday and parked outside.

She went outside to ask what was going on, but said she was told it was nothing to worry about, to go back inside and that officers would let her know if they needed to talk to her.

“Ten, 15 minutes later we just see a bunch of officers pull up in front of our house, we’re looking out the window to see what’s going on, and then we get a megaphone: ‘Everybody out, put your hands up,'” she said.

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“To first have officers tell you, ‘Oh no you can go inside, everything will be OK,’ to the next thing you know hearing a megaphone with people calling you outside… it’s terrifying.”

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While Monabeka and her sisters — aged 18, 15 and 10 years of age — were outside, police proceeded to search the home, but found no weapon.

Monabeka’s family has tenants in two adjoining units, who she said were not ordered out of their homes.

“They just knocked on their door, and went inside their house but they didn’t make them come out, they didn’t make them put their hands up. There was none of that. We were the only ones that had to do the whole extreme. So I don’t know why that was,” she said.

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“They were white and we were Black. That’s the only conclusion I can come to.”

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According to Monabeka, it was 40 minutes before an officer explained that a neighbour had called police to report someone firing a BB gun in her back yard.

She said police did eventually locate a plastic gun in one of the tenants’ units.

“They were not apologetic,” she said.

“He said he hopes we can understand why this happened. And I’m like no, I can’t understand why this happened and why this happened in this way.”

An RCMP officer reached out to the family to apologize Wednesday, two days after the incident, she said — but not until a video she made about the encounter began to spread on social media.

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Surrey RCMP Sgt. Elenore Sturko said police take the family’s concerns seriously, and were reviewing officers’ actions and how the file was handled.

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“It’s concerning to us that a member of our community would feel that they received treatment that as not in line with what they would have expected for any other member of the public,” she said.

“That is something we take very seriously and we’re going to be looking into that.”

Sturko said she couldn’t comment about the specifics of what happened during the response until police had a chance to speak to everyone involved and better understand the situation.

“What I can tell you was it was a weapons call, and our officers have an obligation to respond to weapons calls and treat all calls as though the threat is real until we can prove otherwise,” Sturko said.

“When it comes to firearms, it’s going to be lights and sirens, police are going to be speaking in authoritative tones and perhaps not being as kind as normally a person would hope because they do have to take public safety into the utmost paramount account.”

Lama Mugabo, a board member with Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley Society, said the incident was a reminder that situations like this don’t just happen in the United States.

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“I wasn’t surprised, but I was shocked to the extent it’s still happening. This is certainly disturbing to think about those young women who were minding their own business and then how it leaves them,” he said.

The incident raises questions about how police are trained, Mugabo said, adding he hopes public attention will help transform it into a teachable moment.

“After all the RCMP and the police are there to protect and serve us, but they’re not serving and protecting everyone equally,” he said.

Monabeka said her family has previously talked about how to respond safely when interacting with the police as a Black person — including not making any movements like reaching for their cellphone.

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But the reality of finding themselves in that situation has left her sisters, and particularly the youngest, traumatized.

“To have to explain to her this is why the police did this, and it just doesn’t make sense to her, it’s hard. And you just don’t know what to do after that,” she said.

“It’s embedded in their memories for the rest of their lives, something that happened between them and the police, and I don’t know if they’re going to be able to have a good experience with the police after this.”

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She’s hoping the RCMP’s review into the incident will lead to improved training for front-line officers.

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