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Halifax leaders call for transparent probe into ‘disturbing’ police encounter with Black man

Click to play video: 'Halifax police investigating video showing officer making ‘unacceptable’ comments during ‘high-risk’ situation' Halifax police investigating video showing officer making ‘unacceptable’ comments during ‘high-risk’ situation
WATCH: Halifax leaders call for transparent probe into ‘disturbing’ police encounter with Black man (Warning: This video contains disturbing content. Discretion advised.) – Mar 27, 2021

Black community leaders in Halifax say they’re angered and saddened by a video that shows a Halifax Regional Police officer aiming his weapon at a Black man.

The video captures part of a police response to a weapons call on Wentworth Drive on March 26, and has been viewed tens of thousands of times since it was posted to Twitter on Saturday.

Read more: Halifax police officer under investigation for ‘unacceptable’ comments in video with man held at gunpoint

In it, a man is holding his hands up in the air, walking around a parked vehicle while an officer follows him with his weapon drawn. The video’s audio seems to capture the officer making a threat against the man’s life before the man bolts from the scene.

“It’s definitely alarming, it makes you feel deeply concerned and angry,” said El Jones, a community activist, journalist, poet and professor. “All of those things happen, but at the same time, there’s nothing new here, which is unfortunate.”

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A video posted on Twitter shows an incident between a Halifax Regional Police officer and a man at a Halifax parking lot on March 26, 2021.
A video posted on Twitter shows an incident between a Halifax Regional Police officer and a man at a Halifax parking lot on March 26, 2021. DeRico Symonds/Twitter

Since the video’s release, HRP Chief Dan Kinsella has said the “comments that appear to have been made by our officer” were “unacceptable.” He confirmed the officer has been placed in administrative duties while an internal investigation takes place.

In a Sunday press statement, DeRico Symonds, co-founder of an advocacy group called GameChangers902, said his organization considers the actions of the police officer in the video “an act of police misconduct,” and “racially motivated in nature.”

The group is calling for the officer’s dismissal, a fulsome investigation by the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), and for Nova Scotia’s justice minister to “intervene to ensure due process in a timely and transparent manner.”

In a brief interview with Global News, SiRT director Felix Cacchione said the police watchdog has not launched an investigation because it hasn’t received a referral or complaint. In order to investigate, he added, he would need a statement from the man seen fleeing in the video.

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READ MORE: ‘Blindsided’ — Black Nova Scotians say their community was left out of new restorative process

In a statement to Global News, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Randy Delorey called the video “disturbing” and said he expects “a speedy and transparent investigation by Halifax Regional Police into this incident.”

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said he has spoken with Kinsella and knows “how seriously” the police chief is treating the incident. Savage also called for a quick and thorough investigation that will inform “the next steps” as the city — and its police service — strive to repair decades of damaged relations with the Black community.

“We’re investigating, we take this seriously, we value our relationship with the Black community — it’s just copy and paste from every single time,” said Jones, referring to other instances of police violence against African Nova Scotians, including the Santina Rao case.

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She added, case law proves that when a Black person flees a scene, it is not necessarily an indicator of guilt.

READ MORE: Two Halifax families speak out about the racism they say they’re facing at a housing co-op

Halifax police confirm three people were arrested at the Wentworth Drive call last Friday, one of whom is expected to face charges related to possession of a firearm and narcotics. A news release said a fourth suspect got away on foot, and HRP is asking any members of the public with information on the incident to come forward.

Robert Wright, a social worker and member of African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition, said the entire framing of the video as an “incident” is problematic, since it’s not a matter of “bad apples” or an isolated event.

“It was just another example of how the police culture and training obviously hasn’t been substantial enough to address this issue of, how do you successfully and completely police … when members of the African Nova Scotian public, or Black folks are involved?” he asked. “It’s just reminiscent of the larger problem.
Social worker Robert Wright says an incident in which a police officer aimed his gun at a Black man ought to have been reported up the chain right away, even if no one was hurt. He’s seen here in Halifax on March 28, 2021. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News
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In 2019, HRP issued a formal apology to Nova Scotia’s Black community for street checks, the police practice of stopping an individual and collecting and recording their personal information. It came in the aftermath of the Wortley Report, which found Black citizens in the Halifax area were six times more likely to be street-checked than white citizens.
At the time, Kinsella acknowledged that officers’ actions and words had mistreated and victimized Black people for decades.

Despite the apology, and a government-issued ban on street checks, Wright said little has changed when it comes to police accountability.

“It’s one of those things where police are only responding publicly after the public produces evidence of the problem, which suggests police are not being proactive enough using their own internal resources to evidence the problem and communicate effectively to the public, so we can have increasing confidence in their ability to address these issues,” he said.

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READ MORE: Apologies, action plans — Halifax police promise positive change post-street checks

Halifax Coun. Lindell Smith, who is also chair of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners, said the board’s job is to ensure this “disturbing” video is addressed in a “timely manner” by the police, and to liaise with the African Nova Scotian community.

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“I think that we do need to be as open and transparent with the community as possible,” he told Global News. “I assumed SiRT was going to investigate and that’s what I was expecting, but hearing that there’s not, I’ll be asking for a little more clarification on why, and when does SiRT jump into investigations.”

He said the “damage” done to the Black community by police is longstanding and it only takes a “small incident” to throw off any progress that’s been made.

Wright agreed, and said Halifax police may be close to losing the Black community’s “consent” to be policed by them.
“When these things happen, regardless of the context, it demonstrates that there is this tension between police and the Black community and it makes every parent of a Black child more fearful.”
— With a file from Rebecca Lau 

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