More than 100 people gathered outside the Mumford Road Walmart in Halifax on Friday in temperatures hovering near -20 C to protest what they are calling a case of police brutality and racial profiling against a Halifax woman.
The protest started at 5 p.m. and lasted just over an hour. About 30 protesters eventually made their way into the Walmart store for a peaceful demonstration that included marching and chanting in support of Santina Rao.
On Wednesday, Rao was accused of attempting to steal lettuce, lemons and grapefruit by Walmart employees.
Rao spoke with The Signal at her home before Friday’s protest. She said that when police arrived at the store on Wednesday, they didn’t search her belongings even though she offered. She said she’s confused about how quick things escalated.
“I actually spend a lot of money at that store. The thing is, they told me they confronted me about theft. But when I offered the police to look through my bags but they didn’t even look,” said Rao.
“They just wanted my ID. When I gave it to them they asked if I was still living at that address. I said no and I don’t understand why you’re asking me for my ID and where I live.”
Rao sustained injuries during her arrest. They include a bruised and swollen eye, a concussion, marks and swelling on her neck, back and arms. She also has a broken wrist.
Rao said despite her injuries and medical personnel being on scene, she sat in the back of a police vehicle worrying about her children while one officer received medical attention and she did not.
“After I was beaten, arrested and thrown in a car I was wondering where my kids were. I asked and no one told me,” she said.
“I yelled to get their attention and they told me to stop, that I was embarrassing myself. I have no idea who they were with or where they were, if they were outside or inside. No one would tell me.”
El Jones, Halifax’s former poet laureate and local activist, organized the protest at Walmart.
In an interview with The Signal, Jones said she believes this is another case of racial and consumer profiling, something the protesters said police must stop doing.
“We had an apology from police for racial profiling in November, and we knew then that it was not over and this apology was not sincere. A week later we saw a black man beat down on Quinpool,” Jones said.
“Now we see what happened to Santina Rao. So, we know they haven’t ended racial profiling. So that’s what we call on the police to do — to end racial profiling.”
Halifax Regional Police charged Rao with causing a disturbance, assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest.
Although she didn’t leave the store with any items, the Halifax Regional Police acknowledge that they were responding to a report of a theft in progress.
They released a statement on Thursday in relation to Rao’s arrest and its appearance on social media.
“We take any allegation of this nature very seriously and we are currently looking into the matter closely,” the statement noted.
They said while they were “not in a position to discuss specifics” at this time, they could confirm that police received a report on Wednesday at about 3:30 p.m. of a theft in progress at the Mumford Road Walmart.
“Officers approached a woman who was believed to have concealed items. She became verbally abusive and was behaving aggressively,” the statement said. “The officers then attempted to place the woman under arrest for causing a disturbance. She resisted and assaulted one of the officers. The officer was taken to hospital for treatment and later released.”
The statement also said a 23-year-old Halifax woman had been charged with causing a disturbance, assaulting a police officer, and resisting arrest. Police have not issued any further comment on the matter.
Rao explained that she had picked out a few movies in the electronics section at the Walmart on Wednesday to watch with her children. After striking up a conversation with an elderly gentleman working at that end of the store, she decided to pay for her items there.
Rao said when she went to buy her items the employee explained there was no scale for produce at that cash. He told her to pay at the front cash or self checkout. She paid for the movies and continued towards the front of the store.
“He watched me take my items out and place them in the stroller again,” Rao said, explaining that she then stopped at the toy section of the store on her way to pay at the front of the store.
‘You know kids they get excited about toys. Before I know it, I’m being approached by three cops and staff. If putting the items in my stroller was suspicious, the employee who told me to pay for the rest of my items didn’t let me know when I did that in front of him,” Rao said.
The Signal reached out to Walmart for comment and received an emailed statement on Friday.
“We are aware the police arrested a woman at our Halifax store on Wednesday afternoon,” Walmart’s manager of corporate affairs, Felicia Fefer, said in the email. ”It is our understanding the police are investigating the matter and any inquiries you have should be directed to the police.”
In the fall of 2019, the province banned street checks. The practice of street checks or carding was called into question, after a 2017 CBC investigation discovered black people were three times more likely than whites to be stopped by Halifax police.
On Nov. 29, Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella apologized to the African Nova Scotian community on behalf of the department.
Jones told The Signal that police checks are still happening in the city and they can also happen in stores.
“The cops weren’t just roaming the aisles. The cops were called by Walmart. So, there’s a link between this consumer profiling and criminalization of poor people,” Jones said. “The broader context is to understand that policing doesn’t just take place on the streets, it takes place in our stores, it takes place in our institutions and we’re here to speak out against them.”
Jones and others who gathered for Friday’s protest believe the city did not end racial profiling and they wanted to call on police to end it in all its forms.
“That’s why we want to be out here today to say you check one of us, you check us all,” she said.
Video by Travis Devonport
About the author
Adam McNamara is a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has a passion for telling stories and informing the public on healthcare, education,...