Halifax activist to police: fix racial profiling first, ask for funding second
El Jones wants council to freeze police budget until more action taken
January 21, 2020, 1:43 pm ASTLast Updated: January 21, 2020, 1:43 pm
Halifax activist El Jones wants city council to freeze any budget increase for Halifax Regional Police until they show action on limiting racial profiling.
On Monday, Jones spoke to the board of police commissioners during a meeting at city hall. Her presentation came less than a week after an African Nova Scotian woman was injured during an arrest at a Halifax Walmart.
“It defies logic to reward an institution found guilty of systemic violations of human rights with more money before they can even show that they have any evidence of changing their practices,” Jones told the board.
Halifax Regional police Chief Dan Kinsella was also in attendance. Police are requesting an almost $1 million increase in funding for the next fiscal year, most of which they say will go to hiring eight new officers.
Jones argued that more money should be put into community-run programs aimed at crime prevention. She recommended that for every $1 spent on the police budget, $2 should be invested in these programs.
“I don’t think money into police budgets helps the community,” she said in an interview. “I think money into the community helps the community. If we can find a million dollars for eight new officers, surely, we can find it for addictions treatment, employment programs, whatever the community needs.”
A history of racial profiling
Jones also said HRP shouldn’t receive an increased budget due to its history of street checks. Last year the city banned the practice of police stopping individuals and collecting their personal data to be stored for future use. An independent report found that black men were up to six times more likely to be checked than white men in Halifax.
In November, Kinsella gave a formal apology for the checks on behalf of HRP. Jones isn’t satisfied.
“One week after the police apology, we saw a black man Tased on Quinpool,” Jones said in her presentation. “Just last week we saw Santina Rao beat down in a Walmart. Freeze the police budget if it’s going into these kinds of actions before we see any accountability.”
The incident with Santina Rao occurred on Jan. 15. Jones had requested an audience with the board of police commissioners on Jan. 10.
While shopping with her children, Rao was confronted by police at the Mumford Road Walmart after staff became suspicious she might be shoplifting. The police questioned her, then forced her to the ground and arrested her for causing a disturbance, assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest. The incident left the 23-year-old mother with a broken wrist, multiple bruises and a concussion.
“We’ve been told repeatedly, you have the right to refuse a check. We have the right to refuse giving ID in these situations,” said Jones in an interview. “But the actuality showed that when you do that, not only do you face escalated violence from the police, but then from the public there’s the idea that, ‘Why didn’t you show your ID?’ Which she actually did.”
Breaking the silence
For his part, Kinsella spoke sparingly during the meeting. He said he hasn’t received any report of an officer performing a street check since a moratorium was first implemented in April.
After the meeting, Kinsella spoke with media about the Rao arrest for the first time since the incident.
He said he has referred the matter to the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), the body that oversees police incidents that result in injury or death.
“This is an unfortunate incident. Whenever an incident like this occurs, it is unfortunate,” he said in a conference with media. “We need to wait and we need to respect the process. We need to gather all the evidence and then make an informed decision based on the appropriate investigation.”
Kinsella said both officers involved in the arrest are still working. The charges against Rao still stand. The Crown will now decide whether to pursue them.
When asked about the budget and whether HRP should do more to combat racial profiling before requesting more funding, Kinsella commented, “I presented the budget to the police commissioners – a budget I believe is commensurate with an opportunity within the organization to fill some gaps that exist.”
The board recommended the proposed budget increase to council prior to Monday’s meeting. The city’s budget standing committee will hear the official presentation from HRP on Feb. 5.
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