I believe it’s important for me to comment on the just-released independent report by Dr. Scot Wortley on the issue of street checks and racial profiling by police services in the Halifax Regional Municipality. I want to be very clear that this statement reflects my personal thoughts and opinions, and is not an official statement on the behalf of members of the Board of Police Commissioners.
I would like to first recognize The African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (DPAD) for bringing this issue to the forefront. I must also recognize the members from the Black community for taking the time to take part in the public community meetings, individual meetings, and those who answered the survey. I appreciate your courage to share your stories and thoughts. More importantly, I acknowledge your personal experience, and how sharing your stories could have caused you to relive any trauma. For this, I humbly thank you. I want to also thank members of HRP and RCMP for sharing your thoughts and opinions during the police consultation sessions, and of course for your service to the residents of HRM.
For many years, I have worked to better the relationship between the black community and police. As a youth, I helped organize “Police and Youth” conferences for my peers in the community to have the opportunity to speak directly with officers to share their frustrations and stories, and in turn also hear those officers share their thoughts as well. I’ve had the opportunity to work with both the previous and current Police Chief around community policing, and its impacts on the black community. I’ve also appreciated the direct support from HRP when we started Centreline Studio, both financially and through the helping hands of members who took the time to help prepare the space for the community, through painting, moving furniture, constructing recording booths, and more.
At the same time, I personally know what it’s like to have been stopped multiple times by officers, questioned while walking within and beyond the neighbourhood I grew up in, followed and stopped by police cruisers while driving, all which gave me the feeling of humiliation and being racially profiled.
As a member of the African Nova Scotian community, I certainly do not need Dr. Wortley’s report to tell me that for decades the community has felt that there is anti-black bias, and racial profiling when policing black communities. I hope that with the release of this report that we as the black community don’t see this as a “I told you so” moment.
I hope it is seen more as an opportunity for the community to make the police commission, HRP, RCMP, and other responsible government bodies accountable for reducing any direct or implied racial bias in policing practices, and for repairing the broken relationship with the black community and our police force.
When reading the stories that are shared in the portion of the report I have reviewed so far, you can feel the frustration from members of the black community. It’s obvious that many of these stories reflect direct interactions with officers, and not just through street checks. As outlined in the report “Many street checks are visual in nature. In other words, street checks only capture a small proportion of all police stops and thus grossly under-estimate the extent to which civilians are subject to police surveillance activity.”. Reading this, it makes me wonder if banning street checks will address the racial disparities that we are seeing in the data. But, I also appreciate the stance of DPAD and members of the black community who have communicated the urgent need to immediately halt the practice of street checks.
In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with all stakeholders to get a better understanding of their feelings and assessment of the recommendations brought forward by Dr. Wortly. This is a pinnacle moment for our residents, our city, and our province, and we must treat it that way.
I assure you that the police commission is taking this very seriously, and will be holding all stakeholders – including ourselves – accountable for working together to improve the respect and relationship between police and African Nova Scotian communities in our municipality. I know I have the support of my fellow commissioners when I say that we are all committed to working toward reducing the feeling of racial bias within our police service expressed by the members of the black community.
In closing, I want to thank Dr. Scot Wortley, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, HRP, RCMP, Board of Police Commissioners, The African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition , members of the broader community, and members of the Black community for their involvement with the report. Personal interactions between police officers and community members build understanding and respect, which is essential to creating mutual trust. I believe that your contributions to date are a model for the genuine collaboration needed by everyone to determine the future of street checks in Halifax.
Lindell Smith – Councillor District 8 Halifax Peninsula North