'It's a Black man, and you're a Black man': Police ethics commission ruling raises questions
MONTREAL -- In March 2017, Montreal police got a call saying a bus driver had been threatened by a Black man in Pointe-Claire, on Hymus Blvd.
When they arrived, they found a 46-year-old man walking through a parking lot with family members. They reacted with force.
“He got jumped on by a police officer who ordered him to get on the ground,” says Fo Niemi of the Centre for Research and Action on Race Relations.
“The officer came and handcuffed him and basically said: ‘You're the Black man who apparently threatened a bus driver.’”
The case ended up going to the police ethics commission, which was tasked with deciding whether it was an instance of racial profiling.
Their conclusion offers a glimpse at how this important commission sees profiling, and some critics say it’s a troubling one.
For one thing, the officers had been looking for a man in his 20s, said Niemi, so the older man didn’t fit the description.
And according to the ethics’ commission’s report, when the detained man accused the officers of racial profiling, an officer simply responded that the report was for “a Black man, and you’re a Black man.”
The ethics commission still ruled the actions were justified.
Human rights lawyer Julius Grey says that while race, of course, factors into police work, the officers in this case acted improperly.
“If you're looking for a Chinese man, you don’t stop a Black man or a white man,” says human rights lawyer Julius Grey.
“On the other hand, the mere fact that somebody is Black doesn't make him look like another Black man any more than you could just stop somebody and say ‘We're looking for a white man.’”
Then there’s the issue of how police did choose to react when faced with uncertainty, he said.
“There is of course another question: why do you just jump on him?” Grey said. “Why don't you ask him to identify himself and arrest him if need be?”
Montreal police recently announced changes to how they’ll do street checks, but Niemi says this incident provides more evidence that that policy won’t help prevent racial profiling—it wouldn’t have prevented incidents like this one.
“The tribunal said ‘nothing was wrong there,’ and we have a problem with that,” said Niemi.
A spokesperson for the police department declined to comment on the case.