“RECKLESS DISREGARD FOR BLACK LIFE & SAFETY” - BLIND, BLACK MAN VIOLENTLY ARRESTED IN NELSON MANDELA PARK AND CHARGED
Montreal, June 29, 2016 — CRARR is calling for a full and broad inquiry into the violent police arrest of a blind Black man in Nelson Mandela Park last month, and the reasons leading to him being fined for playing music in the park and charged with a criminal offense.
Mr. Vecqueth Stephenson, an English-speaking Black man in his fifties who is legally blind and on disability welfare, joined a small group of predominately Black friends at the Nelson Mandela Park on May 23 (Patriots' Day) for an informal get-together. Sitting around a picnic table with this group, he was peacefully playing music from a personal stereo. It was just after 9 pm when two police officers, one male and one female, approached the group.
Since the curfew for parks in Montreal is after 11 pm, and that the music was played at a low volume, some people were genuinely confused as to why they were approached by police. An eyewitness believed that the police intervened since someone in the group was drinking beer and was seen leaving the scene when the police arrived.
Mr. Stephenson heard the male police officer ask for the music to be turned down, which he complied with immediately. He heard the officer engaged in an exchange with a man. The officer then asked Mr. Stephenson for his ID; he told the officer that he did not have any on him. He stood up from his seat, but due to his visual impairment, he was searching for the music equipment.
The male police officer immediately grabbed both his arms, pulled them behind his back and his right thumb pulled hard, as if the officer tried to break it. He was then slammed onto the ground, face down. He felt someone stepping on his back and then his head. Mr. Stephenson heard people scream, “He's blind! He's blind!”
Mr. Stephenson experienced sharp pain in his back and on the back of his head. He yelled in pain, though he had problems breathing. He was then handcuffed.
He was eventually pulled up, with his hands in cuffs behind his back, and brought to a police vehicle. He was brought to Police Station 26, where he was kept in the car for what he estimated to be half an hour. He was interrogated, and then uncuffed and released. He was told that he was charged with something and given a paper. Due to the state he was in and his blindness, he did not understand what he was told, and the subsequent charge against him. He went to his Mother's home, who lives down the street from the police station on Decarie.
The next day, he sought help from some local community organizations, but could still not understand the nature of the charges against him since the paper handed to him by the police officers was too pale to be legible even to people with ordinary eyesight. In fact, the papers show that he received a fine of $149 for making noise with a sound equipment, and charged with assaulting a peace officer. His court appearance will be in July.
On May 27, Mr. Stephenson went to see his doctor. The diagnosis includes a skull contusion.
“The use of excessive force, the kick on the back of my head, the attempt to break my right thumb, when I did not resist, all of that is not human and humanly acceptable. Couldn't they see that I'm blind and can't pose any threat to anyone?” asked Mr. Stephenson.
“We are appalled by the way the Montreal Police treated Mr. Stephenson”, said Mostafa Henaway, coordinator of Immigrant Workers' Center, where Mr. Stephenson has volunteered for several years. “We have heard of frequent police over-surveillance and abusive interventions with Black and Brown residents at Nelson Mandela Park, but this case is the most outrageous.”
“A pure case of reckless disregard for Black life and safety”, noted CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi. CRARR will assist Mr. Stevenson with his defense and civil rights complaint. It will also look at the option of referring the case to the newly opened Bureau of Independent Investigations, which investigates cases of police interventions resulting in death or serious injury.
“We are calling on other Black and minority groups in the area to join us and the IWC call for a systemic inquiry into police interventions in Nelson Mandela Park, because of local residents' complaint of regular police harassment, among other things,” added Mr. Niemi. “It is also an affront to the memory of the late South African President.”