Carlos Beals and El Jones on worrying 'street check' numbers

Published on January 10, 2017

Carlos Beals and El Jones

©Metro file

Carlos Beals has lost count of how many times he’s been pulled over by police while driving.

The Dartmouth resident said statistics showing Halifax police are more than three times as likely to "street check" black people is not news to members of the black community.

Beals, an outreach worker with CeaseFire Halifax, said he was pulled over twice in 2016. His most recent street check was just three weeks ago.

“I’ve had so many encounters being pulled over with the police I don’t even remember them all…They check me out, they come back and say ‘Here you go, have a good day,’” he said.

“I’m to the point where it’s so normal for me to be pulled over that it doesn’t even register with me anymore…Absolutely this is common. It definitely doesn’t surprise me.”

During one incident last year, Beals said he was driving with a client when police pulled him over and initially said he’d cut somebody off.

“An African Nova Scotian client was with me and he was like ‘Watch him pull you over.’ And I was like, ‘No, he has no reason to pull me over,’” Beals recalled.

“Anyhow, we get a bit further ahead and lo and behold he was absolutely right. Police lights and sirens. I know I did not cut anybody off…He (the officer) plugged in my license and registration and came back and said have a good day.”

Beals said acknowledging how often this happens to black people is a great first step. He’s now hoping it will be seriously addressed.

Former Halifax poet laureate and activist El Jones said there’s a perception in Canada that this is more of an “American issue.”

Although the data isn’t surprising to members of the black community, she said it’s still good to have the numbers.

“Obviously black people are well aware that it happens, and people have always had so-called anecdotal evidence. So I guess in that sense it’s validating to have the statistics show what we’ve lived and known,” Jones said.

“But it shouldn’t be surprising because people have been attesting to these experiences. It really shouldn’t be necessary in that sense to have data to validate that black people were telling the truth and are telling the truth about these experiences, and that these experiences happen in Halifax.”

Jones said educating people to recognize that racism is both structural and systemic is important.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to do with an individual. You can be a good person, you can have black friends, you can coach black kids in basketball after work and still go to work and unconsciously perpetuate ideas that may have been driven into you,” she said.

“So you may not recognize that you’re stopping young black men unfairly. I think we really need to address that idea of unconscious bias and we need to address it without in that sense laying blame.”