Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Being beaten up by the cops

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There were no surveillance cameras to record the beating police laid on me one night about 25 years ago. And I wasn't facing any charges like stealing a car or hit and run.

That is the essential difference between my incident with police and the case involving Cory Bousquet, who was beaten into submission by police arresting him.

I was heading out to Anishnabi Neebin, a summer family camp for core-area residents that I volunteered with. I was with the camp director and a camp counsellor, two big aboriginal men who were often stereotyped in a negative way.

We had stopped at a convenience store to buy hotdog buns because the director realized the camp would be short for a wiener roast planned the next day. The director and I went inside while the counsellor waited by my car to have a smoke.

I was behind a counter when the cops pulled up and I concede the situation might appear to be criminal.

Two men, aboriginal in appearance, one inside with the lone clerk, while the other keeps six outside.

The police investigated the situation and, I swear, we were courteous to start (nobody wants needless trouble with the cops) while the two cops were nothing but rude and arrogant.

We explained our situation and the cops seemed to be frustrated by our complete innocence.

I know I shouldn't have done it, and my two aboriginal friends were telling me to shut up, but I got steamed and I pointed out that the police had no right to treat us in such a negative way.

All that did was delay our journey to the camp as the cops decided to check out the registration on my car and driver's licence.

Finding everything legit seemed to frustrate the cops even more, and the delay made me angrier. Words were exchanged and the last word from one cop was, "Let's take him in to the shop and he can make his way back to his car from there."

And so I found myself in the back seat of a cruiser car heading toward the police station on Plessis Road in Transcona.

Back in those days, cop cars didn't have the glass shield separating the front and back seats. As soon as we found the relative darkness of a country road, the cop in the passenger seat climbed into the back and started pounding on me.

I didn't fight back. That would only make it worse. And never hit a cop. That will really make him mad. Those were some of the things running through my head.

Long story short, I demanded to call my lawyer. When the officers discovered I actually had one and that he was willing to come down and deal with the matter right away, their attitude changed to real friendly real quick.

They had beaten up a citizen who knew his rights and had the resources and will to stand up for them.

I filed a complaint with the Law Enforcement Review Agency. It was determined at the LERA hearing that there were no witnesses, it was my word against the police and that was the end of it.

I tell this story not to claim that all police officers are like the ones I met that night. I have many friends on the force but, as editor of Manitoba's largest aboriginal newspaper, I also receive constant complaints from First Nations and Métis citizens in Winnipeg that they have been beaten by police.

I strongly suspect that at least some of these complaints are true because I have the experience of being beaten up by police myself.

More important, I offer my example because Winnipeg is currently debating an incident involving police who were videotaped by a surveillance camera beating a young aboriginal man who appears to be offering no resistance.

But this young man was accused of stealing a car, speeding, reckless and dangerous driving and hit and run. Therefore, some people feel the actions of the police were justified.

That puts police, and us, in the role of judge and jury. That is not the role we have given to police in a free and democratic society. Their role is to arrest people only and it is up to our courts to decide innocence or guilt and to mete out punishment.

I am not saying that police might go too far and start acting like terrorists or Nazis or the KGB. But one can imagine they might cross the line more often if we allow them to get away with inflicting beatings like this.

Some people believe that Cory Bousquet caught a bit of a break because some of the more serious charges against him were dropped.

I never faced any charges at any time.

But I was beaten up by police.



Don Marks is a former community development worker in Winnipeg's inner city and the editor of Grassroots News.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2010 A12

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