Complaints about police soared this summer among black residents of Côte des Neiges
KATHERINE WILTON, The Gazette
Allegations of police harassment and abuse of black residents in Côte des Neiges have become so numerous this summer that a city councillor will meet with both parties tomorrow to try to defuse the tension.
"I have had more complaints (about police harassment) over the past six weeks than I have had over the past 10 years," said Marvin Rotrand, councillor for Snowdon, which is part of Côte des Neiges/N.D.G. borough.
"We have made a lot of progress over the past several years. If there is a problem now, we need to fix it."
Rotrand said at least 10 or 12 people have stopped him on the street or at civic functions to complain about heavy-handed tactics by local police officers and members of Project Advance, a special unit set up to crack down on street gangs.
Simonetta Barth, commander of Station 25, will be at tomorrow's meeting.
Inspector Paul Chablo, head of public relations for the Montreal police department, welcomed the meeting. "It is always better to sit down and discuss things than go to the media," he said.
Black leaders say their community is outraged by two cases of alleged abuse this summer.
On June 13, a 26-year-old Châteauguay man and his mother were arrested for obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest after a confrontation with a police officer from Station 25.
Lynwald Cox claims an officer provoked a confrontation after ticketing him for making an illegal left turn.
Police contend Cox became agitated after receiving the ticket and pursued a police officer in his cruiser, leading to the clash.
About one week later, police arrested Charles Ross, a tourist from New York, after he asked why they were manhandling a woman who they believed was taking pictures of them with her cellphone camera.
Ross was slapped and roughed up by members of Project Advance, said Noel Alexander, the president of the Jamaica Association of Montreal, who witnessed the confrontation near Victoria Ave. and MacKenzie Sts. at 10:45 p.m. on June 21.
Alexander said two officers were manhandling Karla Kirkos, 32, when Ross yelled out: "Hey, fellas, what are you doing?"
According to Alexander, two or three other officers rushed toward Ross, slapped him, handcuffed him and dragged him across the street, forcing him to sit on the sidewalk.
Ross was arrested and charged with assault. Alexander said he asked the officer in charge what was going on and said he was told: "This is a police operation."
The Gazette was unable to contact Ross at his home in New York this week.
Kirkos told The Gazette she was standing outside a restaurant when the officers tried to take her cellphone from her, saying she wasn't allowed to take pictures of them. She said she had taken out her phone to call a friend who was supposed to pick her up after she had ordered food.
Chablo said officers involved in the incident have a completely different version of events.
According to the police report, Kirkos began taking pictures of the officers as they were questioning a man.
The report said she started yelling hysterically at police after they asked her to move on. Chablo said the officers didn't try to take her cellphone.
As for Ross, the report says it was he who grabbed a police officer and punched him in the face.
Chablo urged members of the public not to get involved in police interventions because "you are obstructing justice."
"If you aren't happy (with what you see), take down the car number or police officer's name and call the local commander."
He said he isn't surprised that versions of events differ greatly.
"Sometimes people come in the middle of a situation and they don't know what happened before," he said.
Michael Gittens, president of the Côte des Neiges Black Community Association, said he is concerned by the reports of harassment, particularly since relations with police had been good over the past few years.
For five or six years, the association has given one-day training sessions to new police officers assigned to Côte des Neiges to help them better understand the multicultural community.
Gittens said members of his association, who were running a leadership program for youths in Nelson Mandela Park, had to go to Station 25 recently to complain that a few officers were harassing teenagers in the park.
"Why is this happening now after all the work that we have done? We expect more understanding from the officers."