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Edmonton’s Black community blames repeated EPS blunders over past year for ‘broken relationship’

Last Updated May 20, 2021 at 6:40 pm MDT

EDMONTON (CityNews) — One year after the murder of George Floyd, whose death pushed racism and police accountability into the spotlight, the Black community in Edmonton says its relationship with police has gotten worse.

Black community leaders and activists say the Edmonton Police Service and its chief Dale McFee have mishandled a number of issues, including their response to a large protest and the beating of a young boy outside his school earlier this year.

On May 2020, an unarmed Floyd took his last breaths when a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to his neck for more than nine minutes.

The outrage was felt around the world, including Canada, forcing a racial awakening during a pandemic and igniting a widespread demand for police accountability.

In Edmonton, the hope for change did not last long for some community activists.

In February, hundreds of protesters gathered at the Alberta legislature and took to the streets to denounce public-health restrictions. Several marched with garden-style tiki torches, a symbol often associated with white supremacy.

On a poster promoting the event, organizers used a photo of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizers marched with tiki torches. A man later plowed his car into a crowd of people, killing a woman.

McFee initially said the rally in Edmonton “was not a racist protest.” He later walked back his words following public outrage.

WATCH: Edmonton police chief says there is no evidence February’s rally was ‘racist’ (March 2, 2021)

And last month, Pazo, a 14-year-old Black student, was attacked by seven other students just outside his school. The incident was caught on video and shows the boy being choked, dragged, kicked and called racial slurs.

Pazo’s family complained the investigation was not taken seriously. His mother said she was turned away twice from the police station when trying to give a statement, and that officers later accused the boy of starting the fight.

EPS held a press conference only after the family’s story went public, with McFee saying the altercation was “a consensual schoolyard fight.”

Community advocate Haruun Ali says the chief’s comments broke trust with much of the community.

“Pazo should have gotten an apology from the EPS on how they treated his mother when they first came in,” said Ali. “And they should have had a commitment to actually meet with the mother, and be like, ‘how can we do better?’ That’s what should have happened. But what we saw what victim blaming, and was them basically telling the community, ‘you guys are being too strong.’

“Our justice system right now depends on the colour of your skin.”

**WARNING: DISTURBING VIDEO**

WATCH: Family demands justice after 14-year-old Edmonton boy beaten in ‘racist attack’ (April 23, 2021)

Ali believes if the attackers were Black, the outcome would have been much different.

“We can all guarantee here that those Black boys would have been dragged out and would have been in the juvenile detention,” he said. “That’s where the problem is. The community knows this, and EPS is not trying to fix the problem.”

In a statement to CityNews, EPS acknowledged the rift between police and the community.

“Specific incidents and the resulting investigative and legal processes, have upset some community members,” reads the statement.

“We have remained committed to listening to the voices and experiences of Indigenous, Black, Racialized and underserved community members with the purpose of co-creating and implementing change within policing.”

EPS also said they launched last year their commitment to action, acknowledging the significant amount of work needed to re-establish trust and to repair and strengthen relationships.

WATCH: Edmonton Police vow to be ‘anti-racist’, announce new initiatives (Sept. 21, 2020)

Activist Tiera Williams has been a loud critic for police reform. She was also behind the city’s first Black Lives Matter protest, which drew thousands to Alberta’s legislature last year.

She feels her community’s calls for change have landed on deaf ears.

“I know the chief can’t control what his officers are doing, but he can control the consequences,” said Williams. “And hold them accountable. And he has failed time and time again. So it tells us over and over again that we are not important. The system is not built for us and they are proving that with their actions.”

While calls to defund the police were not ignored — $11 million was cut from the budget — the EPS still received more tax dollars this year than last.

Ali says more needs to be done to mend fractured ties.

“It’s a broken relationship,” he said. “Not because of our actions, because of EPS’ inaction.”