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'I'm not sure where race fits into this': Vancouver police respond to controversial arrest
The Vancouver Police Department’s deputy chief took the podium at the Cambie Street police station Tuesday to defend the actions of his officers during a jaywalking stop that turned into a violent takedown over the weekend.
Deputy Chief Howard Chow told reporters his officers aren’t racist or dishonest and said the arrest of the former UBC football player was legally justified and escalated because Jamiel Moore-Williams gave the finger to officers and was confrontational.
“I am not sure where race fits into this,” Chow said. “We deal with incidents like this on a regular basis where people are being difficult, and I can tell you in very small instances do we actually use force.”
But the deputy chief didn’t have an answer to why two of his officers’ claims – that Moore-Williams refused to provide identification and that he put one an officer in a headlock – don’t seem to be seen in a video of the arrest.
“I know the video that is out there is really just a snippet of what took place. My understanding is that there may be more video that will show a different side as well,” he said.
Moore-Williams was arrested around 2:30 in the morning Sunday after officers saw him cross Helmcken Street at Granville Street against the light. They honked, he responded, and they decided to stop him for a jaywalking violation.
Officers claim he didn’t provide ID and that alone was enough legal justification for an arrest, which involved taking the 250-pound, 6-5 former football player to the ground, kicking and tasering him at least three times. But Moore-Williams and his friends say he didn’t do anything wrong, and a video of the arrest shows him verbally offering police the ID he appears to be holding in his hands.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says he’s taking complaints about the arrest seriously and that he has forwarded the file to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. Robertson’s staff are also reaching out to Moore-Williams.
“I’ve heard people express concerns about it,” he said. “When there’s an incident like this we want to make sure there is trust in the police.”
Orville Nickel, a Simon Fraser University instructor who did his PhD in use of force decisions, said that Moore-Williams’ jaywalking is not a crime, just a civic or motor vehicle act violation, and likely not the reason police targeted him.
Nickel said it’s more likely that police targeted him because of the disrespect he showed.
“Self-confidence in a police environment can be a problem,” he said. “It can be perceived as disrespectful, which can quickly turn into a situation where the officers challenge the disrespectfulness through a use of force situation.
“Both parties had a role in this, however, the decision to refrain from an arrest in a jaywalking event could have prevented this confrontation from getting physical,” he said. “Challenging a citizen over a jaywalking incident doesn’t make a lot of sense. The decision factors to engage in physical force in this incident are pretty weak. It should never have gone that far.”
Camia Weaver of Pivot Legal Society said it’s not illegal to “flip someone off.”
“Rudeness is not a reason to be assaulted like that,” she said. “Take your time and have some conversation. Have some communication. De-escalate the intensity of emotion that might be happening so you can have a resolution that is not harmful to anybody.”