As Malik Smith opened his front door and stepped out of his home in Saint-Constant, Que., last Wednesday morning, he was met by a formation of police officers pointing guns at him.
He says he counted 12 squad cars and nine officers who had pistols pointing at him, and another officer across the street with an assault rifle pointed in his direction.
“I think about it every day … I haven’t been eating right; I haven’t been sleeping right,” Smith says. “I just have the picture of the squad cars all there, and them telling me to freeze with their pistols pointing at me.”
Smith, 20, says he was arrested and held alone in a jail cell for nine hours. He was ultimately released, but says he was left emotionally scarred and feels he was racially profiled.
Police confirm they received a call about a possible gunshot in that area and made an arrest, but released the man after determining it was an electrical problem that caused the noise.
Police laughed at racism allegation, Smith says
Around 9:45 that morning, Smith was smoking a cigarette in his car, parked a couple of blocks from his house so his parents wouldn’t see. They didn’t know he smoked.
He says a man taking out his garbage asked him if he was waiting for someone. Smith said he wasn’t, and drove back home soon after. He played video games for an hour before heading out the door and encountering the police, who arrested him around 10:45 a.m.
Smith says his house was searched and that he was told by police that someone had called 911 to say that a man in a suspicious vehicle had fired a gun outside his home.
While Smith was being handcuffed, he told police they were being racist. He says they just laughed in his face.
“At first, they didn’t tell me what I was being charged for,” he said.
Later, an officer told him he was facing charges of intimidation and possession of a weapon, he says. He was released Wednesday at 8 p.m.
A spokesperson for the Roussillon police force said officers responded to a call of a possible gunshot in the area of Laforet Street, but couldn’t say who reported it or what they said.
“We didn’t overlook any measures,” Const. Karine Bergeron said. “We sent patrol officers, identity service and the canine unit was also called.”
She says the investigation was wrapped up the same day after police called Hydro-Québec and found out an electrical problem made the sound, not a gunshot.
Bergeron couldn’t say how many officers were dispatched to the scene or whether their guns were drawn. She wouldn’t comment on the racial profiling allegation.
Smith says he was released without an explanation or an apology.
He and his family reached out to the Montreal-based Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, according to its director Fo Niemi.
Niemi says a lot of people in those situations, especially people of colour, fear getting shot.
“It’s the thought of, ‘My God, if someone is gun happy, or there’s an error, I could end up with a bullet in my body, and that is a very, very stressful thought to have.'”
Family considering legal action
Niemi says wrongful arrests can lead to lasting psychological affects, which can be compounded if police aren’t transparent about what may have happened.
“It’s a lot of shock, and the shock is, ‘How could this happen to me, I haven’t done anything.'”
Niemi says the family is reviewing the damage caused in the arrest, including a shed door being kicked in, and looking into any legal action they can take.
But in the meantime, Niemi says, if police reach out to the family it could “have a meaningful change in the way the family relate to the police department in the future.”
For now, Smith says the sight of police officers in the area causes anxiety. “This feeling in my body … I get fuzzy, I get hot, I get stressed out.”