Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Native community angry after police question teen about shirt
Chief says Thunder Bay incident reflects larger issue of racial profiling: 'What crime did he commit other than being a native person?'
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
December 4, 2007 at 4:05 AM EST
A native community is infuriated after a teenage member was embarrassed and interrogated by an officer during a field trip to a local police station.
Abraham Miles, 17, was touring the Thunder Bay Police Service with a dozen classmates last month when he was pulled aside by a police officer who remarked that his T-shirt, which prominently displayed the image of a native war chief, is associated with gangs.
Stan Beardy, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said Mr. Miles was told to remove his shirt in front of his peers before being escorted to a separate room for questioning without an adult present.
"The truth is, he was out here by himself, 500 miles from home. English is his second language," Mr. Beardy said yesterday. "If that young man, 17 years old, tried to make reason with a six-foot policeman that weighs 300 pounds, what are [his] chances of being heard?"
Mr. Beardy said the incident points to a larger issue of racial profiling of native people by police.
"What crime did he commit other than being a native person? Wearing a shirt the policeman didn't like?"
Mr. Miles was also photographed, he said.
Thunder Bay Police Inspector Andy Hay said the boy was not charged, but would not comment further, saying the matter was being probed as part of an internal investigation, after a formal complaint under the Police Services Act was made to the chief of police.
A report is expected to be released Dec. 14.
Mr. Miles, who attends Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, an aboriginal school in Thunder Bay, is from the Fort Severn First Nation on the shores of Hudson Bay. He did not want to talk about the Nov. 7 incident yesterday.
Mr. Beardy said the confrontation was unfortunate because the school trip was supposed to be a way for the students to be introduced to an important institution.
"[It was] part of their transitional training into mainstream society ... so that if they fall into trouble with something, somewhere, they can depend on the police for protection like everybody else."
The T-shirt Mr. Miles was wearing is from Warchief Native Apparel, a clothing line that "promotes pride and unity among all First Nations through fashion," according to its website.
Mr. Beardy said the company is based in Mr. Miles's community.
"We try to portray ourselves in a positive manner with our own art and our own artists," he said. "But instead, they just took him aside and said, 'You know, you're a native person, the T-shirt says war chief, so it has to be gang-related.' "
The t-shirt features a stylized picture of Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull led his tribe during wartime, of course, but he wasn't a war chief. Using a spiritual leader such as Sitting Bull to illustrate a Warchief t-shirt is also (implicitly) stereotypical.
Indians as warriors
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