Police apologize after 911 call where white woman reports Black man in a park

OTTAWA — A Black man from Ottawa says he wants to hear the full recording of a 911 call made about him by a white woman, after police apologized for their role in the incident.

Ntwali Bashizi, 21, says he was taking a break from cycling on a trail bridge in a city park on Monday when the woman approached him and asked him to get off so she could pass from a distance.

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He says he told the woman she could pass with no problem because the bridge was about as wide as the rest of the trail, but told her she could wait until he was done resting if she wanted to.

Bashizi says he started recording the interaction after the woman started taking photos of him and called someone on her phone.

A video of the incident posted on Twitter this week shows the woman walking past Bashizi on the bridge while describing him on the phone to a 911 operator.

In the video, posted by Bashizi's older brother, the woman turns the call to speakerphone so the operator can talk to Bashizi.

"Sir, it's the Ottawa police. Do I really need to send a police officer just for you let this girl by?" the operator asks in the video.

"I'm not stopping her from coming by," Bashizi replies before being interrupted.

"You're intimidating her, sir, okay, can you just stand to the side?" the operator says, as Bashizi replies that he's already doing so.

Bashizi remains at a distance from the woman throughout the video and she eventually walks away while still on the phone.

The police force replied to the Twitter video on Thursday, saying they have spoken with the man who posted it to offer a "full and unreserved apology."

"We are fully reviewing this incident," the police force wrote on Twitter. "At this point it is clear that this was not an appropriate use of the 911 system and the service did not act appropriately in handling the call."

Bashizi said he would like to see the woman identified and charged with any applicable crime, although police say they have not laid any charges at this time.

The Canadian Press has not been able to identify the woman involved.

"I honestly want to know what was going on in her head at the time," Bashizi said in an interview, adding that the woman was visibly afraid although he said he didn't approach her throughout the interaction.

"I just want to understand, or I want her to tell me what was so threatening about me. Why she allowed other people to walk by her but she couldn't walk by me."

Bashizi's brother, Joakim Bashizi, said the incident is an example of racial prejudice in Canada.

"I need people — and especially white people — to understand that Black people do not have to explain themselves unless they're committing a crime," said Joakim. "You never see Black people going around and asking white people what they're doing playing hockey in the middle of the street."

The two men say police have invited them for a tour of the station, where Ntwali said he'll ask for the full audio from the 911 call.

The incident comes months after an incident in New York's Central Park, which a white woman called police after a Black man requested that she leash her dog.

In that video, the woman — since identified as Amy Cooper — told the man that she'd call police and tell them he was threatening her.

She then called police and told the operator that the man was threatening as he stood at a distance from her.

Cooper has since been charged with filing a false police report and fired from her job over the May incident.

She has apologized and said she reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about the man's intentions.

Elsewhere in the U.S., legislative measures have been proposed to criminalize discriminatory and racist 911 calls.

The Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies (CAREN) Act, put forward by a San Francisco politician, is named after the slang term "Karen," which has been used to describe white women calling police with outrageous and demonstrably false allegations against people of colour.

— By Salmaan Farooqui in Toronto, with files from Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2020.

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