Montreal police's mistake in reporting teen's death racially based, activists say
Police wrongly reported death of 17-year-old Darius Brown as robbery gone wrong
Community activists are raising concern about how Montreal police originally misreported the circumstances leading to the death of 17-year-old black teen.
Police initially reported that Darius Brown died as a result of a fall while attempting to rob a 19-year-old woman in Côte Saint-Luc. They later changed that account of events, saying that Brown's death was a suspected homicide.
Robyn Maynard of Montréal Noir, a community group that fights against anti-black racism, said she doesn't think that the police would have behaved the same way had a white youth been involved.
"I think that they'd see that in more of a human perspective if it were not a black family, if it were not already assumed that black youth are always involved in activities like this," Maynard told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
"I just think that there's no way that this would have been reported so casually and without any real evidence."
"It really shows an enormous disrespect not only to Darius Brown, but also to his family," she said.
While Brown's family is not speaking to the media now, in a past interview with CBC News, family members talked about how the police's handling of the case added to their grief.
"It was upon seeing how it affected people that then it began to sadden me," said Roxanne Brown, Darius's mother.
"His friends didn't want that out there because it wasn't true.… His grandmother didn't want that out there, because it wasn't true."
Where robbery story originated
Montreal police originally reported that on the night of Nov. 17 that two teens, 15 and 17, had attempted to rob a 19-year-old woman.
They said a scuffle had broken out, and that the 17-year-old fell to the ground, hit his head and was rushed to the hospital, where he later died.
Police told CBC that this initial version of events was based solely on the account of one witness, the 19-year-old woman.
Many media outlets published and broadcast the police report, including CBC.
This kind of misreporting tends to reinforce certain stereotypes that circulate out there in the public's minds.- Fo Niemi , executive director of CRARR
The initial story began to shift the following day, however, after Montreal police spoke to other witnesses, reviewed surveillance video and received autopsy results.
Autopsy results suggested that the fall was not the cause of Brown's death. Surveillance footage and witness testimony revealed that there was a fourth person at the scene, another 17-year-old youth.
The Montreal police located the fourth person on Friday.
He appeared in court via video conference this past weekend and in youth court on Monday. He is facing one charge of second degree murder. The youth, who cannot be named because he is a minor, will be back in court for a bail hearing on Nov. 24.
The suspect's lawyer, Andrew Barbacki, says it is possible the 17-year-old suspect will be charged as an adult.
Police have defended their initial publication of misinformation, saying that it's standard procedure to go with an early version of events, and it's done in the public interest.
"When somebody is in danger for their life, we [give] information to the public because it is in [the] public's interest," said Montreal police spokesman Const. Jean-Pierre Brabant.
"We're giving the facts that we're gaining on [the] scene by meeting people."
When asked whether it was common procedure to release the details of the case based on the account of one witness, Brabant declined to comment, citing the continuing investigation.
Brown's family says it has not received an apology from police.
"It's very important to gather all the information, because before you release anything you have to make sure that you have the right information," Prosper said.
"The reason why you're doing that is to make sure that you're not creating a false story, just like they did with that young man."
There was no imminent danger to the public, Prosper added, considering that according to what the police knew at the point at which they released the false robbery story, the two suspects were both in custody.
Fo Niemi, executive director of the research and advocacy group the Centre For Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), said the misreporting stems from "an automatic association of young black men and crime."
"This kind of misreporting tends to reinforce certain stereotypes that circulate out there in the public's minds," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
He said Montreal police should apologize to Brown's family, which the family has told CBC they have not yet done.
"The department has to … know that it's OK to apologize when it makes a mistake, especially if it has a long term social consequence," Niemi said.