Nova Scotia

Halifax man reflects on racial profiling, 23 years after Supreme Court acquittal

A Halifax man who was racially profiled by police when he was 15 is speaking out about the trauma he’s facing after the murder of George Floyd.

Rodney Small says he's reliving the trauma of being racially profiled after the death of George Floyd

Rodney Small, named in court documents as RDS because he was a juvenile at the time he was charged, said he considered leaving Nova Scotia for good. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

A Halifax man who was racially profiled by police when he was 15 is speaking out about the trauma he's facing after the murder of George Floyd.

Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 and his death has sparked anti-racism protests around the world.

Rodney Small was only 15 when he was arrested by a white police officer who claimed the teen assaulted him and now he said he's reliving the trauma of that experience.

"I'm human. I'm a human. I'm no different than any other human," Small told CBC's Information Morning in Halifax on Friday.

His landmark case

Small was arrested near Halifax's Uniacke Square in 1993 after a white police officer claimed Small ran into him with the bike, and then hit him.

Small maintains that he stopped in front of the police officer and was only asking if his cousin, who was being arrested, was OK.

Then things escalated. Small said he was told to shut up, threatened with arrest and dragged off his bike in a chokehold.

The case was heard in front of Corinne Sparks, Nova Scotia's first black judge. She found Small not guilty.

According to the biography of the late Rocky Jones, then a Dalhousie Legal Aid lawyer representing Small, she made the following observations about the police officer:

"I'm not saying that the constable misled the court, although police officers have been known to do that in the past. And I'm not saying that the officer overreacted, but certainly police officers do overreact, particularly when they're dealing with non-white groups."

The Crown appealed, arguing those comments and others by Sparks in her decision showed a racially based bias against police.

Nova Scotia's Supreme Court agreed, overturning the acquittal and ordering a new trial, a decision upheld by the province's appeal court.

The case ended up at the Supreme Court of Canada, where Small was acquitted in 1997.

But the years haven't wiped away the trauma.

Small said he's been staying away from news outlets and social media to find peace and also to avoid seeing the video of Floyd's death that's been circulating online.

"I try to avoid it at every cost because I could feel the trauma that would come from that.… So, to me, it was really important to protect my mental sanity and disconnect from society and get in touch with nature," he said.

Small, who is the director of Halifax's One North End Community Economic Development Society, is the subject of a new CBC educational documentary called RDS vs. A Story of Race and Justice, which describes his journey to shake the stereotypes that followed him as a black teenager and how he won the landmark court case.

Small said expressing his vulnerabilities in the documentary has been a form of healing.

"To be able to get that out there and speak the truth on what was really, really harbouring on my heart and holding me down and in ways that I never realized as a young man, it was very therapeutic to say the least," he said.

Although he's been staying away from the protests, Small said he appreciates the hard work of the people rallying together for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Small said one of his friends took his daughter to one of the protests in Halifax to support him.

"Look at that vantage point — his daughter's — and then think about the impact that it will have on her generations to come in," he said.

"I promise to tell you, that young little girl who doesn't look like me, she's going to be in a powerful position … we're going to have these young women in powerful positions, and she's not going to forget that equitable position that she was actually one of the historic moments in Halifax."

Small said another friend told him that his 80-year-old mother wanted to sign up for Facebook so she could "join this revolution."

Rodney Small talks representation in Halifax

5 years ago
Duration 1:24
Rodney Small speaks about creating businesses that better reflect the population they serve as part of the Facing Race Town Hall in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"Now, if that ain't hope, I don't know what else is," Small said. "What did we have to hold on to living in a race-based society that oppressed us for almost 500 years now? All we have is hope."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cassidy Chisholm

Digital journalist

Cassidy Chisholm is a digital journalist with CBC News in Nova Scotia. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. You can reach her at cassidy.chisholm@cbc.ca

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