Last Wednesday night, Air Up There Run Crew was doing their weekly BIPOC-exclusive run in Hamilton when they were stopped by two police officers outside the King William St. police station.
Leader Mohamad Bsat created the group to have space for BIPOC runners to express themselves, check in, and discuss the struggles they face, free of the “white gaze.” The Hamilton-based runners stopped outside the station to take a photo of an art installation that pays tribute to unsolved crimes against Indigenous women. After taking a picture, they resumed their run, but were quickly stopped by two police officers.
The officers informed Bsat and his three running partners they were responding to a call about suspicious activity. Bsat feels their group was being racially profiled.
Bsat is a practising lawyer who’s aware of his rights, and that no one is obligated to provide personal information if they are not being detained. “The officers saw us and thought we were suspicious people, which was clearly just racial profiling. I asked if we were being detained. They responded that we weren’t, so I said we wouldn’t answer any more questions.” Bast and his three friends finished their run, feeling “angry, confused, belittled and dehumanized.”
Being stopped while running is the troubling reality for many BIPOC runners, and this wasn’t Bsat’s first time being stopped by police while running. Thankfully, his legal education gives him an advantage that many others don’t have. But as he points out, you shouldn’t need a legal education to go on a run. “I grew up in a small town that was predominantly white,” he says. “My name is Mohamad, so I was a target, especially during the years post-911. I know my Charter rights and have experienced this situation before, but I think many other people would’ve been manipulated and started answering questions they didn’t have to, while under duress. It scared my friends Claire and Vince, for sure.”
Bsat spoke with a police representative in charge of addressing community concerns on Monday evening. They verified Bast’s story – that he and his friends were at the art installation for about 30 seconds, then were stopped by two officers shortly thereafter. “They explained that someone approached the police and reported us as suspicious. No apology was offered. They told me I can file a complaint with OPIRD (Office Of Independent Police Review Director) or the officers’ supervisor can speak with them. What we know is that people in our neighbourhood think we are a threat, and that the police agreed.”
Bsat and his group will run again this Wednesday, as they do every Wednesday. He says, “The battle against unjust systems continues.”