An Indigenous man in Yellowknife is demanding change after he says he was beaten by multiple Mounties just one day after hundreds of residents gathered in solidarity against racism and police brutality.
Benjamin Manuel says he was walking home from work alongside his partner on the evening of June 10 near Kim’s Confectionery when he was stopped by Yellowknife RCMP.
Manuel alleges three officers kicked and stomped him in the face.
“They picked me up, beat me up and threw me out of the vehicle like I was nothing,” Manuel said. Taking to Facebook following the alleged assault at the hands of RCMP officers, Manuel recounted the incident online.
He told NNSL Media he was not arrested or taken to RCMP cells. Manuel, still wearing a patient identification band, went to Stanton Territorial Hospital to be examined.
On June 12 — moments before NWT RCMP’s commanding officer Jamie Zettler held a press conference — Manuel, bruised with two black eyes, gathered outside the Yellowknife detachment with half a dozen friends, co-workers and supporters.
Originally from Fort Good Hope, Manuel said Wednesday’s incident wasn’t the first time he’s experienced police brutality. He said he was roughed up by NWT RCMP officers as recently as March 2019, adding police are “constantly bugging him.”
He wants it to stop.
“It shouldn’t happen to Aboriginal people or any kind of people, any kind of race. I want respect — that’s what I want” Manuel said.
“Police are constantly harassing people for no reason and I’m one of them,” he continued.
Manuel said he wants to pursue legal action against the officers. He believes he knows the name of one of the Mounties, but the identities of the others are unknown to him.
Asked about his communications with RCMP following the alleged beating, Manuel said police recently interviewed him about the incident.
He added that he attended the detachment Friday to speak up for himself and others who have been victimized or harassed by law enforcement.
NWT’s top cop acknowledges racism among ranks
Last week’s RCMP press conference — a rare occurrence over the last few years — was apparently meant to address the June 9 Black Lives Matter march that drew demonstrations, at times chanting “defund the police,” outside police headquarters. However, the press conference quickly turned into a discussion about police brutality, racism among RCMP’s ranks, concerns from residents in NWT communities about policing practices and the alleged assault on Manuel.
Amid global protests against police brutality — sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota — Zettler, pressed by reporters, acknowledged that racism and “unconscious biases” exist among the ranks of the NWT RCMP.
“There’s racism in society and we are part of our society here in our country and if it exists in our country then it’s going to exist in all of our organizations, and the RCMP is no different,” said Zettler.
“The NWT RCMP is working to combat racism and discrimination and we must understand there’s still work to be done to reduce it, not only in the territories but across the world.”
Following the admission, Zettler — telling media that Mounties in the North “do a great job” — stressed that RCMP members receive training related to biases, racism and “cultural orientation.”
“Our members have a perception from what they see. Community members also have a perception,” the commanding officer said.
‘Sometimes social media doesn’t have all the facts’
Addressing the alleged assault against Manuel, Zettler said RCMP are “following up” on the complaint, but wouldn’t go into specifics about an investigation.
“I certainly have to say that we need to know what the information is and what occurred before making any decisions. It has been brought to the attention of the detachment and we’re in the process of following up (on it),” Zettler told reporters. “Unfortunately, sometimes social media doesn’t have all the facts.”
Zettler refused to comment on the identities of the officers involved in the alleged assault.
Newly-formed coalition pushing for change
Morgan Johnson, who participated in last week’s demonstration, met with Manuel and other supporters outside the RCMP detachment. She’s one of about 20 people involved in a new Yellowknife-based coalition supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We want to see some serious changes within the justice system. We don’t want to be back (at the detachment) twice in one week,” said Johnson. “I want to hear that there will be change and I want to see it.”