While the investigation into a violent incident on the grounds of a north Edmonton school is ongoing, the city’s police chief says at this point, investigators believe it does not appear a hate crime took place and that the beating was likely the result of a “consensual” schoolyard fight.
Dale McFee held a news conference regarding the incident on Thursday, telling reporters that normally he would not speak publicly at this point in an investigation, but he felt it was “critical to provide an update today.”
“The investigation has been a challenging one with public involvement resulting in some people receiving threats,” he said, declining to provide details about the nature of the the threats, only saying adults had made threats against the youths involved in the attack.
He pleaded with the general public to “take a breath and all calm down,” saying several of the boys involved in the attack are now scared to leave their homes and that the threats were “inflaming the situation.”
He said some posts on social media from Edmontonians are also not helping the situation.
“It’s basically getting to the point where we’re already convicting 12- and 14-year-old kids of hate-motivated crime,” he said. “Right now we’re trying to sort out what’s going on amongst these youth.
“There’s no indication that this took place because of somebody’s race.”
McFee declined to say why police believe the fight was consensual but said police have examined multiple videos of the incident, which he described as “disturbing.”
Global News has reached out to the family of the victim through a friend in an attempt to hear its side of the story directly.
David Ondieki, the president of the Association of Kenyans in Alberta, said his organization has spoken with the family and offered its support. He said the family told him the attack was not consented to and questioned the plausibility of a single boy agreeing to fight multiple boys.
He added that he believes racial bias, perhaps unconscious, is what led to to the issues surrounding the investigation. He questioned if multiple Black boys beat up a white boy if the reaction would have been different.
Ondieki said the boy ended up in hospital to be treated for his injuries.
Police said on Friday, April 16, a 14-year-old boy “and a family member” went to the Edmonton Police Service’s Northeast Division station to report an assault that took place outside Rosslyn School.
“It was reported to police that earlier that afternoon the complainant was leaving school and walking to a nearby bus stop when he was approached by a group of male youths and assaulted,” police said in a news release.
“Northeast Division front-counter officers advised the complainant and his family member to first go to the nearest medical centre to seek assistance with the youth’s injuries and then call police to have an officer dispatched to their location. The EPS complaint line was then contacted regarding the incident on Monday, April 19, 2021, at which time an officer was dispatched, and an investigation was initiated.”
A 23-second video of the incident sent in to Global News begins by showing a boy grappling with another boy in a field. Three more boys run into the scene and begin punching a Black boy who was grappling another boy and also begin kicking him in the head. Another boy runs in and kicks the Black boy in the head at which point someone is heard saying “no head kicks.” Four of the boys back off and leave another boy to continually punch the Black boy in the head. He then lifts the Black boy up in a chokehold before throwing him to the ground while still holding him with his arm around the other boy’s neck. At that point the video ends.
The EPS said a racial slur was used and and its hate crimes and violent extremism unit was consulted.
“While a highly inappropriate racial slur was used during this incident, investigators have conducted multiple interviews with the parties involved and do not have sufficient evidence to support that the event was motivated by hate, bias or prejudice,” police said.
Police noted some of the boys who are seen taking part in the attack “also represent racialized communities” and “have faced significant trauma” in their lives. When asked if he believes people from racialized communities are incapable of racism towards other other people from other racialized communities,” McFee said that is not the case.
McFee said the victim and his attackers know each other and noted police do not believe this was a random event. He said altercations between the victim and the other boys have occurred before.
McFee said the language used in the attack “should not be tolerated” and added “there is no place for this type of violence.”
Ondieki said he would like both police and the school to start over in their investigation and said he believes school records will shed light on how violence and threats of violence, beginning late last year, preceded last Friday’s attack.
Patrick Chieriro, the treasurer of the Association of Kenyans in Alberta, said he respects McFee and the police, but wants to see more evidence that they are taking the attack seriously and not simply treating it as a schoolyard fight.
“The same boys who are doing this… (in the future), they will graduate, get a job, some may get into the police where they’ll have guns… terrorizing people,” he said.
“This is something that needs to be dealt with… for the benefit of everybody in Alberta.”
Ondieki questioned how such violence in combination with the use of a racial slur does not meet the threshold of a hate crime.
“The police chief needs to go back to the drawing board and look at this matter,” Chieriro said. “We do respect our police officers. We do respect the system… But the way this is coming out… it’s proof they are not ready to support the family.”
Ondieki said a march is being organized to take place in downtown Edmonton on Saturday to call for justice for the victim.
“There will be accountability for the actions, and we need to look after all youth involved here,” McFee said. “We will get to the bottom of this, but it’s going to take some time.”
On Sunday, Edmonton Public Schools superintendent Darrel Robertson issued a statement about the attack, saying he, along with ESPB chair Trisha Estabrooks and Mayor Don Iveson have sat down to talk with the victim and his family.
“We continue to hear from our community about their disgust and hurt that something filled with so much hate can happen in our city and near our schools,” the statement reads in part. “We do not tolerate violence or hate.
“Board chair and I expressed our deep condolences to the family and how schools must be safe, welcoming places for children. As part of our conversation, we asked what additional supports the family and student need at this time.”
Robertson said the school board has provided EPS with the names of the students involved in the assault and also recommended they be expelled from the school. He also noted two of the boys in the video do not attend an EPSB school.
“We acknowledge racism exists in our schools and our community,” his statement reads. “We remain committed to working together to dismantle systemic racism and renewing our focus on anti-racism education.
“While our division is taking steps and working with the community around the elimination of racism in our schools, it’s clear that we still have much work to do.”