In fairness to the police, they probably were on edge when the incident occurred -- but that doesn't justify what appears to have been a needless and very dangerous escalation. As a practical matter, when I am stopped by the police (and as a middle aged white guy who drives a grey Toyota that is a pretty rare occurrence) I never stand on my rights; I just identify myself and answer any and all questions. I suppose if I thought I was a suspect in a serious matter I might say "well, officer, I think it would be better for me not to say anything further". Still, you can understand the anger this type of incident causes among people in the community -- police are there to protect, not to intimidate, and actions like this can only make the sullen silence between the community and the police worse.
Four teenaged men — three with braces in place to straighten smiles — drape their sprouting frames over chairs in a stuffy second-floor room overlooking a common area in the Neptune Dr. public housing complex, where a police encounter they had went dangerously wrong.
No, they agree, they will never again try to exercise their rights when confronted by police.
On Nov. 21, 2011, the teens — twin brothers, then 15, and two friends, aged 15 and 16 — were walking in the common area, on their way to an after dinner Pathways to Education mentoring session. The much-lauded program helps keep kids in at-risk neighborhoods in school.
The Neptune Dr. housing complex sits within the Lawrence Heights area, one of the city’s 13 designated priority neighborhoods.
In an event that would quickly escalate to punches, a drawn gun, five backup cruisers and first-time arrests, an unmarked police van rolled into the parking area and two uniformed Toronto police officers with the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) unit emerged.
The officers, according to police records, were at the Neptune Dr. buildings to enforce the Trespass to Property Act on behalf of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation.
The four teens, all of whom live in the complex, had been stopped and questioned many times before by police. They had also all attended a moot court program, where they learned about their rights.
This encounter came off the rails when one of the teens attempted to exercise those rights and walk away.