Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece incorrectly stated that the SFSS called for a complete ban of the RCMP. This section has now been removed. Their statement notes that SFU should re-evaluate their relationship with the RCMP and calls for the removal of RCMP recruitment on campus.
Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer
Content warning: descriptions and links to video footage of police violence.
On December 11, 2020, Black SFU alumnus, Babakayode Fatoba, was arrested at the SFU Burnaby Mountain campus in the dining hall. The man was approached by two Campus Public Safety (CPS) officers who asked him to leave campus in accordance with SFU’s COVID-19 safety protocols, according to the Burnaby RCMP. The RCMP report noted they were contacted after the man refused to leave.
The man was arrested at around 9:00 p.m. for causing a disturbance. The RCMP report alleges he yelled at SFU employees, and an officer attempted to arrest him which led to a physical altercation between the two resulting in the officer being placed in a chokehold. The RCMP officer then pepper sprayed and tasered Fatoba. The man was familiar to the RCMP and was allegedly apprehended under the Mental Health Act. Roughly a week later, he was charged with “causing a disturbance, obstructing a peace officer and assaulting a police officer.”
The arrest by the Burnaby RCMP began a conversation among the student body as to whether racial profiling played a role in the arrest.
In a written statement to The Peak, SFSS President Osob Mohamed claims that “the current [COVID-19] guidelines are not being applied in a way that’s consistent for all students.”
According to International Studies Student Union Representative, Alea Mohamed, the man was asked for enrollment status in addition to producing ID. “Asking for active class status is not happening on a regular basis,” Mohamed said at the SFSS Council meeting on December 16, 2020. This led some SFU students to conclude that the man was racially targeted. One SFU student wrote on Facebook that they encourage others to recognize “that calling the police on Black folks over unclear policies is a death sentence [ . . . ] We cannot afford to stay silent on racial injustice.” Another student agreed that SFU “should have been more consistent with updating their policies.”
Osob Mohamed said in an interview with The Peak that this arrest should have been avoided. “We have been calling on SFU to re-evaluate their relationship with the RCMP [ . . . ] We want to see better training, particularly around de-escalation and anti-racism training for campus security.” She added that proper training would ensure that SFU “security operates in a way that is safe for BIPOC individuals and [ . . . ] can hopefully minimize the need to call RCMP.”
Soon after the arrest, the SFSS released a statement in response along with the Graduate Student Society and the SFU African Students Association. The SFSS statement notes that “this arrest cannot be separated from the reality of heightened police brutality, systemic racism, and racial profiling faced by Black community members, and the unequal enforcement of unclear campus policies. Alarmingly, this is not an isolated incident, and racial profiling incidents like this one have occurred many times before on our campuses. There is no reason that an individual should be arrested in this violent manner when causing no harm to anyone in the vicinity [ . . . ] particularly Black community members for whom a police interaction is more likely to result in serious injuries or even death.” Mohamed also noted that Black students “have been sharing that they now feel unsafe on campus.”
Another student from SFU, who asked not to be identified when they spoke to Global News, witnessed the altercation between the RCMP and the man. He claimed that “the police officer didn’t try to calm the situation down further [ . . . ] and then he rushed to violently arrest him.” He added, “It makes me worry about my Blackness. When people see me do they feel afraid? And are they going to call security? And is security going to find out what is wrong or will they try to call the police, and then I get into something like that?”
Joshua Fang, a Beedie School of Business student at SFU, was an alleged witness to the interaction between the CPS officers and the alumnus in West Mall Centre above the Tim Hortons. In an interview with The Peak, Fang noted that around 7:30 p.m. that evening, he saw the man on campus without a mask, yelling at SFU Security. According to Fang, the man was “getting really loud and asking why they’re checking ID.”
At the Council meeting, students requested revisions to the statement as they felt it was not an accurate portrayal of the situation. Mohamed commented on the calls for revisions by saying that the statement “reflects what we want students to know: that SFSS stands on their side and for their rights no matter what, including alumni, who are past SFSS members. Some have called to revise the statement, and we are always willing and able to have these conversations about why we take a resolute stance on the side of justice, in this case, with members affected by discriminatory profiling.”
Mohamed told The Peak that she has personally received harassment online through social media and emails due to disagreements over the SFSS’ response to the arrest. She said that “it has been disheartening to receive, however I recognize that the hate and vitriol is coming from a small minority.” She added that overall, “a great number of students have shared their support of our ongoing anti-racism efforts. I am glad that so many of our members see the efforts of the SFSS as protecting and fighting for the justice of our students and community members.”
SFU encourages Black students to use the virtual Black Student Support and Healing Space program that can be found on their website. According to the SFSS, a family friend of the alumnus set up a GoFundMe to support with legal fees. Footage of the arrest can be found on Facebook.