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Protesters call on Halifax police to drop charges after Walmart arrest
HALIFAX -- Dozens of people protested outside a Halifax Walmart late Friday afternoon.
They gathered in response to an altercation earlier this week, after a woman alleged she was assaulted by police officers as she was shopping.
The bitter cold and wind didn't deter the protesters, who were there in response to assault allegations made by a woman inside the Mumford Road Walmart on Wednesday.
A video appears to show several Halifax Regional Police officers scuffling with Santina Rao, who also appears to fight back.
Rao previously told CTV News she was bruised and her eye blackened after the incident, which began after she was accused of concealing groceries.
Activist El Jones organized the protest in support of Rao.
"This is a major thing that happens to black people while we're shopping, while we're walking around hallways, while we're just trying to get our business done," said El Jones. "Checking your bags, locking your hair products behind the counter, following you around stores with workers, and enough is enough."
Jones and several Dalhousie students gathered earlier Friday morning to paint banners and spread the word about the protest.
Rao has already spoken with legal aid lawyers. She might file a human rights complaint against police as well.
One legal expert calls her case interesting.
"One of the things that's strange in looking at that video is that there's four authority figures involved and just her, which does also make you wonder why they might not have been able to resolve this in a less problematic and less violent way than they did," said Wayne MacKay, a professor emeritus of law at Dalhousie University.
MacKay says several factors, like the police record of street checks against African Nova Scotians, as well as a recent apology from the chief of police, could work in Rao's favour.
"I think there's a lot of system factors and context factors that would make it more believable that a person might be targeted in this way at least in part based on race," said MacKay.
For the second day in a row, police have refused to speak on camera, referring to a statement made Thursday, saying they take the allegations seriously.
The province's Serious Incident Response Team also says it will review the matter to see if it warrants further investigation.
As for Walmart, a spokesperson for Walmart Canada says:
"We are aware the police arrested a woman at our Halifax store on Wednesday afternoon. It is our understanding the police are investigating the matter and any inquiries you have should be directed to the police."
Rao has been charged with disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, and assaulting a peace officer.
None of the allegations have been tested in court.
Jones and other protesters are calling on police to drop the charges against Rao.
Jones says she's disappointed, but not surprised, by the lack of comment from police and she says she will keep speaking out even when they don't.