TW: Police brutality, ableism, racism, harassment, all against a 12 year old disabled black girl.
Michaella Bassey and her mother, Sofia Bassey, at a bus stop in T.M.R. on Wednesday.
Photograph by: Pierre Obendrauf , The Gazette
By Catherine Solyom and Roberto Rocha, The Gazette
MONTREAL - It’s difficult to imagine why two police officers would need to forcibly remove a 12-year-old schoolgirl from a city bus, her hands held behind her back.
The girl’s mother and two passengers on board the No. 16 in Ville St. Laurent Tuesday afternoon say there simply was no justification for how Michaëlla Bassey was treated, first by the bus driver and his supervisor, then by the police, as she tried to get home from school.
The STM says the girl was “arrogant” and refused to obey the bus driver when he told her to sit down. It was dangerous for him to be driving with her standing right next to him, and with her mother yelling at him from her cellphone.
But the witnesses, who didn’t know Michaëlla or her mother prior to the incident, paint the picture of a quiet girl sitting alone at the back of the bus being harassed then manhandled by a succession of men in uniform.
The incident began when Michaëlla, after finishing an exam at Lauren Hill Academy, approached the bus driver parked outside the school to ask when he would be leaving. The No. 16 bus route begins at the corner of Decelles and Abbott Sts.
According to her mother, Sofia Bassey, Michaëlla suffers from dyslexia, ADHD, and lexical access problems — she has trouble retrieving words from her memory. She often has trouble reading the bus schedules in the shelter, so she has been taught when in doubt to ask the driver.
But instead of answering her question — the bus would be leaving in seven minutes — the driver instead ignored her, Bassey said. So Bassey, talking to Michaëlla on the phone, asked her daughter to put her on speakerphone so she could ask the driver herself.
“He just said he didn’t want to talk to me,” Bassey recounted, and he shut the door in Michaëlla’s face.
When the bus driver drove up to the stop and opened the door for passengers a few minutes later, Michaëlla boarded and the bus took off around 12:20 p.m.
According to Marianne Rouette, a spokesperson for the STM, the girl was in front of the yellow line as she asked the driver for his name to lodge a complaint. He told her she had the route number and time, and that was sufficient, and asked her to sit down repeatedly, but she wouldn’t move.
That’s why he called his supervisor.
But Fatna Erritouni, who got on the bus four stops after Michaëlla, said that when she got on, at 12:33, the girl was the only other passenger and she was sitting quietly at the back of the bus.
The bus then stopped on the corner of Décarie and de l’Église Sts. to pick up about 10 more passengers, which included Petula Caine, a hairdresser on her way to work. But it didn’t leave.
“It waited on the corner for 10 minutes. Everyone was wondering why the bus was not going,” Caine said.
An STM supervisor then boarded the bus and asked the girl to apologize, Caine said. “Apologize for what?” asked Caine. “She was just sitting there, just a quiet little girl.”
“People thought she hadn’t paid,” said Erritouni — but she had. “The girl said I’m not getting off. Why should I get off? So the supervisor says get off or I’ll call the police.”
Still on the phone, this time with her older sister, Michaëlla refused to leave the bus. “She didn’t know where she was, and she’s not qualified to cross the street by herself,” Bassey said. “We told her to stay on.”
A few minutes later, the police arrived. According to both passengers, two police officers boarded, one of whom pulled Michaëlla brusquely by the arm, making the girl cry.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Caine said. “When we asked him to stop, he said, ‘We have to do our job. She doesn’t want to leave so we have to remove her by force.’ “
Erritouni said she saw an officer put his hand on the girl’s head and push it down, to force her out of the bus. The girl went pale and was obviously very scared, Erritouni said.
“It was catastrophic!” Erritouni said. “It was so obvious she was just a young girl who was scared. She wasn’t a rebel, she hadn’t disrespected anyone, she didn’t resist … Everyone started screaming “What are you doing? What is going on?”
Finally, the police told everyone to leave the bus, and the driver drove off without a single passenger.
One of the officers told Erritouni that she was being emotional, that Michaëlla wasn’t hurt, that the techniques they used (to get her off the bus) are meant not to hurt her, but that the police have weapons they don’t want turned against them.
When Bassey arrived to pick up Michaëlla, there were three police cars, two STM vehicles, and “a whole bunch of outraged people.”
“There has to be a minimum of customer service,” Bassey said. “You’re dealing with the public and with children — this bus leaves from a school. I wouldn’t even talk to a dog like that.”
The STM’s Rouette said she couldn’t comment on what happened after the police intervened. But she said the driver’s version of events differed substantially. The incident began because Michaëlla refused to wait at the bus stop and was insisting on getting on the bus while the driver was on his break, because she was all alone there. Then when she did get on, she continued to distract the driver while he was trying to pay attention to the road, Rouette said.
“So the supervisor came to get the girl off the bus because the situation was degenerating,” Rouette said. “The supervisor asked the driver what was happening, he said the girl was disrupting the service and all the people on the bus. So the supervisor asks her to get off and she refuses … The driver and supervisor said that even if she was only 12 years old, she was very arrogant, and because she wasn’t obeying, they called the police.”
Rouette said there is nevertheless an internal investigation under way, and that there may have been a security camera in the bus at the time.
As for how the police intervened, a spokesperson for the Montreal police said despite their best efforts they were not able to reach any of the police officers on duty in the area during the incident and they don’t have a police report to refer to, so could not provide any details.© Copyright (c) The Montreal GazetteME: Fucking disgusting. Why we fight ferociously for our young? This is why. Because they will tell you a million and one things about why it was necessary to treat young black girls like shit. And then call it an investigation when we know what’s up.Diversity my ass. La connerie.
who guessed she was black before looking at the picture
I guessed. I hadn’t even clicked the picture before I saw the headline.
Ugh. Zero surprise that this happened in montreal too (allegedly very progressive) ‘cause french people are xenophobic assholes.
Soon as I saw the word “arrogant” I knew the deal.
The good thing about this is that there were some witnesses around. “Arrogant”…because she had the audacity to stand up for herself. To be supported by her mother and other women in her community. Oh, how arrogant of this child. That bus driver was being a fucking prick and I hope he gets fired. Mama needs to sue that transit system.
Perfect example of how ableism and racism function together. If she was white and had been asking those questions, she wouldn’t have been presumed to be “arrogant”. Shit she might have been labeled as inquisitive or something.
Comment #1 of importance on the article:
Comment #2 of importance on the article:
These bus drivers may need some work…