In June, as riots and protests against police violence erupted across the world, 10-year-old Kingston Gallant watched with growing fear.
The Mi’kmaq boy, who lives in Summerside, P.E.I., was so consumed with fear that he might be hurt by a police officer because he is Indigenous that he refused to leave the house.
“I’m not going outside,” he told his mother.
“They’re going to hurt me because I’m Mi’kmaq.”
Gallant’s mother, Tara-Lynn Rioux, said when she realised the reason he wouldn’t play outside she was devastated.
“That broke my heart,” she told CBC News.
“I didn’t even know how to be a mom to him in that moment because there was a million thoughts racing through my mind … I just knew I didn’t want him to be afraid of the police.”
In tears, she called the non-emergency number for the Summerside Police Service and asked them to send an officer over to help.
Const. Peter Stay just happened to be on duty. He said he was saddened and hurt when he heard the boy saw him as a threat.
“There’s legitimate concerns in that community, where people have been harmed,” Stay said.
“So it’s our responsibility to let them know what we stand for, and that is to protect and serve.”
Stay arrived at the family’s home within an hour of Rioux placing the call.
“At first I was very intimidated, like whoa, very tall,” said Gallant of meeting Stay for the first time.
One game with a big impact
Stay opened the conversation with Gallant with an invitation to play basketball.
As they played ball, Stay admitted he couldn’t know how it feels to fear police because of one’s race. He went on to explain his motivation as an officer, to help and protect.
“He explained to me that there are some bad people in the world, but there’s a lot more good people. And police are here to help,” said Gallant.
That simple game of pick up basketball had a profound impact on both Stay and Gallant.
Gallant said before he met Stay, he would keep his distance from police. Now, he said, he’s no longer afraid and instead, he waves hello.
“When Peter came into my life, he changed my perspective on police and he actually made my life a whole lot safer, made me feel safer,” said Gallant.
“Sometimes we may have our guard up, because we don’t know what’s coming at us,” said Stay.
But, since he met Gallant, he said he has a different perspective.
“There’s somebody on the other side that may be fearful of us,” said Stay.
Love is where change is made
Rioux said she understands why her son felt afraid. She, too, feared police as a child and learned to trust police as an adult.
“I want my kids to grow up in a different world,” she said.
She said despite systemic racism, small steps like Stay’s meeting with her son will help toward building a better tomorrow.
“It’s taking these steps, these olive branches,” said Rioux.
“If we bring it back to love, I think that’s where change is made.”
The two new friends keep in touch, and have visited a couple of times since.