'Dehumanized for being Black Muslim women': Family speaks out for first time since mall attack
EDMONTON -- A woman whose mother and sister were violently attacked while wearing hijabs at an Edmonton mall says they are healing but will forever bear the scars of that day.
It's the first time the family has spoken publicly about the Dec. 8 midday assault in the parking lot of the Southgate Centre.
The woman spoke anonymously for fear of retribution.
"My mother moved her kids to Canada for a safer and better life. And now that better life feels impossible to ever again attain. She fears for her children's lives in this country that should be home to us."
The Edmonton resident said she was speaking on their behalf to introduce the "women behind the headlines: two black, Canadian, Muslim women who are strong and powerful and brave survivors."
She also shared their harrowing recount of attack, detailing what police had previously said little about except to call it a "hate-motivated crime."
'I'M GOING TO KILL YOU, TAKE OFF THE HIJAB'
The woman said she and her family have lived and worked in Alberta for a generation, and in fact been Southgate customers countless times.
"We always felt like this is our home. We have never questioned whether we belong here until the day of this vicious attack."
But that Tuesday, her mother and sister – visibly Black, hijab-wearing women – were sitting in their vehicle when they say two men approached them yelling racial obscenities.
"You don't belong here. Go back to your country. You F Somalis. F n-word. I'm going to kill you. Take off the hijab."
Witnesses told police a man punched and broke through the passenger window.
The family believes he was trying to pull off the woman's hijab. She tried to flee, but he chased and beat her.
The woman's mother, someone "who carried the world on her shoulders for her kids… in a moment of compete helplessness, could only beg and plead for help."
"This horrific tragedy has left my family shattered. The strongest women I know were violated, dehumanized, for being Black Muslim women."
CALL TO ACTION
The attack has amplified calls for action from governments and Canadians alike.
On Wednesday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims asked the provincial government and all Alberta mayors to create local and provincial plans to end street harassment and racist violence in the province, and for all elected officials in Canada to "stand up clearly" and take action against white supremacist groups.
CEO Mustafa Farooq said many politicians had reached out to join the conference or stand in solidarity.
"Now is not the time for words," he said in response. "Now is the time for action."
The NCCM is also asking the public to donate to victim support funds.
The family representative who spoke Wednesday called finding appropriate support resources a "retraumatizing."
"We didn't know where to start, where to go, and the people that did come and try to help, just weren't as experienced in hate crime or how to navigate in a situation like this."
'TO ALL MY HIJABI SISTERS'
Soon after the Dec. 8 attack, Edmonton Police Service charged Richard Bradley Stevens, 41, with two counts of assault and one count of mischief.
Officers said that although the man was known to police, it was the first time he had been connected to a racial incident.
As for the family's allegation his brother was involved, too, police said Wednesday a "complete investigation" had not found "evidence to support laying charges against a second individual."
The EPS spokesperson said investigators interviewed multiple witnesses and reviewed all available footage, but that if there was any information that had not been reported to officers, to contact police.
About one week after the mall assault, a woman wearing a hijab was attacked at the Southgate LRT station. A woman was charged with assault with a weapon.
The family member told her community to remain strong in the face of racism.
"To all my Hijabi sisters who take the risk every day that leave their homes as their true and authentic selves, helping to make Canada the pillar of diversity and tolerance it claims to be, I want you to know you are strong. You are powerful, you are a queen."