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Boston leaders demand answers after Black man is stopped by ICE while jogging in West Roxbury

"We will not stand by and watch them intimidate, harass and racially profile our Black and Brown communities in Boston or anywhere in the country."

Boston leaders want answers after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stopped and questioned a Roslindale man as he jogged in West Roxbury Tuesday afternoon.

Bena Apreala, 29, who is Black, was running on VFW Parkway when two SUVs with tinted windows pulled up, one onto the sidewalk in front of him and the second next to him in the street, he told WBUR.

Three men exited the vehicles, all of whom are white, video recorded by Apreala and posted on Facebook indicates. They started to question him about his identity, but did not identify themselves as law enforcement officers, he told the radio station.

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“These guys just hopped out in full camouflage uniforms with masks over their face, and stopped me, and told me to immediately identify (myself),” he said. “I was confused as to whether or not they were even legitimate authority.”

Apreala noticed “ICE” was emblazoned on at least one of the men’s badges, and said he was asked to show identification because he matched the description of a suspect, according to WBUR.

“When I saw the badge and asked them if they were ICE officers, and they said yes, and I explained that I wasn’t an immigrant, I’m born and raised in Boston and that I have no idea what they’re stopping me for, they said that immigration isn’t the only thing that they investigate and proceeded to question me,” Apreala said.

Apreala did not have identification on him as he was jogging but provided the men with his name and address and told them he was a U.S. citizen, WBUR reports.

After Apreala started filming the interaction, the agents allowed him to leave the scene, he said.

The footage, posted Tuesday, shows one of the men asking whether Apreala has “any tattoos on your left or right arm, just so we can confirm” as he was about to leave.

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“Am I free to go? Do I have to show you?” Apreala is heard saying off-camera. “If I’m free to go, then I’m not showing you anything.”

The men don’t respond.

“Thank you,” Apreala says. “Have a great day guys.”

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ICE confirmed to WBUR Wednesday the men involved in the incident were ICE officers looking for a different man but did not provide additional details, according to the station.

Apreala told the news outlet he plans to file a complaint with ICE.

“There was a number of families walking down the street, people who were not Black, and they singled me out to stop me,” he said.

Boston lawmakers were swift to condemn the interaction, including Mayor Marty Walsh, who told reporters he spoke with Apreala Wednesday morning.

The mayor called the incident “unacceptable in so many ways.”

“In Boston, we believe in the power of community policing and it’s the important trust between law enforcement and our community to make sure that we ensure public safety for everyone,” Walsh said during a press conference on updates to the city’s coronavirus pandemic response. “Incidents like this have no place in our city, have no place for this in our country, honestly. It causes real pain and fear and concern.”

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Walsh added that he planned to speak with Apreala again later in the day and that city officials were working to obtain more information about what happened.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley called for an immediate investigation into the incident and that ICE must report how many of its agents are on the city’s streets, she wrote on Twitter .

“For too long, ICE and (Customs and Border Protection) have acted with impunity—emboldened by a xenophobic Administration and the Occupant of this White House,” Pressley wrote. “We will not stand by and watch them intimidate, harass and racially profile our Black and Brown communities in Boston or anywhere in the country.”

City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who represents West Roxbury, said he often jogs along the parkway himself.

“This hits particularly hard,” O’Malley wrote in a tweet. “This unlawful stop was outrageous & unacceptable. Racial profiling should not happen here or anywhere else.”

Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, who are both running for Walsh’s seat in next year’s election, each called the stop “unacceptable.”

“Boston deserves full transparency about who these men were & how we will ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Wu wrote on Twitter.

Campbell tweeted, “This illegal stop and blatant racial profiling is a harsh reminder that we have ICE agents roaming our streets — or people emboldened by a cruel and reckless President — targeting Black and Brown residents and putting our lives at risk.”

On social media Wednesday afternoon, Senator Elizabeth Warren said her office contacted ICE on Tuesday and asked whether the men who stopped Apreala were ICE agents. She had yet to receive an answer.

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“People are rightly terrified of ICE & this secrecy only makes things worse,” Warren wrote. “I expect answers, & our local, state & federal officials do too.”

Update: ICE released the following statement:

ICE officers were conducting surveillance as part of a targeted enforcement action Tuesday in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, looking for a previously deported Haitian national with multiple criminal convictions and pending cocaine and fentanyl trafficking charges that may have been residing in the area. An individual matching the subject’s description appeared in the area associated with their subject. The ICE officers approached him, identifying themselves as Police/ICE, and asked to speak with the individual. During the encounter, ICE officers determined the individual was not the subject of their investigation and that he did not have any additional information regarding their subject or his whereabouts and was free to leave the scene.

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