Freedom — by the Numbers

 

It took 100 women’s evidence to bring down one Harvey Weinstein.

It took 100 complaints over decades to get just one of the police chiefs in Halifax to give a tepid apology for street checks of African Nova Scotians. In Nov. 2019, the current chief managed a less than robust apology for police stopping Haligonians who drive while black or who walk while black.  The apology was little more than window dressing and — as far as the public knows – even the Chronicle Herald agrees –  the police continue to use racial profiling to take down African Nova Scotians for doing nothing wrong (See Santina Rao, and the 15 year old black kid   at the mall).

In the north and south of the US, from 1882 to 1968 there were over 4743 lynchings mainly of African American men and women.  Screen-Shot-2015-10-21-at-02.26.53

 Lynching Postcard (US) from perhaps 1901.  Note the crowd.

In 2014, 150 years after the first recorded lynching in the US, a 17 year old African American youth was lynched in North Carolina. The police claim it was suicide.

Recently, I watched the shocking yet excellent 2019 documentary Always in Season by filmmaker Jacqueline Olive. The documentary is about the 2014 death of Lennon Lacy, a black high school football player who lived in Bladenboro, North Carolina. Police found him hanging from a belt – not his own, and a dog leash (he had no dog) – fixed to a children’s swing set in a playground in Bladenboro, population 2,037. From the get-go, Lacy’s mother, Claudia, and her adult son, Pierre, knew Lennon was no suicide. They believed he had been lynched.  lacy

Above: Son Pierre and mother Claudia Lacy, with photo of murdered son, Lennon. 

Usually when we see documentary or any evidence of lynchings of  blacks in the US, the photos are grainy and cracked because they were taken a century ago or more. At that time, photos of lynchings were often made into postcards; they are evidence that the lynchings were hugely public affairs.  White crowds gathered round to watch. But the lynching of Lennon Lacy was a strictly private affair; the following morning police got called to the scene where his body was hanging, white shoes he did not own on his feet and his jacket and fancy runners gone.  No townsfolk admitted to seeing or hearing anything—despite the fact the playground was 100 meters from the nearest house.

What Olive’s documentary shows is that lynchings were not restricted to hangings. Lynchings consisted of white men burning black bodies while the people were still alive. Whites tore African Americans apart limb from limb– cutting off their genitals, fingers and toes and then killing them.   This film is raw, and shameless in its inclusion of old photos, black and white postcards and film of actual lynchings in the US.

What is especially fascinating about Always in Season is that it presents a play within the film.  Each year, for the last 20 years in Monroe, Georgia,  the local black community has re-enacted  the lynching of four African Americans. Two couples were shot dead at Moore’s Ford Bridge in 1946. A white mob tied up the couples and shot them to death; one assassin cut open the pregnant woman’s belly and threw away the 7 month old fetus.Scores of whites were involved and watched; there were witnesses. But no one was ever even charged—despite the re-opening of the case about 15 years ago. The re-enactment is frighteningly violent and very real. The organizers had a lot of trouble finding whites to play the roles of Ku Klux Klansmen, and onlookers, so in a stunning move, blacks don whiteface, or white masks to play the parts.

Let’s not fool ourselves. There were lynchings and murders of blacks in Canada too. But we have yet to see a major Canadian film which exposes it. We do have the focused eye of writer and activist Desmond Colecole, whose new bestselling non-fiction book, The Skin We’re In, documents a year of anti-Black incidents of hatred across this country. cole-1Taking the year 2017 he details, chapter by chapter, the small and large humiliations and the terror, the arrests, the street checks and the violence many Canadian blacks experience. Don’t take my word for it – take Cole’s.

What does a six year old black girl in grade 1  at Nahani Way Elementary School nahaniin Mississauga, Ont. understand when she is handcuffed and her ankles are shackled by two 200-plus pound male cops? The Peel police duo barged into her school because she was – at age 6 – having a tantrum. First, while she was sitting in a chair, the cops and handcuffed her wrists and ankles. Then they put her on the floor face down and cuffed herpeel wrists behind her back. Just like cops do to a real perp. The girl weighed 48 pounds. Still, the lawyer for the police, Paula Rusak, told an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that allegations of brutality against her police clients were “reckless” and “false.” She said that the police “no alternative” but to restrain the girl, given the harm the girl could have done. The police lawyer justified the police action though she conceded “the optics are not great, but I think we all know that children sometimes can be difficult to handle.”

If that’s so, how many white six year olds have been handcuffed and shackled in their public schools? The answer:  probably none.

I can’t imagine what the little girl and her mother thought. Images of slavery flash through my mind.  In a vicious and racist taunt, an African Nova Scotian employee was confronted by a black statue being lynched  at his workplace, Leon’s Furniture in suburban Halifax.  ns-lynch-statue

Afua Cooper a historian and the former James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University says that hiding two centuries of slavery in Canada takes some doing, but its “Canada’s best kept secret.”  In NS, the number of racist anti-black incidents is climbing.  For instance in Former Prime Minister Harper noted that Canada “has no history of colonialism”. Current Prime Minister Trudeau was captured in at least three photos and one video wearing black face. trudeau

He said he didn’t realize (at the time) that it was racist. He implored Canadians to give him and the Liberals another mandate to run the country (turned into the 2019 majority government) and allow him to “continue to do the work that is necessary to keep us moving forward in the right way.” Whatever that means.

Afua Cooper afuanotes that the legacy of slavery in Canada amounts to “the erasure of blackness.” Something that many in the school system and the police continue to promulgate.

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