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Joy and Love Against Halifax Police Brutality!

(first published in NSAdvocate.org)

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Yesterday’s Taking Back the Streets with Joy was a celebration of African-Nova Scotian Youth and the Black Community.

Some 100 people came out to the steps of the Halifax police station on Gottingen Street on a windy and cold Sunday afternoon.

Some brought signs and the children present made signs on the spot which called on people to be kind to others and to love their community.  The kids also used chalk to draw slogans and pictures on the sidewalk.

 (photos above courtesy of CTV/Twitter)

There was no obvious police presence –or deterrence.  The cop shop’s front door – labeled ‘open’ – was tightly shut and barely a person walked in or out during the rally.  The two other front doors of the station – labeled ‘closed’ told the real story.

Hosted by youth worker and advocate Kate Macdonald, and academic, writer and activist El Jones, there was a level of merriment and seriousness.  Speakers included Minister Rhonda Britton, Pastor of the New Horizons Baptist Church (formerly Cornwallis Street Baptist Church), Trayvone Clayton, Tyler Simmonds,  DeRico Symonds and others.

Reverend Britton, standing at the top of the steps, asked if the crowd knew what HRP stands for?  She said, “It does not stand for Harass Racialized People!” to much applause and amusement.

DeRico Symonds, sat on the step with the microphone.  He challenged the crowd to imagine if Santina Rao (the African Nova Scotian mother beaten, arrested and charged by the Halifax police while shopping at Walmart) had actually stolen the grapefruit, two lemons and a head of lettuce, which she was accused of stealing.  cop-5

Those groceries cost less than $3.00.  Even if she had lifted them (which she did not), should she have been tackled  by cops, have her wrist broken, get a black eye and a concussion while her two children looked on?

See also: Petition: Justice for Santina Rao

Symonds demanded that the police act “professionally.”  Symonds said that over and over again the Halifax police act unprofessionally when they confront Blacks – especially young Blacks —  yet no one says anything, they get no punishment and in fact are allowed to act exactly as racist as they they like all the time. He told the crowd to imagine if any one of them acted unprofessionally at their job,  time after time. That person would not keep their job.

But the police not only keep their jobs – they get promoted.

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.

What to watch, what to read, and what to listen to…

Today is the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. He died in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. The man who killed him used a shotgun, and came from the main mosque in Newark, New Jersey.  But two other men served 20 years in jail for the crime and they were not even near the ballroom. I’m telling you this because Netflix has a wonderful series about Malcolm X’s life and death. x-videoThe series tells us more about theNation of Islam, about the many mosques across the US in the 1960s (and beyond) and the brilliance of Malcolm X,  than anything I’ve ever seen. Of course I’ve read his autobiography. And I’ve seen the X-book1992 film Malcolm X. But nothing compares to this sensitive and lively investigation by a New York Muslim who is the proverbial “gumshoe” in this series.   into who really killed him – and why. Here’s the trailer for Who Killed Malcolm X.   About Martin Luther King Jr’s efforts to fight for blacks’ rights, Malcolm X said, blacks have to “start swinging [and] stop singing.”

 

Also on Netflix, I watched Retribution. It’s also called One of Us  retribActually the first several episodes are better than the last, which seem to often be the case in these miniseries. The critics say the ending is “bafflingly bad”.  However I never watch anything for the ending!! Two Scottish families have been neighbours for decades in a farming area not too far from Edinburgh. The scenery is wonderful, by the way.   The son in one family marries the daughter in the other, and when they return to Edinburgh from their honeymoon, they become murder victims in a break and enter. The families become more than a little unhinged, which alerts the police to investigate them as well as the double homicide.  The acting’s great; the setting macabre, and it’s good to watch before bed.retribution

I just finished Globe and Mail writer Robyn Doolittle’s excellent new book,

Had it Coming. doolittle1What’s Fair in the Age of #MeToo?. 

Doolittle made waves when she published a series in the Globe called “Unfounded,” in 2017. She  examined more than 200 police departments across Canada and, through Freedom of Information requests and other data, was able to determine that 1 in 5 or 20% of women’s complaints of sexual assault and rape were thrown out by  our police forces as “unfounded.”  doolittle-2

Governor-General Julie Payette, right, presents The 2017 Michener Award to reporter Robyn Doolittle and editor-in-chief David Walmsley during a ceremony at Rideau Hall on June 12, 2018 in Ottawa. (Globe and Mail photo)

 

Doolittle’s new book is full of interesting interviews, questions and answers. For example, she went to New York City to interview Susan Brownmiller, the woman who wrote the 1975 landmark book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Doolittle compares her  values and opinions on rape and sexual assault, as a Generation Y’er,  with those of the baby boomer generation.   Doolittle’s writing is clear, unvarnished and sometimes provocative.

She uses a great deal of skill and sensitivity. Yet she also challenges the values and self-awareness of the #MeToo victims, their abusers and the fence-sitters.

Her book is not a legal tome nor does it rely on pop-psychology. She creates a huge energy in her narrative. This is a book for Canadian readers about Canadian upheaval in the relatively new post #MeToo era.

It was a pleasure to read, to highlight and go back and re-read bits. I bought it as an e-book, but it’s in hardcover at the Halifax Library.

About a week ago I read an article about the lives of young women in Saudi Arabia. The review noted a novel, Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea. The Halifax library had a “recorded book” which I listened to.  Girls of Riyadh was written in the early 2000s. Four young women of university age are the day-to-day subjects of a fifth young woman’s emails to herself over a one year period. It’s her way of keeping a diary. The women are upper class, very wealthy by our standards– a boyfriend/suitor brings one woman diamond earrings as a hostess gift. The young women struggle with their adherence to rules set out by a sexist and repressive government, which are compounded by religious conventions and control by  parents and family.

Girls_of_Riyadh

Weddings are just about the only outings the young women are allowed – other than to the mall and to single-sex college classes.   The weddings (though the receptions and parties are rigidly sex segregated) stoke the women’s fantasy lives which revolve around romance as a way to fulfillment.

The book is quite fascinating – yet for me, rather frightening. One woman is left divorced with a child – when the husband goes to the US to further his education. She was never even invited along. Another woman  becomes a medical doctor only to turn away from her practice in favour of having babies and running a household.

At first I didn’t like the book. But after a while it began to  haunt me, and I grew more fond of it. I see from Wikipedia, the book was banned in Saudi, and since 2008 has been  available in the English translation– not in Arabic.   Apparently it sells well across Europe.

In the podcast world, a good series is Hoffa, presented by Shattered. You can listen for free to its 5 episodes. The earlier segments are the most interesting as we find out something of Jimmy Hoffa’s early life. Frankly he was a genius. Having left school at age 14, due to the family’s dire poverty, his first job was at a Detroit Kroger’s the grocery chain in the US. He led a strike there for higher pay and shorter hours. At 18 he was the union’s local leader and managed to build solidarity with other workers. He had a great memory for workers’ names and families, which endeared him to many. He built a union empire and the empire (along with mafia interests) built Las Vegas. His testimony before US Senate committees on racketeering is fascinating and bits of it are woven into this podcast.  His legendary fights with Robert F Kennedy who had resolved to break the union, and its ties to the Mafia ended Hoffa with an 8 year prison sentence. The podcast notes his autobiography, hoffaHoffa: the Real Story, which I can recommend. The book was cut short by his disappearance, and clearly his murder. You can download the podcast from Apple or where you get your podcasts.

I also listened to Catch and Kill a podcast series by Ronan Farrow. catchIn 2017, he worked as a journalist for NBC News in New York and heard stories about Harvey Weinstein. Farrow began to track down the stories, and obtained eyewitness proof of sexual assault and rape. But his bosses in television – who knew what a big player Weinstein was — refused to allow the stories to go to air. Farrow turned around and peddled his groundbreaking story with names of women, dates and places, plus jabs at the lacklustre police investigations and run-ins with private security to the New Yorker magazine. Farrow’s new book by the same name is clever, quick and exciting.

The podcast is a short cut for reading the book. Well worth listening to – and reading the book tells you even more. My favourite bit is the part when Farrow meets the guy who was hired to follow him at the behest of of Weinstein. But this private detective, a Russian Jew, becomes Farrow’s friend and confidant.

Ridicule and bullying on a Halifax street

It happened on a freezing cold day last week, on a Halifax street. You’ve heard of a ‘ride along’ –when a journalist rides with the police for a shift. This was a ‘walk along’.

While I waited at a bus stop, I saw first responders engage with a tired, scruffy, older man who wanted a lift to the hospital.

There was an ambulance, with three EHS staff. The two women had pony tails. There were also two cops, who had their hands in their pockets because of the cold and  wore bullet-proof vests.

They crowded around disheveled man who wasn’t much more than 5 feet tall. He was hunched over. He wore loose pants that could have been pyjamas, a raincoat, a scarf and a hat.

I stared at the group. One paramedic asked me,” Can I help you?“ Her tone told me to mind my own business. I pointed to the sign for the bus stop. “Sorry  if we are blocking your bus stop,” she smiled.

The man shouted at the first responders, “I called you ‘cause I need a ride to the hospital.”

EHSOne paramedic said, “Well you don’t call ambulance for that. What’s wrong with you?”

He started swearing at her. She told him not to address her that way. He got angrier, and so did she. She insisted he address her respectfully.

One cop then told him “I could arrest you.”
The man seemed scared, “For what?” The cop said for “wasting our time and resources.” He pointed to the EHS van and the paramedics.

The paramedic asked the man if he had a heart problem. He said yes, he’d had a heart attack. When, she asked. A few years ago, came the answer.

“I wouldn’t have called you except I need to go to the hospital now,” he said anxiously.

The other paramedic said, “this isn’t an emergency. You don’t need an ambulance. To go to the hospital, you should have called a taxi.”

He shook his head and muttered under his breath. Then he started to walk up the street.

“I got to get to the hospital.”

We watched him shuffle away. The paramedics and the cops smirked and laughed a little.

I ran to stop the man and ask if I could help. He told me to get lost.

I turned back to the cops and the ambulance people. Again they laughed, and shrugged their shoulders while they climbed into their respective vehicles.

What bothers me about the interaction with this man are several things:snowy

  1. He could have been ‘crying wolf’ and had – for all I know — frequently called 911 previous to this time. That could account for the hostile attitude the first responders showed him.
  2. Still, the first responders alternated bullying the man with threats.
  3. Common decency and humanity seemed to be in short supply. Yes the man swore and demanded a ride to the hospital — he was not polite. But it dawned on me that he could have had mental health issues, or was very alone, or very scared. Maybe he was homeless; maybe he was drunk. The first responders’ reaction was to ridicule and threaten him with arrest.
  4. I suppose it’s a good thing the police didn’t arrest him and leave him in a cell. As we know from the Corey Rogers case in Halifax and from this case in Airdrie, Alberta – too often police don’t bother to check on prisoners who cause no trouble. If the prisoner is quiet, it’s not usually a good sign.

Gary Aitchison: he’s moving from the hotel to a decent apartment with no bedbugs

What’s wrong with this picture?

Gary Aitchison was lucky and not so lucky. He was lucky that I overheard him talk to the driver on a city bus about the bedbugs in his seniors’ apartment. He was not so lucky to have had to pay rent of $482 a month to live with bedbugs for more than seven years. He was lucky to have had the resolve to refuse to go home one day, and go to a hotel to stay. He was lucky to have found a hotel with a sympathetic manager who allowed him to stay – until he could find a suitable, non-infested apartment. He was not so lucky to have ended up in the hospital’s emergency twice with a panic attack and extreme distress because bedbugs wandered over his body at night time.aitchison

Finally after 3 months of living in a Halifax hotel, Aitchison got word that there was a bachelor apartment available for him at Northwood Towers.   “This is what I wanted all along,” he said.northwood

After Gary Aitchison’s story broke in NSAdvocate.org, it took Metro Regional Housing Authority less than a month to find him a suite. He had complained about the bedbugs for seven years and management at the Gordon B. Isnor manor didn’t take the situation seriously. Sure, they sprayed a couple of times, but the bedbugs returned– not just to Aitchison’s apartment but to the hundreds of other units on 16 floors.

As the person who helped expose the way older adults in Nova Scotia are housed in rent-subsidized manors, I’m grateful for all your interest.   More than 12,000 people read the article. Many of you wrote encouraging emails to Aitchison; some of you offered to send him money so he could pay for his hotel and future apartment; others excoriated the NS government.

While it is a big victory that Gary Aitchison won the right to live in a bedbug-free apartment at Northwood, what about the others who live in Isnor and other manors in Halifax? A victory for one is not a victory. It’s merely the first round.

There may be a tenants’ association for your building. Raise hell. And if there’s no tenants’ association, form one. Ask me how. My email is equitywatchns@gmail.com

Heritage Day – no premium paid to most who work on Mon. Feb. 17

The Nova Scotia “Heritage day” holiday will be on Mon. Feb. 17.  This year, it  commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Africville apology, and honours the National Historic Site of the African Nova Scotian community. heritage5

In NS, it could be a paid day off work.  At least for some of you.

Heritage Day is one of the 6 paid holidays days each year.  In addition there is Remembrance Day, which has its own rather restrictive act.   NS has one of the lowest number of paid holidays, or what some call “statutory holidays”, in Canada. For example, New Brunswick has 8, and PEI has 7 paid holidays.  However Quebec has 8, and Ontario and Saskatchewan boast 10.heritage4

In NS, Heritage Day means most stores and offices must be closed.  To receive pay for the day off, you have to have earned pay at your job for at least 15 of the last 30 days.  You also must have worked your shift right before the holiday, and your shift after the holiday.   By law, most coffee shops confectionary stores, gas stations, hotels, and small drug stores are allowed to remain open.

So when you have a coffee at  Tim’s or  Starbucks on Monday, you should know that the employees who serve you will probably be those who have worked there fewer than 15 of the last 30 days.  That way the employers do not have to give them the day off with pay.  In fact servers on Heritage Day will likely receive their regular pay (no bonus) for working on the holiday.

If you don’t like not being paid, think about organizing a union at your workplace. Then the union can negotiate Heritage Day to be a paid holiday for everyone.

Ask me how.heritage2Painting By Maud Lewis

 

 

A Walk down Hollis Street, in the snow

snow1Walking along Hollis St., Halifax, here’s the iron fence in front of the soon to be demolished Commissionaires’ building.

snow-lt-govFancy wrought iron fence  at the rear of the Lieutenant Governor’s House, built in 1804.

Below:  The startling look of trees almost hiding the back of St Matthew’s church. The spire is lovely.

snow-back-st-mathews

.

snow-hollisWalking north on Hollis, in front of the former Finnish consulate, now dark and for rent. The snow is dancing.  The next building  is  Keith Hall … after the Alexander Keith’s brewery… belowsnow-keith

A lovely detail of one window at Keith Hall, and the iron fence…

Thanks to my son Omri, who just pointed out that everything I photographed tonite was more than 100 years old…