We’ve all witnessed the response to the murder of George Floyd, both in the United States and Canada. This is not the first time we’ve seen the police exercise their authority to kill an unarmed black man. We’ve seen it far too often. It must stop!
There are those among us who believe this is a problem in the United States only. It isn’t. Canada has a long history of racism, including anti-black racism. In Nova Scotia the police have used their power to racially profile members of the black community and to make violent arrests of black men, women and children. A December 2019 video shows an unarmed black man being tasered by four police officers. Officers later claimed he assaulted one of them. In Bedford, a 15-year-old boy sustained injuries while being arrested after security at the Bedford Place Mall called to have him removed. Santina Rao was shopping in Walmart when staff called the police believing she was attempting to shoplift. Images of her brutalized face, injuries caused by her arrest, were later published. She had been shopping with her baby and toddler and attempted to show police her receipts for the items she had. Charges remain outstanding against her for no valid reason. These are just a few recent examples.
There is also the issue of street checks in Nova Scotia. The Province of Nova Scotia defines street checks as an interaction between police and a person for the purpose of collecting and recording identifying information for general intelligence purposes. The practice has now been banned, but it took two reports for the Province to act. The Wortley report found that black Nova Scotians were six times more likely to be the victims of such checks. Former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, Michael MacDonald, and Jennifer Taylor, a research lawyer, found the practice to be illegal. To date there has been no apology from province for this racist practice. In November 2019 the Halifax Regional Police issued an apology; just days before the December 2019 tasering mentioned above.
We must put all of this in the context of systemic racism and white supremacy in order to come to a full understanding of the issues. Our society is rife with racism. It permeates all our institutions and makes it impossible for those who are not white to interact with those institutions safely. Systemic racism means black people live in fear every day. Especially of those who should be protecting them. When racialized folks interact with the police the outcomes are often violent and fatal. We’ve seen this far too often.
White supremacy and the weaponization of whiteness are at the heart of the issue. We know that the word of a white person will be believed over the word of someone who isn’t white. The recent case of the bird watcher in New York is a striking example of this. The white woman who called the police weaponized her whiteness against a black man who was doing nothing wrong. In fact, she was the person who was in violation of the rules. Yet she had no fear that if the police came, she would suffer any violent consequences.
As white people we must commit to learning how whiteness conveys privilege. We must commit to learning how blackness has been vilified. We must commit to learning how white supremacy and systemic racism work to make the world dangerous for our black community members. And we must commit to learning how to be allies so that we can act whenever we encounter racism. We must be anti-racist at every opportunity and we must be willing to look deep within ourselves to deal with and weed out our own racist tendencies.
We stand in solidarity with the black community in Nova Scotia and around the world and with our racialized members. We see you. We hear you. We support you.
Please take action by supporting the following petition asking for justice for Santina Rao: https://www.change.org/p/nova-scotia-public-prosecution-services-justice-for-santina-rao