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Robert Wright on the Wortley report: Street checks are illegal and should be banned

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Robert Wright’s full response to the Wortley report, as delivered at this morning’s press conference at the Central library on Spring Garden Road. Robert Wright spoke on behalf of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (DPAD), one of the organizations that long ago demanded a moratorium on the racist practice of police street checks.  

Thank you, Dr. Wortley, for giving us this overview of your report. I also would like to thank the Human Rights Commission for undertaking this work, and the police leadership and members for their cooperation with it.

I especially would like to thank members of the Black community who have once again shown up for a study, to tell their story once again in order to document the history of the systemic racism that is experienced. That is something we need to recognize.

One thing Dr. Wortley said repeatedly is that even when controlling for various factors the racial disparity in the street check data is profound. So I have to reiterate DPAD’s position on street checks, which is that street checks  are illegal and should be banned, and that police and government should resource the Black community to be engaged fully in consultations and in the construction of structures aimed to improve police and Black community relations such that the Black community can support police efforts to promote public safety.

We cannot begin to talk about the regulation of something that maybe, and as is our position, is indeed illegal. We do not regulate illegal activity.

When we talk about street checks, we need to remember that street checks in this conversation we’re having is happening within a historical context for Black Nova Scotians. And we could talk about the ancient history of that, enslavement and  legalized `and structured racial discrimination and the like, but we could even just boil it down to the recent history as it relates to street checks.

We need to remember that we’re here today because of the human rights complaint made by Kirk Johnson in 2003. In 2003 the human rights complaint was confirmed and certain remedies were articulated,  I will speak about two of them.

The first was that the police should keep race-based data on street checks such that the police will have the tools to understand what is happening with street checks, presumably so that they could correct any injustices that were occurring, That was handed down in 2003.

The second remedy was that the police should conduct an academic study of street checks, such as Dr. Wortley has undertaken, We understand the police kept their stats, however, no study was done, and the data was not shared until the CBC FOIPOP.

This is the foundation of the cynicism that Dr. Wortley has understandably uncovered in his work. This event we are holding today is 16 years late. Police therefore have unfortunately not earned the goodwill of the Black community and the trust to believe that they are in a good position on their own to remedy the problem that exists in streetchecks.

The other thing we should understand is that street checks are really the tip of the iceberg as we begin to understand the nature of the problems experienced by Black people in Nova Scotia as it relates to their engagement with the criminal justice system. It is just the tip of the iceberg.

So we are thankful for Dr. Wortley’s report, we’re thankful for his level of analysis, but we are looking for a demonstration and a systemic and fulsome response that would give us reason to believe that this problem that has long existed in the province and that was documented clearly for us in 2003, that we are going to be able to work together to solve this problem.

Again, the DPAD position is that street checks are illegal and should be banned. That statement is very clear. Until an alternative can be found we are calling for a ban on street checks. We believe `that police and government should resource the Black community to be engaged fully in consultations and the construction of mechanisms aimed to improve police and Black community relations.

The DPAD coalition is a collection of black volunteers, and we have  in recent months been undertaking massive projects to develop a number of initiatives to improve the state of affairs for Black Nova Scotians. We have been doing this as volunteers, apart from formal structures, with limited resources that are given for time-limited purposes.

Clearly street checks are a problem that demonstrate the systemic issues that have long been recurring in Nova Scotia and the structures that need to be put in place so that we can address these systemic problems systematically.

What is needed is funding for an African Nova Scotian justice strategy, and an African Nova Scotian justice institute, with programs and services that would be aimed to support local police and other justice structures to ensure that the kind of practices that we have just been alerted to are addressed systematically and that members of the African Nova Scotian community are front and center in the creation of these solutions.

The final part of the DPAD position that I have articulated for you is that we want to do all of this to be able to support police efforts to promote public safety.

No one is calling for the eradication of the police force. Nobody is calling for a lack of attention to the need for public safety for all Nova Scotians. The Black community wants to be in good relations with the police.

The Black community wants to be front and center in addressing those challenges that affect our communities and reduce public safety, not just for Black Nova Scotians but for all Nova Scotians. We simply want to be at the table in a respected and respectful way to ensure that we are able to support that work.

See also: Robert Wright: In the Black community carding resonates with a history that is traumatic

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