Monday, 23 September 2019
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Dr. Lynn Jones: Watching deer while Black – an open letter to Bill Mills, Mayor of the Town of Truro

Lynn Jones. Photo Robert Devet

To:       Bill Mills, Mayor of the Town of Truro, Nova Scotia

Fr:        Lynn Jones

Date:    Friday, August 30, 2019

Mr Mayor,

Please add me to the list of African Nova Scotians who are constantly being racially profiled in this province for no valid reason and while you’re at it, give your constituents in Truro and your Town police a lesson in white privilege , anti Black racism and the history of the founding people of our province and Truro. 

Gentrification has its own particular problems and the community in which I grew up in Truro, as did my parents before me and their parents before them – have lived on Ford/Cross street in Truro since the early 1700’s. Many were forced to live where they did because of the racism in the Town of Truro which rejected  Blacks living elsewhere. Ford Street has historically been known as one of the three Black Communities in Truro referred to as The Marsh, The Island , and The Hill. While a spattering of other ethnic groups did live there, it was still known as the Black Community and was addressed as such. Truro’s previous and first Black town councillor, Raymond Tynes, was successful in having the town erect plaques in each of the three areas acknowledging these three African Nova Scotian communities and the people so their presence would not be forgotten. Over time, the area has become officially gentrified and all the horrors of gentrification have come with this change. 

For many reasons, the majority of the many Black families who inhabited “The Marsh” for generations, are gone. Most reasons are directly related to economics or lack thereof. Flooding, directly connected to Environmental Racism, became more prevalent with industrialization, lack of financial resources to fix up old homes and build new homes and other socio-economic conditions were cause for out-migration. Many who owned their homes and properties, received little funds for their sale and they often became renters as opposed to owners when they left. 

The Town of Truro did nothing to assist Black people to remain in their community and offered no incentives to rebuild their homes. New development bringing money and people with financial resources the Historical Black and poor community did not have, began to gain control and most  Black residents could no longer afford to live here and pay the high associated rental costs. 

A very few Black families remain on Ford Street and they watch others   move into this once proud African Nova Scotian community where they are now a small minority with little hope to find the refuge and peace that once was. Soon they will all be gone. 

We who were the original inhabitants are now “the others” in a community that has  become gentrified. Additionally, we are seen as invoking fear for those who are the newcomers as they see us as not belonging. 

Last night in the early evening well before dark, three Black community elders, myself included, left my home on Cross Street and travelled by car a few feet around the corner headed up Ford Street when we excitingly spotted deer grazing. We stopped the car in the lane we traveled in our community since time immemorial where a new apartment building is being constructed (there was no activity as it was after 5pm) and spent time watching the activities of the deer while my elder sister took pictures of them from inside the car. There is one house in the lane inhabited by non Blacks but several houses in the neighbourhood. 

As we were about leaving, a police car drove up and wanted to know what we were doing. I asked why? He said someone had reported suspicious people in the area taking pictures. 

I proceeded to give your town police a history lesson about the founding of this Black Community and its inhabitants and was outraged that because we were Black in our own community we were now suspicious and to be feared. I suggested he give whoever placed the call the same history lesson I gave him.  The audacity!!! How White Privilege rears its ugly head when you least expect it. He attempted to assure us that our colour was not mentioned on the call so was not an issue yet I fail to understand why we were being stopped and questioned in the first place for being in a legal area taking pictures, mere feet from my house and why it should raise anybody’s suspicion except because we were Black and should not be there.

Moreover, just because ‘our colour’ was not mentioned on the call, does not mean that the call was not motivated by race consciously or unconsciously. A car with white people had driven up the lane earlier and no police stopped them. The police officer even stated he had been given the colour and make of my car by the caller. Others in my car explained we were watching deer but I did not as I felt it was no one’s business, nor did I give my name when asked by police as there were no grounds for the inquiry. No crime had been committed and the officer offered no grounds for him to question us. The police officer did not persist. 

Once again, I was reminded that in this society, African People will  always be viewed as the outsider, never given the same rights and privileges as white folks who may have just stepped foot into a given space. 

Mr Mayor, you’re right, I am angry that the town I grew up in, as did my parents before me and those before them, has created the conditions for Black people to be viewed as outsiders and not being accorded the respect of belonging. I’m angry that the Town of Truro has done so little to advance the situation of Black People here. It Is a holy disgrace that all should be ashamed of.  I’m angry that my community is gone and no one did anything to save it. I’m angry that the new normal is for police to stop and question Black People wherever and whenever they step foot into areas white people determine are out of bounds for Blacks. I’m angry that our history of survival is not documented nor taught in schools. I’m angry that overt and systemic racism and discrimination continues and is not eradicated. I’m angry that no monuments have been erected of our Black citizens, past and present and no buildings or infrastructure has been established to acknowledge our culture and norms. The list goes on. 

Mr Mayor, I well remember in a public forum where you announced you were a friend of mine. Well, I’m now drawing on that “friendship” to request you do something to lift up the situation for Black people in our town. Affordable housing is required now. Programs that address poverty and health including mental health are required now. Unemployment is at an all time high. Programs for single parents and seniors are required. A place to meet and hold events in a Black community Center – a place of our own. The list goes on. 

For right now, I am requesting the following:

  • That you hold the police accountable for their harmful response to us “watching deer while Black”?
  • A copy of the police policy on street checks/carding.
  • A breakdown of the number of checks of Black people in Truro by police (including traffic stops, street checks and the recording of observational information)
  • An accounting of all services and programs that are specifically designed to address the needs and concerns of African Nova Scotians in Truro
  • If no such services and program exist, I request an action plan with timelines to put in place the requisite services. The development of that Action Plan should respond to the 2017 Report by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent which provides recommendations that are specific to Black Canadians, including African Nova Scotians. (I have attached a copy in case you don’t already have one. I would suggest that you share it with all town officials).  African Nova Scotians should of course be involved in the development of the plan.

I would appreciate a reply to this letter within fifteen (15) days. I did not receive a reply from you to the letter that I wrote raising concerns about the redneck play at the Marigold Cultural Center although I see that the play has been thankfully cancelled.

It is so unfortunate in this day and age, that we have to continue to take the time out of our normal lives to demand the minimum level of dignity that should be afforded to all. 

I will continue to remain in the struggle,

Yours truly,

Dr Lynn Jones

Truro and Halifax, Nova Scotia

See also: African Nova Scotian coalition doesn’t want UN report collecting dust on a shelf

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16 Comments

  1. Thanks to Lynn Jones for writing this letter. I am appalled and out raged! Viki Samuels and you should follow up the story!!

    Reply
  2. I am so glad we have people like you who speak up and tell the truth…Town of Truro needs many things to uplift the Black Communities starting with a Community Center they have been fighting to create for years!!!! At the very least give us that…so we can be able to finally be a part of the history of Truro and display our Ancestors Heritage!!!

    Reply
  3. This is appalling! Never mind that the existence of these historic black communities in Truro used to be and still should be well known, especially to people who actually live there, which I have have. For the police to say it isn’t a race issue because the caller never mentioned it or that the police had to follow through on the complaint once they saw what was going on is bullshit.

    In nearly 58 years of my existence in this province and elsewhere, I have NEVER been pulled over and I have NEVER been questioned about my right to be anywhere I damn well choose.

    This has to stop happening in our province!

    Reply
  4. Dr. Jones has written a compelling letter addressing many issues that should not be a topic in the 21st Century. Unless these injustices are recognized and addressed, nothing will be done to correct the situation. Perhaps other concerned citizens should join her with sustaining interest and support.

    Reply
  5. I agree with what Dr. jones has written and am upset for treatment we get in Truro for ever and truro is back ward in a lot of ways and the town fore father s donot want the change to show respect to all citzens so we just watch things get worst not better . I said before and will say it again we need to march as 1 group of folks to make truro ns wake up shame on truro for things they do to us people

    Reply
    1. It tightly should be
      I sent a very familiar letter to city hall, spoke up at numerous community meetings
      Very much of what Lynn has written here re: Truro pertains to Creighton Street, Maynard, and Gottingen Streets
      Particularly Creighton Street.
      The struggle sadly continues for us, for many yet in Nova Scotia

      Reply
  6. This non Black Nova Scotian stands in solidarity with Dr Jones’ open letter to Mayor Mills. Come on, as concerned citizens of Nova Scotia, we need to demand Mayor Mills respond to Dr Jones’ five requests for action on policing and programs for the Black citizens of Truro. Call and write the mayor to express your support of these actions. Write an open letter of support to the Truro Town Council. Let’s take collective action now.

    Reply
  7. How embarrassed I am for the complainant and officer that responded.
    Complainant may not have mentioned “suspicious activity” were people of color, but I am sure the complainant was white.
    People of color show much more respect for their brother and sister, of which , we are all our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, some white colonists descendants are not yet at this level of spirituality, to know, we are all one.
    On behalf of citizens , like minded to Dr. Jones, a heartfelt apology to you and your community.
    Here’s hoping a future municipal council permanently recognizes the history and culture of the Town of Truro earliest settlers.

    Reply
  8. Lynn – you have always been a constant positive force for change, and you know I try to keep the unknown stories alive through my work as a Black Nova Scotian artist and now as a BLACK country artist. When I see you in one of my audiences “down home” your support always brings a smile to my face! I continue to tell the stories and make people aware of our unknown and constantly forgotten rich history. You honour me by your eloquent voice and I am here in Toronto in solidarity! Shelley Hamilton – Toronto, Ont

    Reply
  9. Brava to Lynn Jones for her civil, calm, constructive approach to an unacceptable and exhausting situation. The education of the population of our province should be the responsibility of the provincial institutions of the province and at the expense of the province. Repeatedly the social justice education seems to come from those who are suffering injustice and at the expense of their time and energy. How much of this shameful rerun does it take to bring lasting change?

    Kathryn Belzer. Dartmouth

    Reply
  10. HELLO LYN
    This make me want to cry for many reason ,I’m was born in TRURO , and truly understand where your coming from ,
    Maybe we need to start thinking from a new mind set, a Scotian at heart ,i would love to be apart of the solution.
    TRURO needs you and your leadership indeed ..but we need a plan ,i think there enough afro Nova Scotian in Nova Scotia and around the country who would be willing to support in finding a solution toward financing a much needed community space . Lets ,in power each other ,not by dismissing our responsibilities as a community but building toward real solutions.
    Lets get this up and running ,as you said in so many way time is running out , let make ours community great again ,
    Cecil Collins

    Reply
  11. Hi Lynn, I first would like to say I’m sorry for what you’ve had to endure. I’m a Black male born and raised here in Nova Scotia. I’ve been accused of threatening to shoot another person on campus at Dalhousie University. I was warned by a doctor whom had expressed to me that this is how black citizens here in NS are unfairly treated and also becoming under represented. I’ve been struggling for years without getting any kind of professional assistance in my case. Mentally and physically it’s taken a toll on my entire life. We have a crisis here in our black communities and it’s shameful. We are a loving people but yet are being painted with such a broad brush. We are under an assault of constant harassment weather in our institutions or just being out in public. Im lost for words. I have a certification now in health and safety which obviously is not taken place in our workplaces. Maybe this practice would be helpful to “ensure” our communities are getting the support they deserve. Wiling to help my fellow people. Thanks for all you’ve been doing.

    Reply
  12. Dear Dr. Jones,

    Police action isn’t decided by the mayor. I want to be as helpful to you as I can with my suggestions. Day to day operations of the police force are entirely controlled by our police chief. Policies are supposed to be written and established by the municipal police board. This board consists of of 3 councilors, 3 citizen representatives and one provincial rep (in this case councilor Talbot is the provincial rep and one of the town councilors as well as the Chair of the committee).

    I would suggest 2 options available to you. The first is to contact your councilor and ask for a meeting with the town police committee. The committee meetings are open to the public, but in general people can’t speak unless there is an agenda item where public comment is called for.

    Second, contact SIRT regarding your complaint. The Serious Incident Response Team is the civilian oversight agency in Nova Scotia, Canada responsible for the investigation of incidents resulted in serious injury or death to any person, sexual assault and domestic violence allegations and other significant public interest matters concerning the police. In this particular instance, I would put forth that racial profiling would be a significant public interest matter.

    Finally, every year the police department has a public meeting to determine what priorities the community would like to see the police force concentrate on. We need more people to attend these meetings and make concerns like yours known.

    I hope that you find this post helpful, and I wish you great success in seeing your concerns addressed.

    Reply
    1. Dear Mr. Watters,

      I, too, wish to be helpful with this letter. Several things come to mind in reading your post of September 9.

      As a non-Black person, I must ask the question: how is it that three elderly Black women, in their own historic community, simply watching deer in a field, become “suspicious persons” and thus a police matter, and the encounter ends with being treated as “outsiders” in their own neighbourhood. I believe it is present day racism with 400 year old roots in chattel slavery, where white people were, and still are, conditioned to believe Black people were to be feared because they were sub human and criminals. This believe is supported today by political, legal and policing structures. That’s why the NS Minister of Justice continues to uphold streets checks as a “valuable policing tool” refusing to stop the practice all together, even when it’s been proven to be racist and with no merit. Please, don’t take my word for it, a read of Robyn Maynard’s book Policing Black Lives lays it all out.

      Our political leaders at all levels of government put structures in place to uphold racism and to keep Black Nova Scotians “in their place”. Now, this legacy of slavery must be dismantled by our political leaders. Dr Jones has laid out 5 requests to that end. Learning how to better navigate this flawed system, that’s designed to keep power in the hands of white people, isn’t the solution to ending practices rooted in racism. This isn’t an opportunity for Dr Jones to complain better because it’s not hers to fix. However, she is requesting Mayor Mills, the elected leader of the Truro Town Council, who is mandated to provide a safe and secure community for all its residents, to take action.

      Here is how I think you, I and others can help.

      Educate ourselves. Read Robyn Maynard’s book Policing Black Lives. Read Halifax Street Checks Report, March 2019 by Prof. Scot Wortley. Read the UN’s Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

      Demand Mayor Mills and the Truro Council act on all 5 requests presented by Dr Jones. Write letters and attend council meetings to ensure meaningful action takes place.

      Reply

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