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Angela Bowden: On slavery, hate crimes, and the case of Nhlanhla Dlamini

Nhlanhla Dlamini speaks at a rally in Halifax in his support. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Over the Labour Day weekend I spent some time reflecting on the fact that August 2019 marks 400 years since the first slaves arrived in North America. I thought about the trauma of my ancestors. Their blood spilled out rapidly into the trauma and blood we are living in today, reminding us of the wounds that have been left raw and open and the racial violence that continues to wreak havoc in our communities. 

See also: Book review: North to Bondage: Loyalist slavery in the Maritimes

It has been 400 years since Virginia became the recipient of forced migration, stolen and undocumented Africans; the mayhem of mass immigration that slavery caused. This influx contributes to the current African Diaspora throughout the South and the North. 

I guess the ideals of that time was that “Everyone should own a Black person.” Africans were stolen, enslaved, sold, whipped, beaten, raped, murdered and tortured in every conceivable way during their transport to the South and long after their arrival on plantation. Blacks were literally worked from sunup until sundown. They were worked to death or disablement with muscles detaching from their bones. 

“You’re working too slow, I know how to speed you up! This was the terror and rule used to keep Blacks working at exceeded capacities. As the overseer cracked his whip over his head without conscience, he opened the backs of many  Black men, women and children. These philosophies of terror kept Blacks “in their place.” It is this type of psychological warfare that continues to be waged on African Nova Scotians and their communities.

Sure, those living without the damage of 400 years of torture and terror will boast, without insight or lived experience, that things have gotten so much better for Black folk. And certainly those with an inability to attune with the victim‘s everyday plight will relegate slavery and it’s consequences to the background. They pretend all of this hate and ”nonsense” passed long ago, like that was then!

If that was then, where is now? If that was then, why does now look like, sound like, act like and feels like then? 

As we review the 2018 racial incident that occurred in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, where Nhlanhla Dlamini was shot in the back with a high velocity nail gun,  we get a clear picture of our existing racial tolerances and intolerances in Nova Scotia. Shawn Hynes, a European man, is about to stand trial in less than two weeks for the heinous physical and racial assault on this young man of African descent. 

This case bears a close resemblance to the attitudes of 400 years ago and it would be callous and negligent to dismiss the stark resemblance. What happened to Nhlanhla on the job “now” and what happened to slaves “then” are the same.

In fact, there is a direct correlation between the historical “then” ideologies of white supremacy and the current “now” ideologies of Shawn Wade Hynes. His violent and racially motivated behaviour, his sense of superiority, his phraseology and racist language all follow the pattern of intentional oppression and racial violence that are rooted in white supremacy and deep South undertones.

Nhlahla suffered racial bullying and harassment on the job for nearly three weeks before it escalated on September 19th, 2018.

Initially, Nhlahla was referred to as “squigger or whatever the fuck they call you at home.” His jacket was nailed to a staircase, his boots were nailed to the floor, they threw nails at him and he was told by Shawn that every person should own a Black person. 

The victim, Nhlanhla Dlamini, previously told CBC News that he was at a worksite in Abercrombie when a co-worker accused him of working too slowly, before purposely aiming an air-powered nail gun at him and firing. He suffered a punctured lung, and says medical staff inserted a chest tube to release air that was building up between his lung and his chest wall, causing his lung to collapse. 

Nhlanhla has a permanent 3 percent loss of functioning in his lung. His psychological wounds cannot be measured that way, but are no less real.

The phrases and names used to terrorize Nhlanhla clearly reflect white supremacy ideology. The utterly sickening behaviour of removing the safety from the nail gun and smiling while watching the terror in Nhlanhla‘s eyes as he turns to run before taking the shot is premeditated, criminal and a clear hate crime. This didn’t happen during the gruesome old  days of slave labour when overseers cracked their whips above their heads and into the backs of those “working too slow” this was Nova Scotia, 2018.

Facts and timelines following the incident

* Police took no photos of the crime scene.

* The mother of the victim was told that the nail gun was not retrieved until three weeks after the shooting.

* The nail that punctured Nhlanhla Dlamini’s lung was never retrieved.

* Judge Del Atwood issued no bench arrest warrant for Shawn Wade Hynes when he failed to attend court, merely reserved the right to issue a warrant should Hynes fail to appear again on February 11.

* An Indigenous RCMP Officer with knowledge of carpentry was removed from the case for unknown reasons.

* It took until September 27, 2018; eight days after Nhlanhla Dlamini was shot with the high-powered nail gun, for Shawn Wade Hynes to be arrested.

* On October 6, 2018, RCMP constable (Skipper) Bent visited Nhlanhla at his family home in Pictou. I was present for this meeting. He stated at that time that the nail was not looked for or confiscated because it’s a construction site with a bunch of nails lying around. “It would be difficult to determine which nail was the one that punctured Nhlanhla’s lung”. 

* He also stated he could not confirm at that time if the nail gun was confiscated.

* On February 11, 2019, the Crown requested an adjournment and Judge Del Atwood granted it. Shawn Hynes did not show up, instead, Hynes’s lawyer Andrew O’Blenis filed papers for designation of council which authorizes a lawyer to appear in court on their client’s behalf. 

* March 11, 2019 930 am. Shawn Wade Hynes does not appear in court. New Charge #267 assault with a weapon added- despite consistent community advocacy still no hate crime added or mentioned.

* March 11, 2019 930 am Judge Del Atwood advised O’Blenis to be back in court for 130 and to have the signed paperwork from Shawn Wade Hines.

* March 11, 2019 130 pm Designation of council presented to court for file. O’Blenis advises he was unable to retrieve the disclosure and although it would not likely change the election but  he would like time to review. Matter was then set over for March 25, 2019 @930 am 

* March 2019 PQ Properties reach Nova Scotia Human Rights settlement with Nhlanhla Dlamini for the violation of his human rights based on the protected characteristic of race and ethnicity. 

* March 25, 2019. Shawn Wade Hynes does not appear. O’Blenis submitted a not guilty plea on both charges. Trial dates set for September 17, 18 and 19, 2019.

* Shawn Wade Hynes continues to be employed as an active employee  with Paul Quinn Construction in a unionized position.

Knowing the facts is critical because as all Nova Scotians, we need to pay attention! Attend the trial if you are able, and please continue to stay active in all advocacy using your platforms to hold these racist behaviours, attitudes and beliefs accountable.

The decision in this case will be critical. It  will speak volumes on behalf of the Nova Scotia justice system and their current views of the value of Black lives and safety. This case will determine how we proceed with accountability for the heinous hate crimes perpetrated on people of colour in this province.

If ever there was a case that was cut and dry this is it. If the Nova Scotia Justice system fails Nhlanhla in their decision and do not hold Nhlahla’s abuser accountable for the damage his crimes have caused it will be a significant miscarriage of justice in our province. 

Nhlanhla, his family and African Nova Scotian communities were affected by this traumatic hate crime. There is no other recourse but for justice to be served. Otherwise we will remain stuck in the “then” ideologies where we saw white perpetrators walk free for acts of violence committed against Black victims.

See also: Attacker of Nhlanhla Dlamini should be charged with attempted murder, hate crime, say rally organizers 

Our children deserve better. We must continue to demand better for our children. They don’t deserve to be terrorized, attacked or abused for being Black, and when they are they deserve to be protected and healed like every other child or citizen – they deserve justice! 

Nhlanhla is a young man of 22 who was brutally attacked and traumatized by a 44 year old man in the most deliberate, brutal and hateful way. We must all, united as Nova Scotians, stand up for our children and seek justice. Black children’s lives have to start mattering. Black children’s rights are children’s rights and are protected under their charter of rights and freedom. 

Nova Scotia you are hereby on notice that we are watching, on the edge of our seats! Do the right thing, not the historical white thing. You have an opportunity to value this young man’s life and his safety and send a clear message that hate crimes perpetrated in this province will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with accordingly. 

Protection of all citizens is our rights and it is the law and so any other response in this case is dismissing the lives and safety of all citizens so there is no reason why Nova Scotia Justice should fail at this one. 

See also: Dr. Lynn Jones: Watching deer while Black – an open letter to Bill Mills, Mayor of the Town of Truro

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