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Angela Bowden: Dear Nova Scotians, let’s talk about racism

Angee Bowden. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Dear Nova Scotians, Let’s talk about the racism in Nova Scotia and the longstanding difficulty our province has in upholding the law and protecting Black citizens’ lives and human rights.

Nova Scotia has had a significant race problem for ever and I’m not sure why that comes as such a surprise to some Nova Scotians, especially considering there are so many who are historically and currently participating in this abuse, and it is so publicly documented in this new age of internet and social media. 

It stands to reason that those who were not and are not affected by this egregious violence, 236 years after the first recorded race riot, are easily able to activate their privilege and turn a blind and wilful eye to the screams we continue to shout. The throats of the custodians of this ongoing pain however are raw from yelling and we have had just about enough of this garbage! 

The first race riot recorded in Nova Scotia was the ongoing attacks that took place in July of 1784 in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. There is your first history lesson, and the only one really required to understand how this beast manifests in our province as it serves as the template for all other acts of this vile behaviour that is actively feeding our daily trauma.

When we examine racism in Nova Scotia and the violence of the racist acts perpetrated on Black people one pattern emerges: Destroy, torture, devastate, neutralize, oppress, exploit  and benefit all with impunity. The motive also bears one portrait – power and control. A walk down history lane becomes a cycle carrying the same message: Black people stay in your place and that place is wherever white people define it is; a white supremacist  ideology we can trace back to slavery.

Black Loyalist wood cutter at Shelburne, Nova Scotia in 1788. By Captain William Booth, 1788 –

This mass destruction of this first race riot in Shelburne was led by white Loyalists who waged war against the Black Loyalists who settled alongside them in Shelburne after the American Revolutionary War. These hard working Black folk reestablished a life even after they fled slavery, fought on British lines and were denied the land grants and resources promised to them for their loyalty to the British. The parallels in the events that took place in 1784 are easily seen in today’s racial intolerance in Nova Scotia. It’s the same story, just a  different time and once again I ask the question if that was then where is now?

The problem seems to be getting worse as time goes on and a quick google search of “racism in Nova Scotia” is all the evidence you need to uncover the truth about this province’s dark past and unchanging present. I encourage every reader who doubts the severity of this province’s race problem to do just that – research the truth and accept what you find. 

This racist beast is taking over the province of Nova Scotia and it’s high time we actually faced it head on and stopped tucking it in crevices and corners, only for it to seep out in the most traumatic ways in every community in this province.

In 2020 we had a secondary pandemic, Covid 19. The effects of that pandemic significantly  impacted the Black citizens who were already inundated with the injuries and conditions of their primary pandemic, racism. We experienced hallmark responses. Black safety was marginalized, Blacks fend for yourselves was still a thing  and support offered too little too late.

However, the powers that be are quick to use Covid 19 isolation rules and CERB over-payments  to criminalize individuals when indeed our government knows enough about systemic racism and the disenfranchised communities that these new convenient criminalizing laws will largely impact. Anything to continue this cycle of over criminalization and oppression of Black lives I guess  but that is the original design of our systems as is the consistent intake of psychological trauma. One need only refer to the Willie Lynch letter and manual “The Making of  A Slave” to see we’re right on cue in 2020, and if we are not careful to offset this physical and psychological  trauma with healing and self care we will see more and more of our community members fall prey to this conditioning and its mental health consequences.

Photo Robert Devet

In the midst of this secondary pandemic (Covid-19) Black Lives Matter emerged with a presence and response that was needed to address the primary pandemic, which was the safety of Black people. This message, though supported initially, became trend-like for folks and not largely welcomed or supported in this province. In fact, simply wearing a t-shirt or hosting events that carry the message “Black Lives Matter” can invoke a rage in white passerbys so deeply that they vehemently disrupt rallies, and harass citizens through shouting all lives matter and other epithets from their moving vehicles. 

Criticism also emerged that suggested Black people were somehow contributing to the unsafe spreading of this virus by political leadership, singling out Black communities and remaining silent when it came to the same violations by the larger communities. BLM protests also fell under scrutiny by accusations that their protests for the safety of Black Lives was creating an unsafe Covid 19 environment for citizens when ironically that same energy is not exerted in favour of protecting Black citizens and their safety.

See also: Miranda Cain on COVID-19 and the Prestons: “The little we do have, we have done it ourselves”

BLACK LIVES continue to be under attack, legitimate attack, by law enforcement, local citizens and white supremacist groups that nestled in clearly posing threats to Black lives and the safety of  Black children. If  Nova Scotia citizens are so passionately concerned with the safety of all lives  then now would be a good time to support your own message that ALL LIVES MATTER.

Photo Facebook

Clearly the recent and meticulous Redneck Hangout sign with a large noose in the center of it discovered in the deep woods of Queens County, Nova Scotia, doesn’t support the message that all lives matter. And the arbitrary and illegal street check, arrest, unarrest and trauma that Kayla Borden was subjected to at the hands of law enforcement in this province does not suggest that all lives matter.

The racial profiling and vicious assaults endured by Santina Rao in Walmart with her two babies in tow to witness their moms frightening assault doesnt support the message all lives matter, including her children’s lives. Neither did teenager Demario Chambers’ life matter when he was assaulted by police in Bedford either. Greg Dean’s life didn’t matter when he was threatened by white teens dangling a noose in Chester, Nova Scotia, while his family was trying to exist. And what about the noose spray painted in Dartmouth in front of a black family’s home on the power pole? They report their lives haven’t mattered in this province since they moved here, and that the word noose right at their front door was just an escalation of the ongoing abuse they face in this province. 

Santina Rao. Photo Simon de Vet

All lives are not mattering because Black people can’t even enjoy a coffee without being subjected to the racist abuse of these upstanding Nova Scotian citizens. Just ask Tari Ajadi who was enjoying a lovely day discussing research while having coffee in the West end of Halifax before a white man decided Tari’s life didn’t matter, but the white friend he was with did, because that was his entire issue as he commenced hurling racial epithets and causing trauma. Why? Well,  because he can in Nova Scotia with impunity, and Tari did not report the racial harassment even though he had it on film. Why not? Well, because he did not feel safe to report it to the police because (big sigh), as Tari put it, they’re not safe either.

Our law enforcement is biased, participates in racial profiling, and are historically one of our bullies who actively participate in our abuse. Facts! I did not make that up, feel free to google that too! You might even learn that our elders are not exempt from this harsh treatment when you discover the tasering of one of our elders over an alleged lane change violation, that ended with the man being tasered and charges laid against him. There is a longstanding historical pattern of officers creating disturbances and charging others with the disturbance they instigated, see Santina Rao’s case again if you’re confused. Her charges were later dropped, after she was further victimized by court appearances. 

Let’s hop on over to Truro, Nova Scotia, shall we, where Black lives certainly don’t matter there either because elders cannot even watch deer without being reminded that their Blackness in places White people deem are not for them will be reported as a threat, even if it is their own backyards.

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

Lynn Jones. Photo Robert Devet

Clearly Dr. Lynn Jones’ life, and the lives of her family did not matter because without thought her safety and serenity was interrupted with this act of white people calling the police on Black people for existing. The bigger problem and question is why law enforcement allows white people to weaponize their whiteness and criminalize our Blackness and easily use law enforcement to carry out their racist tendencies on our tax dollar. Better still why do they appear to be eager and willing participants to do so?

The same happened to a young Black youth while he was walking his dog in his own neighbourhood in Pictou, Nova Scotia, a while back. A busy body citizen who didn’t learn the message that most white teachers told me in school to “mind your business”,  called the police and reported a suspicious person because we ALLLLL know Black boys and men are a threat when they are sleeping, so walking a dog is a big no no! I wonder how disappointed newsbag Norman’s teacher would have been for butting his nose where it doesn’t belong? Shame!

But the harassment and neglect of Black citizens in Pictou County certainly does not stop there. In the county where Dr. Carrie Best worked tirelessly for decades to address the historical and systemic racism of New Glasgow, Henderson Paris ran for countless years to highlight the same issues, and the infamous Viola Desmond exposed their dirty deeds nationally in the Roseland theatre story of 1946! 

This county’s racial intolerances and abuse continue uninterrupted and enact the pains and perils of the days of ole. Just take a look at the recent graffiti, racial epithets and threats of violence  that were spray painted beside our historical Black church, Second United Baptist on Washington Street. Most of us agree there is a huge racism problem wreaking havoc in New Glasgow and these public displays of hate are small indicators, but  there are countless stories being told around kitchen tables that this town and the whole of Nova Scotia really need to acknowledge and be concerned about. I have multiple of my own. For instance the mistreatment from a sergeant who I filed a form 5 and received an apology letter for and then there was  the illegal street check that happened to my son and I for a “crooked” license plate. Sure a magnifying glass would reveal it was slightly off center but I think we all know what was really off centered, Blackness, however racism was in perfect alignment!

 We recently seen protests that spoke up for domestic violence against women and the lassiz faire attitude the New Glasgow Regional Police Department  employed when a Black woman’s life was legitimately in danger as her white perpetrator was granted space and freedom to continue to harass her at work, assault her father on his property and threaten the lives and safety of her entire family by burning all of their houses down. Luckily he didn’t, and the public police (aka African Nova Scotians and allies) did the work once again of our Justice system by rallying behind the victim and elevating her voice by way of a 12 hour overnight vigil, seven hour police sit in and two protests outside the Pictou courthouse reminding our just-us system of their job: to serve and protect us in this province!

Nhlanhla Dlamini. Photo Robert Devet

Which brings me to the final story I want to highlight, the September 19, 2018 nail gun shooting incident of Nhlanhla Dlamini,  but please don’t let this be the final story you hear about the racism that has occurred and continues to occur in this province. Take my advice and google racism in Nova Scotia because I have not even covered a pittance of the abuse and trauma African Nova Scotians, Indigenous people and people of color  have suffered historically and are suffering currently in this province. This province’s environmental racism, racism in education, employment, healthcare, immigration and every public and private sector is documented from 1783 until 2020,  Houston we have a serious problem! And I would be remiss if I didn’t include the entity tasked with upholding our Human Rights, The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission’s failures to the African Nova Scotian communities  and their hand in re victimizing us. 

But back to Nhlanhla Dlamini because this story is as chilling as it is classic! 

Nhlanhla Dlamini began his employment eagerly, with his steel toe boots on, ready to work and be safe. He was laughed at as soon as he arrived by the crew for having steel toe boots on. The crew said he wouldn’t last the day with them on and to change into his sneakers. It was clear to everyone that he quickly became the brunt of every joke, and because of his African origin he became the victim of nearly three weeks of racial workplace bullying, from being called squigger to having his jacket nailed to a staircase and nails thrown at him. This revolting behavior escalated and on September 19 at a construction site in Abercrombie, Pictou County Nhlanhla was shot in the back with a high velocity nail gun, puncturing his lung with a ¾ inch nail and permanently wounding him physically and psychologically. He has 3 percent reduced functioning and feels the lingering effects, not only physically when he laughs or coughs, but also psychologically. A direct excerpt from CBC’s October 4, 2018 coverage of this event reads:

“On the day of the incident, Dlamini, who is black, said his co-worker accused him of working too slowly before threatening him with the nail gun. “He turned around and pulled the safety on the gun, and points at me and says, ‘I’ll show you how to speed up,'” Dlamini said in an interview with CBC News. “I just looked at him and I was just like, ‘What are you doing that for?’ And he just smiled. “And when he smiled about it, I just turned around and started running. And that’s when he shot the air nail and it hit me in the back.”

We are in a place where justice clearly does not matter and where manipulation of the law has become status quo and even worse accepted and encouraged behaviour. The justice system has become one whereby it operates in a dangerous psychological game of gaslighting as defence lawyers seek to take logical information and twist it to have you doubting if it’s logical at all. The entire reasonable doubt claim the defence presented in the Nhlanhla Dlamini case was one of pure gaslighting that seen witnesses outright lie on the stand to uphold their fellow brethren in one of the most heinous crimes this community has seen since slavery and the Jim Crow era of course. 

The defence had three witnesses including the accused and I’m not saying they are all racists, but they were proven to be all liars. 

After the verdict. Photo Robert Devet

Race was never entered in as a factor nor was it investigated for the hate crime it clearly was. Whether the prosecution entered mitigating factors of race or the judge ruled on it or not becomes moot because this was a hate crime and we heard testimony that cannot be argued, only gaslit. We heard two of the defence witnesses outright lie and get caught with conflicting statements. We know they took pictures of a work scene that was rigged to deliberately mislead the RCMP and the courts and they successfully obstructed the investigation from the beginning, collectively as a team.

The third witness had sincere moments but he chose to side with the accused and further injure Nhlanhla. There is no way there was that big of a cover up going on at work, and he wasn’t aware of it. This is where the bystander is just as culpable as the perpetrator and we need accountability and  tougher laws to protect Black lives and deter this behaviour going forward. It is illogical to believe the witness in question didn’t at the very least overhear a conversation he chose to ignore so he could protect his white comrade. He testified he had nothing against Nhlanhla but he chose to be silent on what he knew and sided with his brothers, making Nhlanhla’s safety and trauma a non factor.

Six protests later, countless court appearances and a three day trial returned a guilty verdict on September 26, 2019 of the two charges of criminal negligence and assault with a weapon. In Judge Del Atwood’s verdict he concluded that many, including himself, dropped the ball in this case. He also made the remark that he would be releasing his decision publicly seeing that this case garnered so much public interest. 

The Nova Scotia Advocate was present for the verdict and reported:

In his oral decision Judge Del Atwood  had harsh words for Hynes, but also for Dlamini’s employer, the workplace safety officer, the police investigation, and even for his own decision to excuse Hynes when he didn’t appear before him in the first scheduled session earlier this year. “I could have done more. I merely rescheduled. I should have issued a warrant, but I failed to do so,” Atwood said. 

He also blasted employer Paul Quinn’s severe lack of concern about unsafe workplace conditions and culture, and his negligence in dealing with the injured young man, driving him home rather than to the hospital. Quinn should have called 911, Atwood said, regardless of what a severely injured Nhlanhla wanted.   

I am convinced that Hynes sought to scare Dlamini, thus risking injury, the judge said. Did he intend it? We do not need to decide that. He did it to scare Dlamini, which constitutes a threat. Any reasonable person should see the risk, the mere pointing constitutes assault, the weapon being the nail gun. 

See also: Assailant of Nhlanhla Dlamini found guilty of criminal negligence and assault with a weapon

Judge Del Atwood accepted impact statements from the victim as well as two community impact statements on the day of sentencing February 26, 2020 but reserved his decision on sentencing until March 18, 2020,  partly because he wanted to carefully consider the community impact statements that were filed. Unfortunately,  Covid 19 delayed that sentencing and the subsequent healing for this family was also delayed as they watched Shawn Wade Hynes go about his life in the community and still gainfully employed at PQ Properties, without any conditions.  Meanwhile, Nhlanhla  and his family continue to suffer the consequences of his actions. 

Next week on September 21, Shawn Hynes will finally answer for his crimes. This story may have disappeared from the media and the public eye but it has remained with Nhlanhla and his family everyday triggering them as they stumbled upon Shawn Hynes living his best life in Pictou County. 

Crown prosecutor Bill Gorman states “The seriousness of what happened is without question” in his summation and he stressed the importance of Judge Atwood to consider denunciation and deterrence when arriving at a sentence.

There needs to be some precedence set in this province so that we and our loved ones can begin to feel safe in this province. We are not toddlers babbling inaudible sounds that everyone pretends to listen to but no one clearly understands. There is a mountain of evidence that supports our ongoing assaults and trauma so the 2020 million dollar question is: Do Black lives matter in Nova Scotia? Tune in September 21st to see if they do. 

#DenounceAndDeter  #BlackLivesMatter  #Justice4NhlanhlaDlamini

Angela Bowden is a frequent contributor to the Nova Scotia Advocate. She was one of the talented writers selected for the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program, offered by the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia.

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