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Wayne Desmond: Will Black lives ever matter?

Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In 2020, while living through a pandemic that shut down the entire world, a man was suffocated by a police officer’s knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Nine minutes! His last words were a cry for his mother. And do not forget Breonna Taylor, killed in her own apartment by 32 bullets fired freely by two police officers. 

As the communities continue to rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, individuals directly impacted by systemic racism and police brutality are experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions.

Just now a police officer shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, claiming that she mistook her gun for a taser. One 1 in every 1,000 Black men in the United States can expect to be killed by the police.

What stands out is the inability to receive justice if you’re a person of colour.  

In January of 2020, Santina Rao was racially profiled and accused of shoplifting while shopping with her two children in the Mumford Road Walmart in Halifax. She was injured during her arrest, but criminal charges were dropped. 

In November of 2020, Melissa Brushett and her son Deion were shopping at the Dartmouth Crossing Walmart and were racially profiled. Melissa and Deion were arrested and placed in the back of police cars. After the police checked Melissa’s receipt, they allowed her and Deion to leave. 

This past month a police officer in Halifax pointed a gun at a young Black man holding his hands up in the air. As the young man walked away from the police officer, the officer shouted, “I will fill you full of f***ing lead”. The police officer was placed on administrative duties. 

What we find is that being a police officer means being part of a distinct police culture.

Canada has always engaged in unfair practices and systemic discrimination. 

Jocelyn Thorpe, a history and women and gender studies professor at the University of Manitoba points out that the RCMP were founded to assert sovereignty over Indigenous people and their lands. 

There was the Head Tax imposed on Chinese people, the enslavement of Black and Indigenous people, and the steadfast refusal of the Supreme Court of Canada to take a stance against this racism.

Canada continues to condone past and present systemic racism and racial discrimination. The racism that racialized people face in 2021 continues unabated. 

This racism goes beyond the practices, policies and procedures of police. We see it in educational institutions, on the job, in the courts, in correctional facilities and in academia. 

When it comes to the criminal justice system it is paramount that we consider it from the perspective of marginalized community members. This reveals inequalities that white people tend not to see and helps understand the deep-rooted pain and trauma that our systems are causing. 

Supposedly in the Canadian criminal justice system the accused is always considered innocent until proven guilty. Guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge is required to dismiss charges against an accused if insufficient evidence is provided. 

This is not the reality for people of colour. People of colour, especially Black and Brown people are considered guilty until proven innocent, or as we often see in the States, guilty, guilty, guilty! Judges are not perfect and history clearly shows that sometimes judges deliver decisions coloured by personal biases. 

When Black people attempt to be assertive within the courtroom, they are viewed as being aggressive or disrespectful. This often leads to more punishments or being held in contempt. 

All this happens despite the significant emphasis on judicial impartiality and independence within our Justice system. Judges are expected to render decisions without personal bias and without undue influence from other branches of government.  

Unfortunately, all lives are not valued equally in society. If Black Lives truly mattered,we wouldn’t hear about the George Floyd trial every day. 

As People of Colour, we cannot escape it. I hear about the George Floyd trial over the car radio,  while scrolling through social media I see post about racial profiling, police brutality and rallies to combat this hatred, Even at the gym, when I attempt to take a break from it all and regroup, the TV shows clips of the George Floyd trial. 

So, to those who are tired of hearing Black Lives Matter, imagine how exhausted Black people are of saying it, living it and fighting against the hatred that they experience. 

But we are still here, and Black Lives will always matter.

See also: Wayne Desmond: Much more must be done to remove barriers faced by Black learners

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