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Angela Bowden: The Shawn Hynes sentencing shows that in Nova Scotia’s justice system Black lives don’t matter

Nhlanhla Dlamini recovering from the assault in hospital

It sounded so promising, “NH is Black. The history of anti-Black discrimination in Nova Scotia is a historic fact, which is continuing. Discrimination and intimidation of racialized and marginalized persons will occur in many locations, including workplaces and it happened to NH.” – Judge Del Atwood  confidently said, packing a powerful punch in his acknowledgment of the historical anti-Black trauma and racism throughout Nova Scotia history in various locations including our workplaces. He was thorough in his words during the sentence delivery of Shawn Wade Hynes; it was clear that he believed the motive and the crimes committed by Hynes were to be acknowledged as severe in nature and in damages, and he found it necessary to denounce this historical behaviour in the workforce at sentencing.

With a powerful statement like this one you would expect a powerful sentence to follow. However, next all we heard was more lip service. Even if the message was comprehensive, the sentence the judge delivered paled relative to the damage which the judge himself acknowledged, was severe. 

See also: News brief: Shawn Wade Hynes sentenced to 12 months house arrest for nail gun attack on Black co-worker

Again, Just Us are expected to be patient,  forgive and accept our abusers’ abuse, and move on. The leniency in the sentencing appears to be motivated by the notion that the offender wasn’t dangerous nor a threat to the community. However, that notion wasn’t supported by the evidence.

Shawn Hynes was given the benefit of the doubt because of his perceived good character. An 18-months conditional sentence, to be served in the community, illustrates once again the lengths this legal system will go through to support white folks in trouble with the law. Of course we knew white lives mattered; we were hoping that for once Black Lives would matter too. 

Merely acknowledging the trauma is not enough! I am so disheartened by the level of commitment of this justice system to not protecting or validating Black Lives and Black trauma. In addition the unconditional threesome between white privilege, presumed white innocence and the justice system grants unwarranted grace and unearned consideration to violent white offenders. Today we saw a justice system perform magic and  turn an intentional and malicious act into an out-of-character isolated incident. How daring was that move? Sentencing reflected  the best interest of the perpetrator, accepting that he was a good guy who made a bad choice. Come on, he deserves a chance (Pat NH on the head here) And we are very sorry and acknowledge that you were mistreated and terrorized (period) . 

I cannot digest the idea that the defense argued and the judge accepted that “it was out of character for him”. Shawn Hynes pleaded not guilty. He denied he did it in the first place, so suggesting he acted out of character makes no sense. Liar was another attribute added to the long list of “characteristics” the court heard about during the three-day trial, which was proven and accepted . 

Ignoring the only character we saw to somehow create and accept this new character that no one but the defendant and his biased circle knew about, and which the judge bought and accepted is unfounded, unjust and further supports this two-tier justice system that African Nova Scotians have been resisting and is the reason why they are demanding redress and accountability. 

It is indisputable that Shawn Hynes bullied Nhlanhla the entire three weeks of his employment. Consider his position of authority over a vulnerable Nhlanhla and his protected characteristic of race; this was previously proven and satisfied through the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. In fact, the only character we can verify objectively of Shawn Hynes is that which was proven by the Commission and proven during the September 2019  trial, which is what Judge Atwood based his acknowledgment and decision on. Hynes’ intentions were to harm; he meant to intimidate Nhlanhla using his power over a much younger Black employee living and working in a white privileged and anti-Black environment. The power dynamics coupled with the malicious intent that bullied and shot Nhlanhla in the back was the evidence of his demonstrated character and a reminder of what Shawn Hynes viewed as this Black boy’s place and his worth at PQ Properties.

As it is in the days of ‘ole, Paul Quinn doubled down on his brotherhood with Shawn Hynes at all costs by not only continuing his employment after the violence occurred, but loudly extending allyship to him by way of testimony, offering his unwavering emotional support.  

The assault and injuries kept accruing as Paul Quinn offered a character statement in support of Hynes, furthering the damage and  ignoring the weeks of racialized bullying Nhlanhla was subjected to. This was not a compassionate work environment concerned with Nhlanhla’s safety. Not once do we see this kindness or level of support extended to the victim, why? The injured Nhlanhla was shot, nail ripped out, dropped off at home to die and then everyone lied and covered up his severe injuries throughout the investigation, media reports and from their company lawyer Craig Clark, who originally was caught chuckling during a radio interview and who denied serious injury saying it simply required a band aid. We heard from Nhlanhla and during testimony at the trial that he was severely injured, he suffered a punctured lung and has permanently lost 3% of his lung functioning.

One may intelligently summarize that this is further evidence of how the justice system is designed to maintain the status quo while acknowledging in words only the impact on the victim. This entire process revealed the inequities between anti-Black trauma vs anti-white trauma. Guilty vs innocent was not the task. White guilty vs white innocence was the task, and  while Hynes was found guilty of assault with a weapon and aggravated assault on September 21, 2019, he was found white innocent during sentencing. His ability to rehabilitate his racist views or re-offend Black victims was measured against what? This is my lingering question? Especially considering the fact that he never admitted guilt and we know that there was indeed a pattern of anti-Blackness by Hynes, as he confidently and with authority mistreated Nhlanhla as it was commonplace for Shawn and PQ properties to do so  – both fact and proven!

The entire system that employed,  prosecuted, investigated, and sentenced Shawn Hynes aligned white privilege with white justice. Hynes’ crimes were cushioned by his best interests (potential rehabilitation and trauma), while it paid lip service to the actual trauma he caused his victim. I question where Nhlanhla’s employer and the court extend compassion and support to him. I also wonder why Shawn Hynes’ character was granted the benefit of the doubt straight in the face of his clear anti-Blackness?

A direct quote from the judge in the Nova Scotia Advocate reported “Community impact statements by Raymond Sheppard and Angela Bowden spoke of the history of silencing and racism experienced by the African Nova Scotian community. Institutions of power in this province have a history of intimidating and terrorizing African Nova Scotians and other racialized and marginalized communities. These injustices have gone on for generations and are continuing. Nhlanhla’s victimization has reminded the African Nova Scotian community of this painful past and present and has released the memory floodgates of intergenerational traumas that are both communal and personal.” 

The words Judge Atwood used to articulate and acknowledge the significant trauma was evidence that Judge Atwood had a real understanding, even if it wasn’t enough to acknowledge the need to denounce and send the message that Black Lives are Protected and indeed Matter in the Nova Scotia justice system! 

A conditional sentence that allows Shawn Hynes to continue working and remain free in society is the biggest insult to these hateful and heinous crimes. Covid-19 has us all restricted, yet he is able to work and collect EI if he is laid off, and is free to be home and spend time with his loved ones regularly, having no visitor restrictions. That’s not denunciation, that’s regular life.

When a system that is supposed to be just and fair grants more consideration to the effects of the perpetrator/s mental health and wellbeing then those he attempted to murder or harm then we have a system severely misaligned with justice. And when that same template is not the template used when there are Black perpetrators then there is severe discrimination. But when this practice has been the standard without apology for centuries, then we are looking down the throat of systemic racism in the justice system. We need to acknowledge that our justice system with all of its moving parts, jurisprudence, case comparison, human rights and fairness objectives is functioning with very ill policies and practices that disproportionately extend grace and  excuses to white perpetrators from violent crimes. Giving white perpetrators the benefit of the doubt while exaggerating their innocence and legitimizing their whiteness by characterizing them as someone who is somehow beyond the violent crimes, reduces the crime to nothing but a poor judgement made by a good person. 

Throwing salt in this oozing wound is the assumption that Hynes poses no threat to society, and by society the judge must be referencing the larger white society. Shawn Hynes clearly demonstrated the danger he poses to Black folk. After all, he believes, in his own words, that “everyone should own a Black person”, his ideology targeted Nhlanhla violently, revealing his true character and motives. He clearly thought Nhlanhla was beneath him and his life disposable. Nhlanhla has the trauma marks and punctured lung to prove it.

Over two years ago I said this case was important because it would determine how we handled race-related crimes and our response going forward. Today Judge Del Atwood had the opportunity and moral and civil obligation to denounce racism and prove Black Lives and Black trauma mattered in Nova Scotia. He decided instead to sentence in fairness to the perpetrators future, ignoring the future consequences and lifelong trauma he caused to his victim. 

Nhlanhla and his family waited nearly four years to put this behind them and receive Justice however once again Just Us pays the admission and the price of this systemically racist Justice circus. Jail time was the only sentence that fit these crimes as this racist pattern of behaviour was characteristic of Shawn Hynes, it was proven and accepted in court. 

This sentence sets the wrong precedent and it is painful to accept that we considered the trauma incarceration would cause a violent racist. He’s not dangerous? Certainly we don’t believe that someone with racist ideologies who escalated to physical violence against his targeted group is safe? To who? 

In Nova Scotia we ignore the proof and recreate a softer narrative for white perpetrators. And still Justice eludes us while pro-whiteness flourishes to harm another generation!

#BlackTraumamatters #JusticeforNhlanhlaDlamini #BlackLivesMatter

See also: Stacey Dlamini: After the nail gun attack – Reflections on racism

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