KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Ross Gray encountered racism once too often, and he is fully committed to seeing that there are consequences for the perpetrators. He hopes others will follow his example.
In mid-July we reported how a condescending commissionaire falsely accused Gray, who is Black, of riding a bicycle on the pedestrian lane of the Angus L MacDonald Bridge. Gray was spoken down to and bluntly told that he was lying when he explained he walked all the way across the bridge, bicycle in hand. The commissionaire even falsely claimed they had footage of Gray cycling on tape.
Later Halifax Harbour Bridges (HHB) acknowledged that the accusation had no basis in fact, and apologized. HHB also said it would implement a policy to address a future repeat, and suggested that the commissionaire would receive counselling. HHB did not acknowledge the potential tole of racism in the incident.
“Too much of this is going on, and nobody ever does anything. They all just talk. Until the next time that it happens, and then it happens again. It just keeps going,” Gray said at the time. “This apology is worthless, as far as I’m concerned, because nobody is held accountable, ever.”
The ordeal shook Gray to the core, and left him determined to seek justice.
“What happened to me is a systemic thing. I’m a 57 year old man, and my accuser is probably in her thirties, but she was talking to me as if I was a child, I felt like a damn dog. You don’t talk to a human being like that,” Gray explains.
It’s also left him deeply shaken, so much so that it is affecting his ability to sleep. And he’s not the only one who is affected, inevitably it also touches those close to Gray.
“I can see the change in my son’s face when I’m talking to him about it. I have always taught him to treat people with respect. And now I find myself trying to build a wall around him, and he senses that,” Gray says.
Commissionaires employed by HHB as traffic officers receive limited policing powers. What if someday in the future they will be allowed to carry firearms, Gray wonders. “You’re going to see not just police shooting Black people, you’re going to see other authorities doing the same damn thing,” Gray says.
I ask Gray what he would say to white people who want to shrug off what happened to him as just a run in with a grouchy commissionaire, without the racist overtones.
“I encounter racism all the time, I see it when I enter a grocery store,” Gray says, “just like a white person might feel uncomfortable when walking into an all-Black club. Except that the Black person may get shot, because there is a power imbalance in the mix. Just look at what happened to the young Black mother accused of shoplifting before she even left the Walmart store.”
Meanwhile, any efforts by Gray to seek accountability have been unsuccessful.
Questions emailed by Gray to HHB, about the process to lodge a racial profiling complaint, how many such complaints have been filed before, whether there is diversity training for staff, have not yet received a response.
When the Nova Scotia Advocate asked similar questions earlier on we were told that “We believe this to be a matter between Mr. Gray and HHB.”
“Things need to change in this province. I’d be happy if only one person who reads this story decides to speak up. Others will see that, and it will snowball,” Gray says.
“The long and short of it is, if you’re a racist then you should be fired, And anyone who is condoning that atmosphere should be fired as well,” Gray says. “That would cut out all this bullshit talk about sensitivity training, counselling, and all these other stupid phrases that they use to cover up what’s actually going on.”
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