1. Tylor McInnes and Doing Justice
After the death of Tyler Richards, Tim wrote about some of the difficulties in reporting on death.
I have been sitting beside people this week as their phones blew up with texts from reporters asking them if they wanted to comment on the death of Tylor McInnis, if they knew him, what sort of person he was. Some of those people refused to answer. Our communities have had so much negative and unfair reporting; they’d rather not talk. Other people want to talk to get their story out there, to tell about the person they knew beyond how they died.
It’s always hard when reporters talk about a victim’s criminal record. Especially when the victim is Black and the death is violent, it’s easy for people to imply they deserved it. They just all run around shooting each other anyway. Just a bunch of thugs. Writing about the sympathetic coverage of the book by Susan Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, Lasha points out:
The media’s role as the gatekeeper of whiteness cannot be overstated. There is no greater tool in constantly shaping and reinforcing the association of whiteness and white people with integrity, benevolence and superiority. This perpetual humanization of whiteness has the obvious, and perhaps deliberate, effect of dehumanizing blackness.
That’s the difference in black and white in America. When white people commit unspeakable acts, journalists spend years — decades even — on tireless expeditions digging through the killer’s life, talking to investigators, schoolmates and co-workers, trying to find some redeeming quality in the accused. Apologetic, tearful loved ones tell Diane Sawyer or Matt Lauer how the devil everyone knows is not the son they raised, the brother they grew up with or the husband they married.
No attempt is made to redeem black killers. That’s the obvious takeaway. The truest display of the purification of whiteness at the expense of blackness, though, is not found in how black killers are treated in contrast to white ones, but how the media tries black victims while bolstering the defense of white killers.
With words meticulously chosen, the Times stresses how the boy’s parents did all that could be expected to raise him to be a good person. A reference to Dylan’s arrest for breaking into a van in his junior year of high school seems presented only to highlight Dylan’s rapid rehabilitation, noting that he “sailed through a counseling program offered as an alternative, even graduating from it early.” That pat on the killer’s back for cleaning up milk he spilled is typical of the lens through which white criminals are viewed. Conversely, the Times described 18-year-old Mike Brown, a victim of a police shooting, as “no angel,” mentioning that Brown “lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol.” That we still know more about Mike Brown’s upbringing than that of his killer, Darren Wilson, is indicative of the trial black victims face in the media…
… I have not nor do I plan to read Sue Klebold’s memoir. As such, I am in no position to review her book. I don’t doubt that she loves her child. Nor would I seek to deny any parent the opportunity to redeem herself or attempt to redeem the child she lost. But those opportunities for redemption have been denied to women like Sybrina Fulton and Leslie McSpadden, the mothers of black boys whose attempts to present the loving child they knew are characterized as opportunism and exploitation. These women have been forced to defend their parenting, explaining that they did not raise the “thugs” the media is portraying, allowing the boys a quasi-victimhood at most, one that assigns the burden of their deaths to their actions.
Having a criminal record is used to discredit women when they testify about rape or abuse. It is used to dismiss the deaths of sex workers. When people die in custody, there is no inquiry, and their families fight for the deaths to be investigated. Oh well, they were addicts in jail. It doesn’t matter if the record is relevant to the death or not, once it’s reported the victim had a record, they become guilty of something in the eyes of many readers.
I point all of this out to say that the reporting in the CBC story on Tylor McInnis seems to be well aware of these problems, and trying to talk sensitively about difficult issues. Under a headline that emphasizes he is “remembered as such a good man,” Blair Rhodes and Kyah Sparks address the issue of his criminal record like this:
Tylor McInnis had a criminal past, but his most recent offence was more than four years ago. He was sentenced to three years in prison for having a loaded handgun in a car that was pulled over by police.
At his sentencing, Justice Michael Wood noted that McInnis had been hanging around with the wrong people.
“There may be people in your life who are a positive influence: your partner, your child, your mother, perhaps,” Wood wrote in accepting a joint sentencing recommendation for McInnis.
“It seems to me that you should be paying more attention to what those people are saying than some of the people that you have been socializing with or participating with more recently.”
Before his conviction on the weapons offence, McInnis was also part of a gang that stabbed a man during a confrontation in the Fairview neighbourhood of Halifax in 2011.
But it appears the time in prison helped McInnis turn his life around.
“Your motivation, engagement and accountability have all shown marked improvement,” the Parole Board of Canada noted in a 2013 decision granting McInnis day parole.
“You present a positive attitude and are motivated to change.”
McInnis did well on his day parole. The parole board subsequently wrote that it was satisfied McInnis had learned from his experience and had made positive changes in his life. It recommended he should be upgraded to full parole.
The main condition the Parole Board of Canada placed on his release was that McInnis stay away from known criminals.
It appears McInnis had no further run-ins with the law since he was released from prison.
I like a lot of this. They acknowledge that yes, he had a record, but also, people can change and that having a record doesn’t make you a criminal for life. I like that they include the comments from the judge and Parole Board that give a sense of how people get caught up in crime, and how they also work to leave it behind. I like that words like “learned,” and “change” and “did well” are included.
I recognize the experiences and struggles of a lot of the people I know dealing with incarceration and this feels human and humanizing.
There’s also some other things I notice about this passage. And when we put them together, they also tell a story, one about race and injustice.
“But it appears the time in prison helped McInnis turn his life around.”
The problem I have with this is that when we believe prison is there to help people, it’s easier to believe that prison is the solution. When we invest in prisons instead of beds in treatment centres, and treatment for mental illness, and job programs, and housing, we are not helping people.
There’s still a plantation mentality, that what Black men really need is more discipline, that the problem isn’t racism or poverty or generations of oppression, it’s that black people really just need to be policed and contained more.
If prison helps us, then the fact that we make up two per cent of the population and 14 per cent of the provincial jails isn’t a problem, it’s just what we need to fix us. I’m not saying the writers mean this or intend this, but I’m saying that when people turn their lives around in prison, because they get time to think, or counselling, or programs, or work, or education, or regrets, or maturity, or whatever changes — they can get those things without prison too. The only thing prison has is punishment.
“At his sentencing, Justice Michael Wood noted that McInnis had been hanging around with the wrong people.”
Again, while there is compassion in these comments, they also suggest that long histories of excluding Black people from neighbourhoods, from housing, from mortgages and loans, and concentrating Black people into high-crime areas where we can be easily policed, are somehow all our choice. As if Black people in this province weren’t denied land. As if white people ever let us rent or buy in their neighbourhoods. As if we prefer crime, as if white people who live in the South End just made better moral choices.
When we act as though our high rates of incarceration are only because we put ourselves into bad situations, and not because of deliberate laws and policies and practices that result in our poverty, lack of employment and education, over-policing and profiling, and all the other forms of oppression, we are denying that racism affects who is seen as criminal, who is convicted, and who does time.
“The main condition the Parole Board of Canada placed on his release was that McInnis stay away from known criminals.”
Except when you come from a community that suffers from mass incarceration, those “criminals” can be your family, the people you grew up with, your friends. And if you happen to be walking along the street and say hi to someone you know and the police see you, you can be sent back. Because when you police a community and throw people in prison more than other people, more people are going to have records.
“He was sentenced to three years in prison for having a loaded handgun in a car that was pulled over by police.”
The three-year minimum sentence for weapons was introduced in the Harper regime’s omnibus crime bill in 2008. In 2013, when McInnis was being granted day parole, the Ontario courts ruled that these sentences were unconstitutional. The African Canadian Legal Clinic, an intervener in the case, argued that these laws reflected systemic racism in the justice system:
“The ACLC was granted leave to intervene in a court case at the Supreme Court of Canada on the minimum sentencing laws that are resulting in the over incarceration of African Canadians. More specifically, the ACLC filed a factum for this matter, and presented oral argument which was heard November 7, 2014, which contended that minimum sentencing laws, in relation to first time offenders who are charged with possessions of loaded firearms, offended the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The ACLC previously intervened at the Ontario Court of Appeal on this same matter and the court agreed that the minimum sentencing laws did offend the Charter, as they often result in unfair punishments to offenders who plead guilty on account of systemic problems with the criminal justice system.”
Beyond the story of a young man who got caught up with the wrong people, did his time, and then turned his life around, is also the story of how laws are used to specifically target and incarcerate Black people. The minimum sentences for weapons made no difference between possession of a weapon with intent to use it in a crime, or simply having a gun in your house. The gun didn’t even have to exist to be convicted of firearms trafficking. Following the 2012 shootings in Toronto, Rob Ford and Jason Kenney characterized the shooters as “foreign gangsters” who should be deported, a response that linked gun violence to Blackness and Blackness to gangs. Black male violence is seen as a different, more dangerous violence than white violence, which is why there were people welcoming the Hell’s Angels back to “clean up crime.”
So McInnis’ trajectory isn’t just the story of positive change, it’s also the story of systemic racism and the criminalization of Black men. The story of his criminal record isn’t just the story of someone who made bad choices but turned his life around, it’s also the evidence of the ways our society denies any responsibility for racism or its histories, and blames Black people and demands personal responsibility for circumstances not of our making. It’s also the story of how despite these circumstances, people do make changes, and are positive and motivated, and sometimes that’s not enough either.
And it won’t be enough if we depend on prisons and harsh sentencing and bootstraps to fix our communities, and treat violence like it’s just something in Black people, something wrong with us, and nothing to do with racism at all.
2. Gorilla Pimps
We’ve already been over this.
And over it.
And here’s yet another article about Scotian pimps.
White reporters certainly seem like experts on African Nova Scotian communities:
Earlier media reports had suggested a link between Taliyah’s father, Colin Marsman, and North Preston’s Finest. But Marsman’s associates say he grew up near Uniacke Square in Halifax’s north end.
In a brief text message, Marsman said it was unfair to be “called part of a gang because you’re black and from Nova Scotia.”
“This has not been easy — not cool at all.”
Square, North Preston, what’s important is what Amherst city councillors in pizzerias would see, right?
I also like that sneaky use of “associates” there instead of “friends” or “acquaintances.” It’s a good way of making him seem like a criminal.
Speaking of language use, some Black readers objected to the use of the term “gorilla pimp.” When a Black woman is being harassed with images of Harambe, the use of ape imagery to dehumanize Black people isn’t exactly a thing of the past.
Those who use the term “gorilla pimp” will no doubt argue that it’s not meant as a racial descriptor. According to the article,
The typical profile of a North Preston pimp leans toward the “Gorilla pimp” — someone prone to get what he wants through violence and threats — as opposed to the more laid-back boyfriend-pimp, sometimes known as the “Romeo” pimp.
It’s about violence, you see, not about race.
Looking through histories of usage of the term, it’s clear it’s taken from Black vernacular — Jennifer James’ 1972 article on “Streetwalker argot” has heavily influenced its usage in law enforcement and media. VICE cops, according to another article, associate the term with “primitive-like behavior (personal communication, Det. Constable R. Payette, Vancouver Police Department VICE squad, December 2006.”
To be clear, I’m not advocating for pimps or for violent men who beat up women. Every single story at those links is horrifying. But when there’s a racially loaded term with a long history of being applied to Black people, that seems to only be used when talking about Black men and Black violence and Black pimps, that isn’t just about violence and pimping, it’s about race and sexuality too.
Phonse Jessome wasn’t interested in Somebody’s Daughter in Black women and girls who are pimped and trafficked and beaten; it was the imagery of the young white girl and the large Black pimp that he focused on. This isn’t just coincidence. The racially charged history of Black male sexuality is at the heart of Jessome’s portrayal of sex trafficking in Nova Scotia. The mythology of the super dangerous, sexually aggressive, savage Black pimp that Jessome publicized remains at the heart of the fascination with and fear of NPF.
The sexual threat of Black men attacking innocent white women justified lynching and segregation policies. Representing Black pimps as uniquely violent and the most like gorillas, the most animal and “primitive,” is yet another way of separating Black crime and Black violence from “normal” white criminality.
When we’re not as human as everyone else, it seems acceptable to accuse the grieving father of a dead Black girl of being a pimp like the rest of them.
Gail Dines describes a cartoon in Hustler in the 1980s, that depicts a “huge, ape-like ‘Black’ man with his arm around a small white female with a black eye and a swollen, bright red vagina hanging down to the floor…It is the woman with the ‘black’ man who is shown as brutalized, battered, and marked as victim. This cartoon, along with centuries of lynching, forced imprisonment, and media spectacles (such as the Willie Horton controversy and the O.J. Simpson trial) make it apparent that it is black men, not white men who carry the legal and social burdens of being the ‘fucker’ of white women.” Dines is analyzing why interracial pornography with Black men and white women is so popular:
On virtually every level, black men are defined by white culture as failing to meet the standards of white hegemonic masculinity. They are portrayed as shiftless, they need welfare to get food for their families, they drive pimp cars (when they can afford cars), and they engage in what Cornel West mockingly refers to as “dirty, disgusting, and funky sex.” And this is the problem for white men. While they would not swap their material privileges with black men, many white men would indeed like “black” sex as it is seen in the white racist imagination as “more intriguing and interesting.”…This white racist construction of black male sexuality is what drives IP…while simultaneously making this country an increasingly hostile and dangerous place for people (especially blacks) who fall outside the markers of whiteness.
George Elliott Clarke also sees this “pornographic” desire of white men projected onto Black men in representations of North Preston pimps, who must be punished for white men’s own obsession with Black sex and sexuality. “Hence the constant efforts of white male authority, in its confrontation with its own imagination of the negro phallus, to neutralize it through incarceration, surgery, medication, and even execution. Not only is the black man…a haunting penis, he is also the shadowy, lurking criminal.”
So yeah. “Gorilla pimping” may be “intended” to only describe the violence and threats certain pimps use to control and terrorize women, but what it actually does is make it clear that Black men aren’t like the rest of us, and that’s why we keep getting these articles.
Lawyer Duane Rhyno is representing himself on breach charges:
Duane Rhyno is facing charges of breaching conditions of a court order stemming from a September, 2014, case where Rhyno was accused of human trafficking and pimping a woman out of a hotel in the Annapolis Valley.
While he was awaiting trial on the pimping charges, Rhyno was released on conditions, including he stay away from the woman involved in the case.
Police allege Rhyno met with the woman in the Halifax area in violation of the court order.
Huh. Weird. I thought all pimps in Nova Scotia were from North Preston.
I wonder if Rhyno had to be escorted when he was in the Crown office too, or maybe he just didn’t seem as dangerous or something.
4. Life is Berry Good to the Elites
I have literally said that if there is a heaven, it would pretty much be me eating my way infinitely through a blueberry field, and I’m also broke as shit normally, so this seems like it should be good news.
But, like most things in Nova Scotia, it turns out there’s a “business elite” raking in corporate welfare angle to this story.
Back on August 8th, independent blueberry growers held a protest, “voicing complaints over what they call a “monopoly” by a large Nova Scotia-based company.”
Jean Maurice Landry, the spokesperson for the Northeast Wild Blueberry Growers Association calls the division of Crown lands by the New Brunswick government, and its co-operation with Oxford Frozen Foods “intimidation.”
“The province has invested $40 million in that new plant, and the new plant will accommodate berries from Maine and other provinces, but won’t take berries from other new buyers in the Peninsula,” said Landry.
“The situation is made worse since Jasper Wyman, which has been buying berries here for decades, has decided to close all its buying stations in the area.”
Landry believes there is a link between the closure and the request by growers for a marketing board to even the playing field.
According to the New Brunswick media co-op, Oxford Frozen Foods “received government approval to swap their private land for 15, 712 acres of Crown forest land.”
InvestNB, a provincial Crown corporation, has agreed to provide Oxford Frozen Foods a $37.5 million interest-bearing repayable loan to construct a blueberry processing plant. The company is promising to create 300 jobs and invest $184 in the plant.
It’s not like Jasper Wyman is a peach (food pun!). In 2003, in the case Pease v. Jasper Wyman & Son,
…A Maine state court jury found three blueberry processing companies liable for participating in a four-year price-fixing and non-solicitation conspiracy that artificially lowered the prices defendants paid to approximately 800 growers of wild blueberries and awarded $18.68 million in damages. After mandatory trebling under Maine’s antitrust law, judgment was entered for approximately $56 million.
In this analysis of the case, the lawyer for the wild blueberry growers explains:
Harvest occurs in August. Blueberries have 48 hours to be processed before they rot. Consequently, processors buy in a very local market. Once frozen, the blueberries can be sold worldwide. The price paid to the grower is a total unknown except for the largest growers. The field price is announced by the processors about six weeks after delivery, and payment could be delayed even further. Essentially, processors back out the field price from their own sales price. The case involved two conspiracies: (1) to fix prices and (2) not to compete.
(This book by Lisa Prevost discusses some of the conditions of migrant workers in Wyman’s fields, and the fight for adequate housing.)
I found this book by Alex Gordon, where he discusses the blueberry monopoly:
My grandfather’s business was eventually bought by one of John Bragg’s companies. John Bragg owns Oxford Frozen Foods among many other companies and it is one of the leaders in providing low bush blueberries around the world…The interesting concept is that the small and tasty blueberry that he sells only grows in selected locations around the world.
So, if someone were to effectively lock up the supply by become the only place to buy a quantity of blueberries, he would create a monopoly on blueberries. With high unemployment and limited opportunities for employment, people in the Atlantic provinces are selling their time to process freeze blueberries for the Oxford Frozen Food business to sell their product around the world. The environment is right to make a fortune, low labour costs and a near monopoly on a product that is in demand.
With the proceeds from selling blueberries around the world, John Bragg then started another local monopoly. He started a cable television business in the eastern provinces of Canada.
So, what it looks like is that Oxford Frozen Foods can buy up all the blueberries at the low price now, freeze them all, hold them back from the market and wait until blueberries are out of season, then put them back on the market at a higher price. Meanwhile, the small growers are forced out because of the low prices, and they can’t compete with the big private growing land and subsidies given to the big company.