Note: Chronicle Herald headlines are screenshotted — the Examiner will not be linking Herald articles while the strike is ongoing.
1. Black and white reporting
What happens if you’re a Black man from North Preston whose daughter is murdered? You get accused of gang connections:
CBC News has confirmed [Edward] Downey is connected to the North Preston’s Finest (NPF) gang. It also goes by the name Willis Crew. NPF members recruit girls in the Maritimes, forcing them into prostitution in cities across Canada, according to Ontario police.
Downey shares this gang connection with Taliyah’s father and Baillie’s most recent boyfriend.
The National Post weighed in too:
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.”
Okay, so the grieving family of murdered Black children are still suspect.
What if you’re a Black shooting victim?
Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP have yet to connect the recent shooting deaths of Richards, Naricho Clayton and Daverico Downey to drugs, guns or gangs, but they are exploring that possibility.
Okay, so Black victims will be investigated for ties to drugs, guns, and gangs.
Mark Totten, a professor of criminal justice at Humber College, says he wouldn’t be surprised if the recent murders were connected to North Preston’s Finest.
“In my estimation, this could be internal. . . .We don’t know whether these murders are being committed inside the NPF or whether there’s another gang involved. Neither would surprise me. It could be a gang looking to settle scores,” he said.
What about white victims?
Murder victim Tyler Keizer was a teenage violent offender — from a family including Hells Angels supporters — but a gang enforcement unit has not found that he had any criminal ties to the resurging biker organization.
“Keizer has never crossed our radar in that sense, nor has any information come in,” said Cpl. Mike Kerr, with the Combined Forces Intelligence Unit.
Photos on Keizer’s step-mother’s Facebook page show multiple family members wearing “Support local 81” clothing. The font matches a poster for the Hells Angels’ June Musquodoboit Harbour homecoming party, bearing the same tagline.
“You can go get a sweater for $25 bucks. It doesn’t mean you’re criminally affiliated, but it shows you support them. You’re contributing to their legal fund nationally and internationally,” said Kerr.
Okay, so what you wear doesn’t matter then. It doesn’t mean anything about your gang ties.
News 95.7 has confirmed Shawntez and Daniel Downey are brothers living at the same North Preston address and both along with Smith are linked to a North Preston gang who call themselves ‘HBC’ or ‘Head Bustin’ Crew.’
Shawntez has been one of the most prominent photo sharers on his Instagram account, but a number of others have also shared posts to Instagram and Facebook sporting gear emblazoned with the gang’s logo.Both Daniel Downey and Smith have also both appeared in social media posts with HBC attire, while the posts on Instagram and Facebook repeatedly refer to the group as a gang.
2. The “Problem” of Blackness
As white nationalists celebrated Trump’s appointment of former Breitbart news editor Steve Bannon as “chief strategist and senior counsellor,” many people pointed out that Breitbart has a vertical dedicated to “black crime.”
The Black criminal in the white imagination has its roots in enslavement, and white fears of Black slave uprisings. Whites feared Blacks specifically because of their brutalization of Black bodies – that one day the bodies they whipped, raped, murdered, worked to death, tortured, amputated, and controlled would pay them back. It was their own violence towards Black bodies that made white people imagine Black people as savage and violent, and that image of savage and violent Blacks in turn justified the need to control Black bodies by whatever means necessary.
I think it’s really important to contextualize that violence within the broader context of another plane of violence that has to do with systemic neglect. You have to be systematically deprived of resources and the ability to support themselves, and then you will have these kind of conditions where it breeds these kinds of impulses to enact violence against themselves. Because systems perpetually convey the message that their lives are worthless. That who they are is of little to no value to the community. And that is replicated in the policy decisions that happen about who gets resources, and who doesn’t. And so you have socio-systemic neglect, you have an absence of resources, you have the breeding of a number of social conditions that fundamentally end up leading to the kind of conditions where it makes it more likely for violence to occur. So I think it’s important that we contextualize what is happening.
It’s a very basic thing just in terms of accessibility to firearms to begin with. How is it that we have conditions within communities where these things are accessible and viable tools? It’s because of the absence of other resources that would serve towards the building of communities. Instead we have destructive resources that end up infiltrating our communities and the ways in which we express our frustration and desires to be seen as human end up finding more destructive paths. (Interview with Anthony Morgan, human rights lawyer.)
Black people aren’t just seen as violent, we are seen as differently violent. White violence is an anomaly, a problem with the individual. But Black violence is a problem with the community. The statement of facts in the murder of Catie Miller sparked outrage and revulsion, but it wasn’t seen as a white problem, and once the news was reported, the media moved on. No connections were made in the articles, for example, with the murder of Kristen Johnson or with the murder of Catherine Campbell. Nobody suggested that white men have a problem with murdering their intimate partners and that the whole white community should do something about this problem. There aren’t weeks of coverage about the issue. There isn’t even an issue.
Coverage of Black shootings, however, is treated differently. It is always a crisis in the Black community. There are panels convened on news shows, community leaders are approached for comment, there are weeks of coverage discussing what is to be done, and why this occurs, and who is responsible.
One of the reasons why I think it’s fundamentally problematic is that you have a number of policy decisions that are made about communities, and then when you have the negative outcomes that almost certainly follow, then it becomes the Black community’s problem. But no, these are not issues that were created by Black communities deciding on the resourcing of our well-being. If we look at how much investment is put into social infrastructure: job creation, education, recreation, leisure – these kind of things end up being luxuries in our community. And these are not things that are the community’s fault.
So it’s a hypocrisy that lacks any kind of moral credibility when you look at how these decisions are made in a broader context and how they impact communities in very direct ways. Before you look at the immediate expressions of violence, let’s look at how these communities are systemically deprived consistently. So it’s not for the Black community to pick up and fix and find its own community heroes, this is for politicians, policy makers, and folks who represent the mainstream more generally to think about how they’ve supported decisions being made about who gets what, where, when, and how that plays out for us in real terms. (Anthony Morgan)
While the News 95.7 referenced above goes straight for the “Black men throwing up gang signs” imagery to enforce the idea of Black criminality and scary Black thugs, other news sources are more subtle. Sensitive, even. You won’t see a headline on CBC talking about Black thugs. The police chief can speak about “root causes,” and acknowledge the social conditions of “health, education, housing and economic opportunities” that lead to violence. The mayor can talk about our “collective loss and our shared responsibility.” These are compassionate statements that recognize oppression and structural inequality as playing a role.
But the intensity of the coverage itself works to suggest that Black violence is something more rooted, more severe, than violence in any other community. The saturation of coverage itself, the sheer number of articles and meetings and panels and roundtables, work to associate Blackness and the Black community with violence. The white community loves to discuss the Black community as a problem, and when we’re a problem, that means we are different.
Even this well-meaning coverage works to reinforce the idea that Black people are not the same as everyone else, that our communities are pathological, and that something has to be done about us. Scroll through any local news site in the last two weeks and see just how much attention there is to Black violence, above any other issue. Or how Black shootings are worked into any article on Black people. Oh yeah, and also white men keep killing their partners, but that’s normal, unlike Black shootings. There is no address from the mayor or open letter from the police chief about white male violence.
Ultimately, a lot of this is allowed to persist, and you don’t see any kind of meaningful systemic response because there is a permissiveness when it comes to these things that Black people, this is their fate, this is an inevitability. Black death is commonplace. We’re born to die. We’re born to die in violent ways, especially as young Black males. Not exclusively, but more particularly when it comes to gun violence. And so you have the normalization of this. So who is allowed to live as human is often constructed with Blackness on the outside.
And so you can have people who are just upset about gun violence, you’ll have marches, you’ll have talks, but you’ll never see any kind of meaningful, aggressive, systemic, long-term, sustainable intervention into the conditions in communities that breed these kind of things. Why? Because we’re not seen as being worth that kind of investment. There is an understanding that’s allowed to persist that this is just an inevitability of Blackness. And that is fundamentally anti-Black, but that logic runs through Canadian governments writ large in Halifax, in Toronto, in Montreal, and arguably across the Western world. We’re not seen as full humans.
If it were arguably any other people, there would be up and down commissions of inquiry, and resourcing, and all kinds of programs that would be instituted on a long-term basis that would impact structural change for much of the future if it were anyone else but us. (Anthony Morgan)
Black people are even subtly held responsible when the victim isn’t Black. The shooting of Tyler Keizer took place on Gottingen. Articles before the victim was identified referenced Naricho Downey’s shooting taking place a “stone’s throw away.” Even though Keizer is white and a suspect hasn’t been identified, the early reporting implied that the shooting had to do with Black people.
Even once Keizer was identified, the markers of Blackness are invoked to imply that his shooting takes place in the context of Blackness, and therefore Black people are still responsible. Keizer’s shooting, for example, is cited in articles about the Black community and the shootings as though he were Black. These early assumptions influence a white audience that constantly see shootings associated with Black people. Even once the victim is revealed as white, the early impression about Black violence has already been made, and continues to affect the way white people think about Black people, coding violence as Black.
Keizer was reportedly living in the shelter on Gottingen Street. Black communities, of course, don’t decide where shelters are located. His presence there seemingly would have to do with the lack of housing supports for people released from incarceration. But by reporting that he was shot on Gottingen, the implication was that this had something to do with the Black community.
Before the victim was identified, even Black people flooded social media with posts talking about “not again!” and “we have to stop killing our own!” By marking the shooting as Black by connecting it through location to previous Black shootings, even as the victim allegedly had “ties to organized (read: white criminal organizations) crime,” the Black community was again associated as the only source of violence.
It’s treated as different, but also as an inevitability. That we are inherently violent as opposed to thinking about the fact that we are constructed to be violent. [That’s] the messaging that we get consistently, if you look at media, if you look at how we’re handled, how we’re criminalized, the messages that we project to kids. In our schools early on, if you look at suspension and expulsion rates, if you look at how we are criminalized through the school to prison pipeline, if you look at child welfare systems where you often have state intervention for some of the most mundane things when it comes to child behaviour, you have early constructions of violence that end up manifesting later on. And so there is, I think, a general widespread sense that it’s inevitable. So even though they’re sad and they express these serious gestures of sympathy, at the end of the day, the feeling is that this is an inevitability of Blackness. But it is not. It’s absolutely not.
And it has a lot to do with white imaginations about who Black people are. They already believe us to be fundamentally violent people or aggressive people, unruly, uncontrollable, and so their death ends up being kind of inevitable, and a kind of state of nature. There’s a Hobbesian state of nature quality of Black life – I think that’s how many politicians and policy makers view Blackness, like being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. That’s the philosophy that I think subconsciously and often consciously is adopted when it comes to Blackness. So it’s just allowed to continue. (Anthony Morgan)
The very fact that white organized crime exists makes it obvious that Black people are not the only people who are criminal or violent, nor that violence is particular to our community, and that white people engage in systematic violence and criminal activity.
The Hell’s Angels, though, are even held up as a solution to Black violence and people celebrate their return. White violence is consistently made invisible, while Black violence is hyper-visible, just as Black bodies are made hyper-visible and policed, incarcerated, and controlled, while Black lives are rendered invisible.
Black criminality is also coveted by whites as “real” Blackness. White consumption of hip hop or gangster images are used to bolster their own “authenticity”: being down with Black guys enhances white status. But that Blackness is never the Blackness of Black professionals or writers or thinkers or workers. It’s “hood” Blackness that is desired, and that is required of Black people to provide and replicate. White people will insist they are “really” Black, and “realer” than actual Black people, because they have been to jail, or because they are poor, or because they deal drugs. This preserves whiteness, as when white people act in criminal ways they are seen as adopting Black behaviour, and when they reform, they return to whiteness. Blackness is seen as a costume or style that can be adopted when conveniently cool, then discarded by the white person, just as Black bodies that provide the material for white consumption of exotic criminality are discarded.
What also preserves whiteness is white concern over Black pathology, which reassures white people that they are good, civilized, progressive, and not at all like Black people, the “other.” Black shootings become a public ritual where white people reaffirm their whiteness through the image of dead Black bodies. White outrage, concern, upset, and fear override expressions of Black grief, mourning, and pain, and it is white reaction that is centred — it is white feelings that must be reassured by constant media coverage that something is being done, and Black people are recruited to soothe white anxieties. The white imagination “needs” Black people to perform as, and be constructed as, criminal. In this way, whiteness and its fundamental difference from Blackness is reinforced.
Amid this constant coverage of Black violence and Black criminality, Black people ourselves internalize the idea that we are differently violent. Myths about so-called “Black on Black” crime are consistently enforced, leading Black people to believe that we commit a different, worse, kind of violence. Black people also accept false narratives of “Black on Black crime” and Black pathology as a survival strategy — if we don’t step forward to address what we are doing as a community, and to show we are taking responsibility, then we are terrified that something worse will be forced on us. One way we protect the community is by agreeing that we have a problem so that we can fight for solutions created by us.
It’s dangerous to refuse the narrative of Black criminality — if we do so, we are “proving” we are not equipped to handle “our” problem, and that justifies police, social workers, prisons, housing, politicians, or other authorities to solve it for us, the way they “solved” the problem of Africville, or how they “solved” the problem of Black children. We require a different kind of justice, because we are not rehabilitatable, and we can’t be saved.
Despite Black people being held constantly responsible for the actions of other Black people, white people persist in delegitimizing any Black protest against racism with “why don’t they do something about Black on Black crime?”
White people’s refusal to entertain the idea that they have any responsibility to address structural injustice as long as any Black crime persists allows white people to point the finger at Black communities and absolve themselves not only of crimes against us, but of their own violence towards each other, as white on white crime is not similarly constructed.
We have a country that imagines itself with an absence of Blackness. So if you can’t imagine a space with Blackness, how can you imagine Black suffering? And if you can’t imagine Black suffering, you can’t imagine Black humanity. And so we’re simply not seen, and so if we’re not seen we cannot be seen as human. And so, because we’re constructed outside of the realms of normalcy in what constitutes Canada as a state – or even not normalcy, but just presence, humanity, and the fullness of being, then of course when these tragic things happen it’s seen as some inherent flaw within us as a people, as opposed to the fact that these ills that affect us were created by Canada. They’re created by the oppressions that we experience on this soil, that we’ve been experiencing since we found ourselves – most often – dragged here, or planted here as a community trying to strive and find our way as African people. (Anthony Morgan)
The effect of the current reporting is that all Black activity and experience is seen through the lens of crime. If we meet as a community, if we mentor youth, if we elect a city councillor, it all is placed in the context of Black crime, as though our entire lived experience is simply a response to criminality in our community.
Black shootings come to define the experience of Blackness, and so Black people are not allowed any kind of being or existence outside of a narrative of Black violence. In the very act of reporting on the “solution,” the “problem” is being perpetuated, as Blackness and Black life is associated only with violent Black death.
And thus, we are always guilty — guilty and imprisoned, guilty in death of bringing it on ourselves, guilty as a community for our parenting, our music, our responsibility for “black on black crime,” guilty of not saying or doing enough, or too much, guilty of marching, guilty for meeting, guilty for calling out racism: guilty for white deaths, for contaminating the white community, guilty of the crime of Blackness, of being alive and Black, of being dead and Black, of being a Black being at all.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the policy of strip-searching male prisoners at Central Nova Scotia Correctional facility every time they received their methadone treatments. I wrote about how prisoners I spoke to had described the practice as degrading and humiliating, and how subjecting people to searches in the context of medical treatment is damaging and can prevent them from seeking care.
But afterwards, I started thinking about how we can see the term strip-search and absorb it — how we pass it by in articles, but don’t really think about how it actually feels or what actually takes place. It’s a term that’s familiar to us when we think about prison, but at the same time that familiarity allows us to accept it as a commonplace or normal condition. It’s easy to see strip-searching as a minor part of imprisonment, or for policy makers to consider it a small inconvenience. It may not seem like that big a deal.
So I asked people how it felt. Even asking them felt invasive. There isn’t a great way to ask people if they can describe to you something so personal, or a way that doesn’t feel voyeuristic. And my discomfort with asking the question in itself brought home to me how dehumanizing this experience is — because people normally don’t go around even asking each other casually about our naked bodies, but people who are incarcerated are expected to present and submit their bodies to the view of strangers.
So what does it feel like to be strip-searched?
One man describes his the experience this way:
When you first come to jail and you get strip-searched for the first time you feel humiliated. You got to give them an article of your clothing one at a time, and you know, some people get shy. And with men sometimes “things” happen. And then you got to lift your scrotum. If you’re not circumcised you gotta pull the head of your dick back, make sure there’s nothing in there. You have to show them ten fingers, ten toes. You have to turn around in front of two grown men and you have to bend over, squat and cough. And then they give you your clothes back the same way they took them from you, one at a time.
So it’s degrading. It’s shameful. But the more times you go to jail or the longer you’re in jail it’s like you get numb to it. They can pull me up and strip-search me, I’ll throw my clothes off for them. They don’t have to ask me to show them my ten fingers, ten toes, or lift my scrotum, or turn around. I already know the routine. So when you got as much time in as I do it’s no big deal, it’s a part of the game. But when you’re first starting out it’s very humiliating.
Humiliating, degrading, awkward. You see the two guards and they’re looking at your junk and stuff and it’s like holy, you know? Now when I get strip-searched I’ll strip butt-naked and stand in front of them, look them in the eyes and be like, is this what you want to see?
And that bend-over cough shit don’t work. I’ve known guys that have shit shoved in their asses, and not once did they ever cough and it plopped out their ass.
It’s nothing now to get strip-searched, but when I first started, yeah, it was fucked up.
For many women, strip-searching brings back memories of abuse:
I grew up in abusive home where I was raped and continuously beat on. It makes me feel disgraced to have other people look at me while I’m naked. It’s very traumatic and brings me back to when I was a child being stripped down by my abusers.
It’s very degrading and uncomfortable. I feel very violated.
Another man had this to say:
Unless you’re real comfortable with your body it’s kind of just weird. Another person looking at your body naked that you don’t want to be seen. It’s just weird.
It’s just a weird feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just awkward. I don’t know, I just don’t want to strip down in front of a guy. It got easier than when I first came in, but yeah, it’s just odd.
He particularly found searches after visits to be humiliating, because you’re feeling so good when you get a visit, and then the search brings back to you that you’re in prison.
From another woman:
When I was in provincial, it was like, take all your stuff off, watch us rifle through your underwear, and squat and cough, grab your toes, lift your boobs. But [in federal] it’s one piece of clothing at a time and they let you put your clothes back on afterwards.
The first time you experience it you never forget it. It’s pretty rough. Because you know you’re getting strip-searched. You know you’re coming in, you’re taking your clothes off. Like, it’s a known fact. You’re going to jail, they’re going to give you jail clothes and you’re going to get strip-searched. But it’s done in the hole, so like segregation, so it’s like a cement room, and two big guards come in, and they’re like alright, strip! I was freaked out.
Men aren’t allowed, but there’s a camera.
It’s violating, for sure. It’s not fun. Like, they want to see all your embarrassing parts. I don’t think I’ve ever squat and coughed for any intimate partner before, you know? Like, it’s gross.
And there’s no use for it…Squatting and coughing didn’t pop anything out…
[After I apologized for asking something so personal.] No, no, it doesn’t bother me. You get desensitized, I guess.
They all described humiliating and even traumatic experiences that only become bearable through numbness or desensitization. The cost of that desensitization, of having to close yourself off emotionally to cope, has consequences for people and their loved ones when they get out.
In these testimonies, the strip-search often marks a lone: the point where your body moves from being a free and human body to being an incarcerated body. In this way, the strip-search perhaps serves more as a ritual humiliation to drive home to the prisoner that they are under penal control, and is less about an effective security measure: especially since, as was pointed out, searches are completely useless in finding contraband.
Strip-searching should never be something done casually, or made routine, or something that we think of as a small thing. When we put people in prison, we don’t only take away their freedom, we take away their control over their body. Their bodies can be watched, invaded, searched, displayed, bent over, confined, in the most intimate and violating ways. We might accept that as a consequence of being in prison, but we should never accept that it doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t cause pain.