Before we start:
1. Chronicle Herald hires scab writer who believes Lucifer is in our phones
Some people might publish an untrue and inflammatory story about refugee children, get shamed nationally, and resolve to put whatever processes and policies in place to make sure it never happens again. Or, perhaps some people might bring the actual trained and professional journalists back to work who are capable of writing accurate stories. Those people are not the management of the Chronicle Herald.
Not content with the refugee children debacle, it apparently seemed like a good idea to hire a freelance scab writer to cover Halifax Pride who offers us such deep thoughts as:
AND WHY IS THERE NO WHITE HISTORY MONTH.
Other potential deep journalistic questions we might ponder during Pride: Why is there no straight pride flag? Oh, wait, there is!
“The flag you see to the right was unveiled as part of Russia’s annual Day of Family, Love, and Fidelity (great name, guys), and depicts the ideal nuclear family — a mother, father and three children. And by three children they mean two boys and one girl, naturally. United Russia wouldn’t want to accidentally empower women or anything.”
One might charitably have thought that the refugee story was the result of incompetence rather than an actual ideological position taken by the Herald management. That benefit of the doubt is harder to give when they hire a writer with views like these:
— Tony Tracy (@Tony_Tracy) July 15, 2016
Apparently the coverage of the refugee children story by Rebel Media was so successful that the Herald decided we really need more of this kind of thing in our news:
Is there some misguided belief at work here that “balanced journalism” requires hiring a transphobic bigot to cover Pride? How did this process go, exactly? “You know what we need? Somebody to do some really hard-hitting journalism about PENIS BELONG IN BATHROOM WITH PANTS ON DOOR.” Somebody call the Pulitzer committee.
Sure, you might say, anti-Muslim sentiment, transphobia, straight people rights, those are ugly views, but a little conventional perhaps, given that we live in a world where Donald Trump is a candidate for President. Sure, he’s fixated on the genitals of strangers, but what are his views on Satan?
When Canadians start inviting Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, Satan himself, into their homes via their television sets and computer screens and smartphones, you know the values of this country have changed in a dramatic way in the past few decades.
Somebody better tell Milton that fictional representations of Lucifer lead to reality shows and the gays adopting children and women wantonly availing themselves of the baby killing services/waterslides at Abortionplex, “Canada’s Uterus Wonderland.”
Hey, does he know there’s demons in our Pokémon Go?
Canadians, who are identified by their government with the Social Insurance Number (or SIN) for short, have largely accepted values which are indeed very much in step with what Satan would consider to be perfectly fine.
Also, sometimes the government asks for our Date of Birth (D.O.B.) which also stands for Dykes on Bikes. OMG! The government is covertly imposing the gay agenda on us! Better do some investigative journalism at Pride about that.
Wait, he sounds like some sort of anti-government terrorist. Has anyone investigated him? Oh, it’s only unpatriotic and anti-Canadian if Indigenous, brown, and Black people criticize the Canadian government.
What a shock, he may be less than truthful!
Gee, I wonder if he has issues with Black people?
I saw that coming.
The alarming thing is, I can make fun of Risdon all day, but a major mainstream local media outlet has actually hired him to “report” the news. The same news organizations that will run serious stories on whether Black Lives Matter are bullies and always want to give “two sides” to stories on racism treat these extremist views as though they are objective and legitimate news. As if during Pride week what’s really needed is someone to stand up for “straight rights.” Apparently one week of stories about the LGBTQ community needs some kind of corrective action because not being the news 100 per cent of the time is oppressive to straight white men or something.
All of this would be farcical, except for the fact that while journalists remain on the picket lines, the management of the Herald thinks this is the exciting direction contemporary newspapers should be taking. Who needs painstaking reporting when we can have someone writing about Satan in our homes?
2. It’s getting hot in here
It’s not that I walk around every day thinking, “how would this situation be different for prisoners?” But one of the realities of prison is that so many things that we don’t give any thought to in our daily lives are so difficult for people who are incarcerated.
One of these things is the hot weather. Especially in Nova Scotia where we can expect cold temperatures and rain well into June and July, we get extremely excited for hot days and “good” weather.
But if you’re in prison, this weather can be worse than uncomfortable. It can be life threatening. Prisons aren’t air conditioned. This probably has less to do with the inability to install air conditioning, and much more to do with the sense that people often have that prisoners ought to be punished. In Louisiana, for example, a state where there is no budget for public defenders and where prisoners were trapped in their cells during Hurricane Katrina, the state has spent more than $1 million fighting the installation of air conditioning at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The cost to install air conditioning? $225, 000.
The objections to air conditioning in prisons are usually based in the perception that loss of freedom isn’t “enough” of a punishment and that criminals deserve to suffer. People may argue that they don’t have air conditioning in their homes, so why should people who commit crimes get air conditioning on the taxpayer? But obviously, a home is a much different structure than a prison.
I don’t have air conditioning in my apartment either, but I can open all the windows, put on fans, take cold showers whenever I want, go outside to get some air, and so forth. Prisons, built for security, are not built for air flow. You cannot prop open a door to get more air circulation, and with the way the buildings are constructed, temperatures are much higher on the ranges than outside. In maximum facilities, which are higher security, prisoners are not allowed swivel fans. One inmate told me that in a maximum facility, the windows open on a wheel crank, which are often broken. The cell will have a small window, but it may either be stuck open, leading to freezing cold temperatures in winter, or stuck closed, leading to sweltering conditions in the summer. While lower security facilities have windows that open and inmates are allowed better fans, the heat is still stifling.
Air conditioning in prisons isn’t a luxury, it is an issue of human rights. Prisoners literally die in the heat, and prisoners with susceptibility to heat because of medical conditions, medication, and old age are particularly vulnerable. One of those conditions, according to the lawsuit in Louisiana, is diabetes. In Canada, Indigenous and Black populations have higher rates of diabetes than other groups, meaning that heat injuries also are more likely to affect prisoners from these communities. As with most injustices, the people hit harder are always racialized populations who are already disadvantaged in the system.
While Canada doesn’t experience the same suffocating heat as regularly as the Southern United States, air conditioning is still a serious issue in our facilities. With a heat wave in Quebec this week, temperatures hit 33 degrees, which felt like 42 degrees with the humidity. In the prisons outside Montreal, work had to be stopped due to the dangerous heat and risk of heat injury.
I’ve written before about prison labour and the CORCAN shops. These shops are not air conditioned, but the offices where the bosses work are. The prisoners I talked to suspected that the work stoppage was less about protecting them, and more about the supervisors not wanting to have to come onto the shop floor in the high temperatures. While work stopped this week, throughout the summer temperatures have been well over 30 degrees and prisoners have been expected to labour; grinding, for example, hundreds of sheets of metal for less than $5 a day. Access to water or to other means of cooling themselves are limited.
Similarly, on the ranges, the “bubble” where the guards sit is air conditioned, the living area for the prisoners is not. This actually does affect the work conditions of the guards as well, who have to do walks in the heat wearing heavy vests and other equipment. For guards that also may experience heat-related illnesses, surely this is also a labour rights issue that should be alarming even for those who don’t care about prisoners’ rights.
This week in one of the prisons outside Montreal, an older man had a heart attack in his cell. It is not unlikely that the heat was a factor. Even worse for prisoners, medical care in prisons is not always accessible, or fast. Prisoners are not always able to push the panic buttons in their cells, or guards may not be able to get there in time, or there may not emergency teams available. Prisoners who are feeling ill don’t always have easy access to doctors, and prisons don’t have adequate medical facilities. A prisoner who is feeling ill in the heat may be waiting for a doctor to come to the prison, or may be waiting for a transport to the hospital for tests, all of which mean that they are far more likely to suffer from untreated conditions until it’s too late.
Another heat related consequence? One of the prisoners was summoned to health care after his blood tests came back. He’s on lithium, so he is tested regularly. The nurse told him that the levels of lithium were so high in his blood that they were surprised he “was still standing.” Dehydration and the heat likely contributed to this life-threatening imbalance in his medication. Luckily for him, the tests came back early enough to intervene — but what might have happened if he had reacted to the drugs in his system, drugs he needs to treat his moods? Should his moods have been altered through no fault of his own, and outside of his control, and he had reacted violently, he could have ended up in segregation or shipped out to a maximum facility. Who would think to check to see if the heat had created problems with his medication?
Beyond medical consequences, the heat creates tensions that can lead to violent incidents. When people are on edge all day, living in close quarters with no relief, small things can set people off. The ranges become more dangerous for prisoners and for guards. Many prisons are already hazardous due to black mold, feces and urine on the walls and floors particularly on lockdown ranges and segregation that aren’t cleaned properly, hygiene issues with garbage and infestations — and many of these conditions are exacerbated by humidity and heat, to the point that the walls are literally dripping wet.
In provincial facilities like Burnside, which are heavily overcrowded, access to showers is limited, so people may be going days in the heat without a chance to shower. The women are so overcrowded right now they are sleeping without mattresses and some women have reportedly been moved to segregation units simply because there is nowhere else to house them. There isn’t enough staff for the number of inmates, so the women have alleged they are being locked down not because of disciplinary infractions, but just because there aren’t enough officers available. Add to that food that is often processed and full of salts, canteen junk food that prisoners use to supplement their meals, difficulty in monitoring medications and whether people take or trade them, all creating health issues — and then factor in hot conditions, and you are asking for violent incidents or tragedies to happen.
So like I said, it’s not like I think people should walk around on a nice day and think “too bad it’s not this nice in prison!” I love the summer and basking in the heat too. But like most things in prison, so much of the realities of life inside is hidden from us so we don’t even know what the conditions are and how they affect people. And without knowing that, it’s also easy to think that if prisoners are complaining about the heat or asking for air conditioning that they’re just being whiners, or that if they wanted to be comfortable, they shouldn’t keep committing crimes.
But nobody should be sentenced to having a heart attack. When we sentence people to life, that means that we have elderly people in prison who are denied the care they need and often die terribly. A society that respects elders’ rights can’t also condemn seniors to cook to death in prisons. Do the crime do the time may be a principle many people accept, but that time does not include cruel or unusual conditions. And certainly the workers in the prison shouldn’t be subjected to dangerous conditions just to do their jobs.
If we are going to take people’s freedom and put them in custody, we also have the obligation to care for them when we take away their power and freedom to control their own bodies. “The taxpayer” may think they shouldn’t have to pay the relatively small costs of things like air conditioning that give prisoners some minimal quality of life, but denying these needs is ultimately more costly, including the loss of life.
3. Report: racism exists.
News 95.7 broke a report on Wednesday about racism in the Halifax Regional Municipality Operations Department.
The report by Turner Consulting Group entitled HRM Employment Systems Review was obtained by NEWS 95.7 and dated January 19, 2016, which also shows the systemic problems in the department have been compounded because of an overall failure to address them.
“The overwhelming opinion of the African Nova Scotian employees with whom we spoke is that they have experienced incidents of harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” the report reads. “Of concern to us is not just that these incidents occurred, but that they were not immediately and effectively addressed by supervisors.”
The report continues on to say the behaviour of supervisors in addressing some of the claims as described in personnel interviews “constitute harassment and discrimination.”
“The consultations with employees and interviews with supervisors suggest that the business unit is caught in a self-sustaining cycle of prejudice in which African Nova Scotians continue to be negatively impacted by experiences of harassment and discrimination, and supervisors and other employees dismiss these concerns or blame the victim for their response.”
This report is hardly surprising. As Dr. Isaac Saney pointed out at the recent Working While Black symposium:
“In 2011, African Nova Scotians had a rate of unemployment higher, 14.5 per cent, than the rest of Nova Scotia, 9.9 per cent and higher than African Canadians across Canada.”
Recent cuts to employment and job creation programs that target African Nova Scotian communities exacerbate the problem of underemployment in the community. Underemployment of African Nova Scotians also contributes to the cycle of racism in the workplace, both through the continuation in the workplace of the same attitudes that exclude racialized people, and through under-representation at all levels, including the supervisors who make decisions about the validity of complaints.
Many people from North Preston, for example, have learned to put they live in Dartmouth on their resumes, or use a different address than their home because of discriminatory hiring practices to their community. There is well-documented evidence that resumes with Black-sounding names are frequently discarded; and in Nova Scotia where there are common African Nova Scotian last names, employers can often easily identify Black candidates.
When people do find employment, the number of lawsuits, human rights cases, complaints, and settlements, from the Police to the Firefighters to government workers demonstrate how frequent and ingrained workplace racism is.
Perhaps more alarming than the initial incidents of racism (as well as homophobic bullying and sexual harassment) is the response by supervisors. Many people seem to persist in the belief that talking about racism is worse than actually being racist. It seems to me that the thought process is that we are taught that racism is “bad,” but we are not taught what systemic racism is, or how racism doesn’t require intent, or that unconscious racism is still racism. So people internalize the idea that if someone accuses you of behaving in a racist way, they are calling you a “bad” person. And since you can’t be a bad person, there must be something wrong with the person calling you racist, so people react by attacking the person experiencing racism.
One way to break the “cycle of prejudice” would be to simply believe people when they recount their experiences of racism, and to accept that when people speak about the racism they have experienced, it is extremely painful and difficult. The race card does not exist, because there is no benefit to people in experiencing racism, as though it were some joy to go to work and experience regular racist bullying. All the inclusion policies in the world won’t help until we accept that racism exists, that “good” people can both consciously and unconsciously behave in racist ways, and that talking about racism is not “disruptive,” “just as bad as racism,” or “bullying.” And it shouldn’t take commissioning reports to validate the experiences that people have been speaking about for years.
4. Animal-saving heroes
Proving that Black Lives Matter are bullies unfairly discriminating against police, a BLACK crow was rescued “from certain death” by a cab driver and former police spokesperson Sgt. Pierre Bourdages.
Well, that could be a sock or something, but we’ll trust it’s an injured crow.
WHEN YOU SEE THAT COP LIGHT BLING
COULD BE BIRD WITH BROKEN WING
“It was the cab driver who is actually the hero in this story because that bird was in the middle of the road and Regency Park Drive is a very busy road,” Bourdages said in an interview.
“The cab driver stopped and the bird couldn’t fly away. The cab driver stopped and actually prevented the bird from being run over.”
Well, sometimes you’re a bird-saving-hero, sometimes you get sent to prison.
I always wonder about these stories. Like, there’s a lot of national dialogue about the presence of police at Pride marches and other community events, so of course we get stories about police saving animals and whatnot. Man saves bird isn’t exactly news usually, but I guess whenever police do something decent there’s some need to report it to “counter” very real accounts of police brutality.
But saving birds doesn’t have anything to do with criticism people are making of police relations to Black communities, or evidence tracking procedures or anything else. Lots of people give food to homeless people, or stop to help injured birds, or generally act decent without it being a press release. Do we really need a step-by-step account of how the officer lured the bird into a traffic cone? I know that it’s summer and news is slow, but come on.
My criticism here isn’t of Bourdages, it’s of how the media reports “stories” like this, and then presents people who critique police presence at events like Pride as extreme, or crazy, or being unreasonable. Rather than holding police accountable, our media are much more likely to cover pro-policing propaganda while remaining skeptical of communities who talk about racialized policing. How could Black people hate on people who save birds, right? Maybe there could just be as much reporting about allegations of misconduct as there are of feel-good stories.
Anyway, I’m no trained investigator or anything, but I think I have a suspect:
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