Desmond Cole is in Halifax this weekend, keynoting at the Media and the Law conference. At around midnight on Saturday after a long day, I sat down with Desmond and recorded his take on some of our local news stories. Here are the first two stories we spoke about.

Some cuts have been made for length.

El Jones and Desmond Cole. Photo: Halifax Examiner

1. On the police beating and tasing a 17 year old girl

El: What story are you looking at?

Desmond: I was looking at this story about the 17-year-old girl who was attacked in her Lower Sackville home by the police. It’s a pretty wild story, except it happens all the time.

Photos provided by Wanda Gallant show injuries she alleges were caused when RCMP officers kicked her daughter Hannah repeatedly and Tasered her multiple times after they responded to a call at their home.

First of all, why are the police inside this girl’s house? That’s the first thing that comes to mind.

El: Don’t the parents call them?

Desmond: Yes, so the parents actually call EHS, and they say we think our daughter is having a bad trip from something she took.

El: Which is kind of weird in 2018. It just sounds like the premise for an anti-drug movie in 1970.

Desmond: Apparently when you’re 17 you can still have a bad LSD trip. Which is reassuring in many ways.

El: I’m not going to print that bit. [I did.]

Image from ici.radio-canada.ca

Desmond: Yeah, so then the EHS says, okay, here’s what you should do. Keep an eye on her and call us back if anything get worse. So then the parents are worried about her an hour later and they call. But then the cops are the ones that showed up the second time. And this brings me to like, okay. So you called for emergency assistance, which is what you thought your daughter needed. And you were getting the help that you needed. Everything was fine. But you got worried about her emergency medical condition, so then you called in more medical assistance. You didn’t ask for police with weapons to come to your house. You just wanted medical attention for your daughter. Which is normal.

And then the cops show up at your house. So what I was actually thinking when I was reading this was, yes, obviously why are the police in the fucking house, because you need medical assistance, but then, what happens if the parents who called the cops are like we don’t want you to come in our house because we didn’t call for you. We called for medical assistance. And you’re not that. So you’re actually not allowed to come into our house.

Image from cbc.ca

Would the police have the right to, you know, arrest the parents so that they could get into the house and do whatever they were going to do to this girl? It’s really, it’s wild to think that if they were like, this is not the help that we sent for, that they might have gotten into trouble for that, when they protected their own daughter, literally in her own bedroom of their own home. Like this is how unsafe this country is.

You know what I mean? But that got me thinking about even more stuff. Because then they choose to beat this girl very badly and to use a taser on her.

El: Did you read the statement they made? Because then they start talking about how she was violent and she was the one who hurt them.

Desmond: I would be “violent” if I were lying in my bed and the police came into my bedroom. Just for the record, if that ever happens, please expect me to be “violent.” If I can’t be violent, meaning if I can’t defend myself with the police in the bedroom of my own home when they come in and I don’t want them there, I don’t know what I’m doing here.

…Where is their statement…oh it’s written in excellent passive voice here I can see too…Okay so your investigations people are looking into it…Oh, that’s the SIRT statement. It’s written in such passive voice. “It was determined the youth had sustained injuries during the arrest.” Thanks, guys. Oh, so yeah, the actual police statement isn’t here.

The thing is, do we really even want to know what the police had to say about this? I don’t really want to know.

But, what I was thinking was, they also choose to use a taser on her. And I wanted to look up some stuff I read about Taser International who makes this weapon. Because you know, sometimes people refer to this when they want a euphemism, they’ll say conducted energy weapon or stun gun — Taser is a brand name, right? Taser is a brand of this kind of weapon. A very popular brand. Obviously the most popular. From everything I’ve heard, Taser has never tested their weapons on children. This may be surprising, but it’s also not really surprising. Because how do you get the clearance to do clinical trials, to say we’ve invented a stun gun that puts 50 thousand volts in your body, and we don’t know what it will do to a child. So we need to test it on children to make sure that it’s safe to put 50 thousand volts into their body. Would you like to sign your children up to test this weapon? I guess that wouldn’t have been very popular so they never did it.

Image from www.taser.com

I didn’t find that research or that evidence that I was looking for, but I did come across this from the United Kingdom. This is a story from the UK from late December. And it says that in the last five years, more than 2,000 children under the age of 18 have been tasered in the UK, and almost 70 of those children were under the age of 14.

So you know, when I see in Toronto that we just approved 400 more of these weapons for our police, I see that the way that the police pitched this request, they pitched it as these are life saving devices. You couldn’t shoot 2,000 children in the UK if you were the police. You would have wide-scale rioting and violence on your hands.

But, now that you have a so-called “less lethal” weapon, you can start introducing it into situations where you would have never used a weapon at all. And I think it’s very sobering. It’s very sobering when we think about the effects that this kind of policing has on our children. Because, training always comes up. The word training always follows any act of police brutality as a way of trying to distract us from the desire to use force to control human beings. And I think it’s a very sobering moment when we’re like, you know what failed — like for example in the case of this 17 year old — what failed is like, we didn’t train the police to not use this much force with a stun gun, or with their fists, or with a baton, on a 17 year old. We didn’t train them not to taunt her. If only we had trained them not to beat this child so badly, maybe they wouldn’t have beaten the child. It’s really sobering to think that’s the level of depraved conversation that we’re having.

Image contributed by Wanda Gallant to the Chronicle Herald.

El: And the thing is, part of the inquiry into Rehtaeh Parsons was, when she was in the IWK and struggling with self harm, they had like four men come and hold her down, and how traumatizing that was for a victim of sexual assault. And here we have another teenage girl, in her bedroom, and it’s male police officers, right? Like it’s not women that they sent in, right?

Desmond: No.

El: So, you know, they sent in some grown men. And she’s lying in her bed and these men burst in on her.

Desmond: This is the thing. So if you’re lying in your bed, you might be having an episode. And so while you’re experiencing psychosis, two men with weapons and a licence to kill you burst in, like, this is everyone’s nightmare, is it not? Like can you think of anything more scary?

El: And as a young girl. So of course you scream or fight back.

Desmond: But once those officers, once they decide they’re going to go into that house, what was really going to stop them? Because this is what I found fascinating about the police officer not killing Alek Minassian in Toronto and the conversation around that. Is that, I think people feel more comfortable with what happened to this girl than they do with Alek Minassian. Because I think people essentially feel more comfortable with the police having all the authority, being able to abuse that authority, sometimes or often abusing that authority — people feel more comfortable with that than the idea that police might not use their authority when people want them to. So if a few 17-year-old girls have to have their teeth broken and their bodies bruised by the police, that’s just an unfortunate consequence, so that if the police ever need to hurt somebody, they’re there to do that.

But seriously, this 17-year-old white girl that this happened to, who’s put her face in the newspaper: how is this family so sure that this is safe for them to do? This happens to Black kids all the time. But those people are terrified that they can’t go in the media, they can’t do what I’m looking at here. I’m seeing all kinds of pictures of her face and different angles of this girl’s injuries. And this happens a lot to people in our community and they’re too terrified to do what these people are doing.

So like, it is very shocking to see this, but we have to think about the people who this happens to who wouldn’t have access to tell you that it happens or would be too scared. This happens to homeless people all the time. When I worked in a drop-in centre for youth, the ways that we would see police using tasers on homeless people was a very eye-opening thing for me. Because there is just zero accountability there. The police would have you believe that homeless people are more violent. Just like in this story, they would have you believe that this girl is more violent.

But this is where I get into disarmament. This is where I get into the idea that if the paramedics had been the ones to come, they wouldn’t wouldn’t have had weapons, and they wouldn’t have had the right to use force. And if the girl had, let’s say, kicked them in the face with a socked foot as the officers said she did to them, they wouldn’t have injured her, I don’t think in these ways. Certainly if they did, there would be a lot likelier chance they would be held accountable, and the public would be outraged. Outraged in a way that they are not about this if they found out that paramedics did it.

Which is interesting because they’re just first responders. Which tells me that we don’t need the dudes with the guns, except that police don’t exactly have the most fantastic first aid training. It’s like we need to keep training police to do a job that they’re not trained to do. We never know why they’re there, they just have to be there all the time, and when they fuck it up we’re like, oh, it’s because we didn’t train them to provide first aid. You know what, we should train those goons with weapons to learn how to talk to people. It’s a terrifying conversation.

2. On the mall shooting conspiracy

El: What gets me about this story is they said they pulled her aside at the airport because she had sores on her face and bad teeth, and so they thought she was a drug agent. “It made me think she may be on drugs.” This is in the agreed statement of facts.

Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Image from halifaxstanfield.ca

Desmond: You know, I have to say, hearing the words out of your mouth when you say it like that, it’s confusing for me because I’m actually wondering if it was even true, or if it’s made up after the fact to justify something or to say that someone did something heroic or very noble, because it almost strains believability. You know what I mean? I don’t know, it rings true in another way, like I could see police profiling people this way of course.

El: I’m just saying, you better hope you don’t have acne and can afford a dentist if you’re in the Halifax airport.

Desmond: Do police really look at people with bad teeth and are like, I need to pull you over? It’s a weird, weird, weird, explanation. It just sounds like an excuse to continue stopping people who you think are trafficking drugs. I don’t know if I even believe it, I have to say.

[…]

El: The interesting thing about this mall story too is that it comes from a Crime Stoppers tip, because we all know they don’t monitor white supremacist boards and stuff. They’re too busy monitoring you and Black Lives Matter and Idle No More and environmental activists. They’re like, oh we got this Crime Stoppers tip and it would look very different in Halifax if we hadn’t got that tip. So this why they don’t have any information to start with because apparently someone who saw this stuff online or something tells them there’s these people planning a mall shooting, and now the police are trying to track them down. They have to figure it out, and they’re like, oh, if it wasn’t for that tip.

Which is interesting, because they’re posting on pro-Columbine sites and Nazi sites, which the police clearly aren’t monitoring. It’s the same thing with the incel sites with Manassian. Like there’s all these sites where all this fucked up shit is happening constantly, and they’re not looking at it, and they have no idea what’s going on, but they’re out here following your tweets and what you’re saying on the radio.

Desmond: First of all, absolutely, the police have no idea what white supremacists are doing in their organizing and I don’t think they care, because it’s not their priority. But again, is that really true? Is it true that one anonymous tip from Crime Stoppers is what brought this down, or are the police like, this is a great opportunity to promote Crime Stoppers.

[…]

El: This part is interesting, because you know how when a white man kills somebody, normally everyone is always like, oh we had no idea, he was so nice, what a shock. But here they’re like:

Yet her arrest didn’t come as a surprise to a small handful of high school friends.

“When we heard the news that she got arrested at the airport for what she was planning on doing, none of us were surprised,” Sabrina Szigeti, a former friend, said in an interview from Aurora, Ill.

In high school, she said Souvannarath displayed a “creepy” interest in Nazis.

“I met Lindsay in the role playing club in my high school,” Szigeti said. “We played Dungeons and Dragons and that sort of thing.”

She said Souvannarath made other students uncomfortable when she insisted on playing a Nazi ghost.

“Most of us would play gentle giants and elves,” she said. “It was really weird.”

Desmond: And see, this goes back to your point about no one being interested in what white supremacists are doing. And so people around her are like, you clearly are a white supremacist sympathizer or are one yourself, and that’s not on anybody’s radar.

Maybe the thing that is really throwing me for a loop here, maybe it’s a media thing, but the story is entitled, “How Police Foiled Valentine’s Day Attack.” The police didn’t really do anything though. The police took information from somebody, which I think, had this plot been carried out you would argue they should have had access to in the first place, and should have investigated themselves.

El: That’s what I’m saying. They should be monitoring this stuff in the first place.

Desmond: And I think that’s what’s fucking me up, that the police are getting the credit for being the heroes in this story, but what did they do again? Like, at basic, their job is to know this before it happened, but they didn’t. But people in the community knew. And the community failed also, because they’re like, yo, this girl loves Nazis and we’re not surprised that she’s hurting people, but let’s not do anything about that.

El: There’s this really interesting thread that gets talked about but not really taken up. So she’s biracial, and her parents in the letter to the court talk about how nobody was friends with her, she stood apart from everybody at the bus, she hated how she looked, she obviously got bullied for being brown. She spends summer camp with some Black kids and she’s happy because she’s like, those kids look like me. And then they move to this all-white place. So, can we talk about how this girl adopts white supremacy to fit in with white people?

Desmond: And her white racist boyfriend. Because he must know that she’s not white.

El: Right. So it’s interesting that they tell you all this in the story, but they don’t make the jump to, oh, this world is so fucked up and dangerous for brown girls that she chose to be a Nazi to try and fit in. Like, she went through all this racist bullying so she basically decides I’m going to become powerful by becoming a Nazi. Or, that the racist bullying sunk in so much that she’s like, yeah I hate brown people even more than you guys do.

Desmond: It’s weird, because none of that is here. It’s a very bizarre framing of the story. Like it’s hard to understand. And I think that part of that in this story is centring the police’s role when they clearly were hapless. I mean, this story is talking about how they failed to put out an alert when this was known:

A police officer at the airport spotted Shepherd in the waiting area and arrested him. Meanwhile, CBSA failed to get the alert to all agents handling incoming flights from the U.S.

So this is actually talking about a police failure in a story that is about how the police saved the day. The information in the story just suggests that it was dumb luck the police found her.

So again, isn’t this kind of an exaltation of arbitrary police stops? It’s an exaltation of two things: arbitrary police stops, and anonymous tips to the police.

Dominic Mallette, Atlantic director of CBSA, said the agency investigated why the alert wasn’t shared, but would not say what was learned.

I don’t know, this story weirds me out. Maybe it’s a combination of journalists asking the wrong questions and police offering up misleading, or unhelpful, or wrong information. That’s not really the story.

El: But it’s interesting on the headline here. “Nazi-obsessed woman who plotted 2015 Valentine’s Day ‘Der Untergang’ shooting spree at Halifax mall believed ‘stupid people deserved to die.’” Like, that’s what they choose as the headline. But they’re not like, “Girl subjected to racist bullying whole life adopts Naziism.”

Desmond: No. No, it’s definitely not that nuanced. But I do think here, at least the ideology being mentioned as the head is at least getting us a little closer to what the conversation ought to be, right?

El: But isn’t that interesting that it’s a brown girl and they’re going to put Nazi in the headline. When it’s white guys, they’re like “Mall plotter was nice man who loved comics, neighbours say.”

Desmond: Oh yes, yes, everyone said he was a lovely boy before this happened. It is interesting. But you see that one at least is saying that ideology has something to do with it? And the reason I bring that up is one of the politicians around here really went out of their way to say this was not a terrorist attack.

El: Yeah, that was Peter MacKay. He said they aren’t terrorists, they’re “murderous misfits.”

Desmond: What’s the difference? And that’s why I think it’s interesting around the use of the ideology there, because some people went even further and were like, this has nothing to do with any ideology of any kind. And I think that we’re about to see that again with Minassian.

3. Bonus sports story

Desmond: I didn’t read the piece about Brad Marchand licking people.

El: Well, that’s all you need to know. He fucking licked people.

Image from Yahoo! sports.

Desmond: Um…

El: I just think it’s interesting that a white man can do that.

Desmond: That’s an interesting comment too. Can you show me that story? It wasn’t a Halifax Examiner one?

El: No, we don’t do sports. What happened is he licked somebody once and they were like, “oh no, he’s licking people,” and then he licked somebody again and made a homophobic comment like “oh, I thought he looked like he wanted to cuddle.” And then the NHL basically politely asked him to stop licking people and he kept licking people. He wasn’t suspended or disciplined in any way, and they couldn’t seem to figure out how to get him to stop doing it.

I just find it interesting because when PK Subban danced on the ice once for 30 seconds in warmups before a playoff game and they were like “oh my God, he doesn’t play hockey the white way, I mean the right way.” Like literally that slip occurred, and then I’m like, Brad Marchand can fucking lick people?

Desmond: So you’re going to love the reference I’m about to make here, because that is exactly where my mind goes.

El: He’s from here, by the way.

Desmond: Brad Marchand is from here? But yeah, four years ago when PK Subban was still on the Montreal Canadians, they played Boston in the playoffs. So Shawn Thornton, who was a teammate of Brad Marchand’s at the time, squirted PK Subban in the face with a water bottle at the end of a game. So uh, this is a stupid piece by Bruce Arthur saying that this is a trivial thing that happened, and the only reason it became a big deal is because it was PK Subban.

But PK Subban, who is very respectability politics, he’s a very “if you work hard, your dreams come true. It happened to me” kind of person. At least, in everything I’ve heard of him. But after this game four years ago, when Thornton sprayed him with water in the face at the end of a game the Bruins were already winning and it was just adding insult to injury, PK Subban got interviewed after the game, and they asked him about it, and he was like “all I’m going to say about this is, try to imagine what would have happened if I had done it to him.” That was all PK Subban said. And I was like, oh you do have an analysis. That’s so interesting because I’ve never heard him say anything like that before. But in that moment he was saying the thing without saying it. Imagine what the reaction would have been if I had done this to him.

And like, can we really imagine PK Subban licking someone up in here? If a Black person could do that like, one time.

El: And isn’t that so like a white man to get like two warnings and then the team talks to you and then they’re like “I think he really learned!”

Desmond: I’m just trying to imagine what kind of things, like people would be saying, “I don’t know if I can play in the same league as him” if it were a Black guy doing this.

El: Hang on, I wanna see this article, because they’re trying to connect him to Drake. So I want to know how they managed to blame a Black person in this.

So, you know how they always manage to drag Black people in? So this article is like, oh there’s much to admire about Marchand, but he’s licking people. And then:

I have a great deal more respect for Marchand, who leads with his nose in a tough and dangerous game, than I have for Drake, the self-immersed fathead whose antics on the sideline of Toronto Raptors games finally drew a warning from the NBA.

So Drake who isn’t even a player gets a warning from the NBA, but the NHL can’t even deal with a guy who’s out here licking people.

Desmond: Oh, I know what you’re talking about. I heard about this take but I didn’t read it. The false equivalency is strong in this one.

El: Seriously, like one’s an actual player licking people, and one’s a fan watching a game.

Desmond: I think if Drake was licking people in the Air Canada Centre, I think John Tory would have left whatever he was doing and taken away Drake’s key to the city. Seriously, that is not a thing that could ever happen.

El Jones

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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