1. What we don’t talk about
I was thinking about Andre Denny on Bell Let’s Talk Day. It’s ironic, because whenever I get a call from a Federal prison it shows up as “Bell Payphone.” I’ve written before about predatory phone charges in jail/prison. Prisoners of course can’t use a hashtag, because they aren’t allowed smartphones or internet access, but they also often struggle to call their families because of the costs of collect calls on the phone system. It’s very hard to find public details of the contracts phone companies have with prisons (hey, Bell, let’s talk about how you profit off the prison industrial complex!). In 2009, Telus challenged Bell’s multi-million dollar monopoly on prison contracts, but finding the details of those contracts today isn’t easy.
As usual, most of the available information on prisons isn’t in the media, but on places like prison talk, where families and loved ones of inmates guide each other through the system. The comments on this article from Prisons Uncensored also have some detail on how the phone card system works. At the same time as Bell is promoting “conversation” about mental illness, they don’t want to talk publicly about how they make money from the same prisons that warehouse huge numbers of mentally ill people. They don’t want to talk about how the cost of phone calls prevents inmates, including the mentally ill, from talking to their families, and how this isolation prevents healing and rehabilitation. At the same time as we’re celebrating how much money Bell raised for mental illness awareness and treatment, we’re not talking about the millions they make from the fact that so many mentally ill people who can’t get treatment or intervention — especially those from racialized, impoverished, and marginalized communities — end up incarcerated and, as one of the articles on prison phone contracts phrased it, a “captive” market for Bell.
If we don’t talk about how Bell makes money off mental illness and incarceration, we also aren’t talking too much about mental illness and prisons. It’s usual that corporate campaigns show the same kind of faces as spokespeople — this article that circulated on social media addressed how Bell’s corporate culture caused mental illness in its employees. Other commentators pointed out how the campaign showcased overwhelmingly white and middle class people. And of course white people and middle class people need to talk about mental illness — which certainly cuts across race and class barriers — but it’s also true that racialized and impoverished people also suffer mental illness such as PTSD that are actually caused by the stress and violence of oppression. And access to treatment and degree of stigma is also heavily affected by race and class. And without adequate intervention and treatment, and without the recognition of how mental illness affects communities like Black and Indigenous communities, those same communities are the ones who end up in prison.
And we don’t talk about that in our national campaigns on mental illness — we don’t talk about solitary confinement and how mentally ill people are both more likely to be subjected to it for “discipline,” and how solitary confinement causes severe mental distress and damage in as little as 15 days.
Even using a hashtag to have this conversation in itself sets the terms of who is included — obviously prisoners can’t participate to “start a conversation” about their experiences. For as long as I’ve been writing and talking about prisoners, people have messaged or approached me privately about family members who are in prison and their experiences with incarceration, and most of them will say they never speak about it to anyone because of the shame and stigma. That same shame, and for many the dual shame of mental illness and incarceration, prevents those families from joining a public conversation like Bell Let’s Talk.
And obviously, no corporation is going to make a prisoner a face of a campaign about mental illness, even at the same time as they talk about ending stigma — but when incarceration and mental illness intersect for so many people, how can you end the stigma on mental illness without at least talking about prisons, and without changing our approach to incarcerating mentally ill people?
Those voices are absent from the so-called national conversation.
Which brings me to Andre Denny. Who was, of course, absent from any of the hastag conversations on mental illness at the same time as his name and reports about his sentencing hearing was all over the news.
I’m teaching an Introduction to Sociology course (Social Power Relations) this semester, and one of the things we are talking about as a class is how to address interlocking oppressions. As a class we try to think about how justice for one group of people doesn’t have to be seen as “taking away” from another group, and how we can seek justice together.
I don’t believe that justice for Raymond Taavel, and justice in the context of Halifax’s homophobia, has to look like injustice towards the mentally ill. Can we think about the high suicide rates of LGTBQ youth, in particular, without understanding the intersections between homophobia, how homosexuality has been medicalized and treated as a mental disorder, and the high rates of depression faced by Gay youth without recognizing that stigma against LGBTQ people and stigma towards mentally ill people are connected?
Raymond Taavel’s friend Daniel MacKay recognizes that Denny is “unwell” and shows compassion towards him in the article, but then I read about the Crown seeking a prison sentence for Denny, where he will be removed from Forensics to prison to serve his sentence on manslaughter, and then returned to the hospital. Is this justice?
Gay and Trans inmates face high degrees of violence and discrimination in the prison system — fighting homophobia and violence against LGBTQ people also necessitates us fighting against incarceration. When the media reports on Taavel’s case as though justice can only be done by imprisoning Denny for a long sentence, it ignores the long history in the Gay community of fighting for human rights broadly understood — not just against homophobia, but against racism, against poverty, and against institutions like prisons and courts that unfairly apply justice.
The thing is, these conversations are so difficult. I know that it’s a lot easier to write an article than to actually work on the ground changing how the justice system and our communities treat mentally ill people. It’s a lot easier to write an opinion than to live with violence or to be a victim or to have to face these issues in reality. It’s also one thing to talk about college students with depression (an issue I’m certainly not minimizing) but it’s another thing to talk about how the death of a beloved activist also challenges us to think about mental illness, about issues of addiction, about how colonial violence for centuries against Indigenous peoples is also seen in the prison system, and about how that trauma and generational violence also manifests in mental illness.
That’s a lot of hashtags — and it’s easier to think of mental illness as a single issue rather than also being connected to Indigenous issues, and residential schools, and reserves, and abuse, and disproportionate incarceration, and TRC, and…and…and.
It’s also hard to mourn and honour Taavel and to feel anger at his death, and to also think about Denny. And it’s so hard to change minds and change systems.
It’s easier to just pack Denny off to prison, because the “public” thinks that mentally ill people “get off easy” and we still desire punishment rather than treatment. It’s hard to challenge the idea that mentally ill people are dangerous, rather than recognizing they are far more likely to be victims of violence. And because we are taught to fear mentally ill people as dangerous, we think prison is the right place for “them.” And it’s easier to not bring up these issues on a national day for talking about mental illness, because we still don’t think that any of this really has to do with the point.
Denny is in the media as “the killer of Taavel” and that’s all most of us will ever know of him. I want to say that I also heard a few months ago from someone who was in Forensics with him that he was so kind to him, smudged with him and helped him pray. I’m saying this because it’s hard to see beyond the headlines.
A friend of Denny’s (and yes, he has friends, and family, which is something we don’t always imagine) asked me if I wanted to interview him, but in the end I was scared that anything I wrote could be used against him in court and I wasn’t sure it was a good idea at this point, not just to get a story. But I also know that his friend wanted me to tell his story so that we could see him, and so that we could hear his voice speaking for himself. Because as long as we just see him as a “crazy” “violent” “murderer,” not a human being, not someone to visit or talk to, someone who needs to be banned from our communities, a monster, then we are holding a one-sided conversation.
Sometimes we need a “Let’s Listen” campaign too, because when we talk without the voices of the people who are most stigmatized, the most feared, and the most silenced, we aren’t having the full conversation.
2. Nova Scotia Power vs. Nature
Stephen Kimber is a squirrel truther.
The story opens with a note of skepticism:
Nova Scotia’s power utility, which has blamed blackouts on everything from crows and seagulls to “salty fog” over the last decade, said Friday an electrocuted squirrel left a swath of suburban Halifax in the dark.
I actually went to research these power outages caused by crows (apparently January 5, 2012,) and it turns out Nova Scotia Power not only scandalously blames animals, they also are wildly impugning trees:
You might find it helpful to know that trees contacting lines and other equipment still cause the most outages. Nova Scotia Power has a vegetation management program to maintain and improve service reliability. We’ve made investments over the past few years that have reduced the number and length of outages caused by trees. Nova Scotia Power recorded the company’s best-ever reliability related to outages caused by trees in 2012.
“Vegetation management program” is a euphemism for:
Fuck trees! Anyway, when Nova Scotia Power isn’t righteously dealing with the scourge to our community that is trees (boo oxygen!,) they’re also snitching on animals:
[Spokeswoman Bev] Ware said animals were to blame for several other power outages over the last year, although she wouldn’t name specific species.
IT WAS PROBABLY THE BLACK SPECIES THO! LIKE, SAY, CROWS!
Clearly, Halifax Metro doesn’t have any policies around animal species profiling, because they straight up list crows, seagulls and raccoons as the perpetrators.
At this point in the article, enter Stephen Kimber, all:
“There are way more outages than I ever remember growing up or even as an adult here, which I think has to do with the cutbacks they’ve had over time and the elimination of a lot of maintenance jobs,” said Kimber, who has lived in the Halifax area for more than six decades.
“You can probably find that there are legitimate examples that Nova Scotia Power is using for certain power failures, but in virtually every storm, even minor rainfalls and snowstorms, the power goes out. Why does the power go out? Because they haven’t put the money into making sure the system has all the backups that it needs.”
The article isn’t even over after this, because the reporter Aly Thomson actually gets a second opinion on the animal conspiracy:
Ontario’s Hydro One acknowledged on Friday that power outages can be caused by animal contact, and it has also dealt with such problems over the past several years.
I bet it was squirrels that stole the drugs from the police station too.
3. Haven’t we been here before?
Thinking of going grocery shopping at Sobeys? Some helpful tips! Shop the perimeter of the store, keep an eye on the coupons, and DON’T BE BLACK.
Oh hey, remember how Andrella David won her racism complaint against Sobeys for falsely accusing her of shoplifting? And then they had nerve to appeal the ruling? Good thing they learned from their mistakes…oh wait, no they didn’t.
“I was just doing my regular grocery shopping,” [Jeneen Williams] explains, “when I noticed that a man was following me through the store.”
It happened at the Sobeys in the Clayton Park area of Halifax.
The man she alleges was involved wasn’t a Sobeys employee, rather a security officer from an outside company.
Williams says he was relentless, and followed her right to the checkout.
“And even after I had presented him with the receipt,” she explains, “he still insisted that I had taken something from the store and he checked my bags.”
Williams says she asked several times why she had been stopped, but no answer was provided.
“I felt that I was being stereotyped simply because I was a black person,” she adds.
Williams says from start to finish the experience lasted two and a half hours, and even when it was determined she hadn’t stolen anything, she called the police herself.
“They did speak with all the parties involved,” explains Constable Carol McIsaac of Halifax Regional Police, “confirmed that the shoplifting hadn’t taken place, and they spoke to the woman who was the complainant, and she requested that the report be submitted.”
Yeah, I feel like maybe if you’re appealing a decision that you’re racist you should try not being racist for like two months, even.
Oh, but wait! It can’t be racist because:
The general manager of the security company says his officer stopped Williams because of suspicious activity.
He wouldn’t say exactly what that means, but maintains it was not racially motivated, pointing out the security officer is himself a visible minority.
Sigh. Where to start. First of all, I’m not sure if the general manager is using “visible minority” as a synonym for black or not, but anti-black racism, the “fulcrum of white supremacy,” runs through our society. Other “visible minorities” absorb and perpetuate the same negative stereotypes about black people and supposed black criminality. And because this anti-black racism is institutionalized, it is ingrained in the operation of power — in the same way that black police have committed shootings of black people, security guards who are trained in the profiling, surveilling and criminalization of black people will “do their job” by targeting black shoppers. Racial profiling is not a problem because individual guards or individual cashiers just happen to be racist. If that were the case, we wouldn’t see chain stores locking up black hair products, for example. And if the problem were just with random racist hires, these experiences would not be so common and widespread.
I suspect that consumer profiling is also gendered, and that black women in particular are singled out. A “visible minority” man can also hold sexist attitudes towards women, even if he recognizes how stereotypes affect him.
But, all that aside, this is a company that already has been found guilty of racial profiling. It’s already been proven that this behaviour is racist, and that black women are unjustly profiled and accused. You don’t magically get to do the exact same thing and then claim it’s not racist just because the guard isn’t white himself. Hey, maybe the fact that she didn’t have any stolen stuff maybe proves the point that following, harassing, and searching her actually was wrong?
Williams says the store apologized to her, and her complaint is with the security company, but it’s the store/company that contracts the security, and that relies on their profiled and surveillance to catch “suspicious behaviour.” That racial profiling is inherent in the ways shoppers are assessed makes Sobeys guilty as well — and after the previous complaint, there clearly hasn’t been any soul-searching as a company to eliminate racist practices throughout their stores. When black people experience a pattern of being profiled in Sobeys stores, I’m not sure that whether it’s a cashier or a guard accusing you of shoplifting matters that much. It’s equally dehumanizing and humiliating and lets black shoppers know our presence isn’t welcome. As someone once said to me about racism in Nova Scotia stores, “you know it’s racist when they hate black people more than they want our money.”
4. And now a break for the comments…
Ralph’s is starting a courtesy shuttle that can take up to 11 people to the club.
I have nothing to add to this exchange in the comment section:
Joel Sampson: Would love to have something free like this for non emergency medical transportation to and from medical facilities. But T&A it is.
AnonymousGruff @Joel Sampson “…non emergency medical transportation to and from medical facilities…”
CBC “…it follows a route along Pleasant Street…”
Passing the Dartmouth General along the way. So now you know what to do.
1. Who’s not down with IPPs?
Tina Roberts-Jeffers advocated for black parents and students at the Halifax Regional School Board on Wednesday night:
Tina Roberts-Jeffers, a Halifax resident, presented concerns to the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) Wednesday about an October report showing 124 kids of African ancestry were on IPPs in a random sample of 292…
…Roberts-Jeffers said she was especially concerned with numbers showing 69 IPPs were created supported by evidence, while 55 needed more information, and 65 IPPs had evidence they were the most appropriate option, while 59 also needed more info.
…Roberts-Jeffers said citing documentation issues leaves room for the argument black students are disproportionately more likely to have learning issues, “and I don’t accept that.”
“I’m not saying that the number should be zero … but I do think that the numbers should be similar across the population,” she said.
2. #AllEnviromentsMatter part 2
Her comment that “we have to respect the environment in all areas of our communities” smacks of the kind of sentiment expressed by those who declare that “all lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. It negates the fact that polluting industries and other environmental harms are more likely to be sited in indigenous and African-Nova Scotian communities in this province, resulting in these communities’ greater exposure to health risks. So, while it is true that “all lives matter” and that all peoples (regardless of race, culture, income and class) should have the right to clean air, water and soil, the reality is that some lives seem to matter less because they bear the brunt of the many environmentally hazardous activities that currently operate in this province. It is high time we move beyond surface-level discussions about racism in this province…
…What most concerns me about Margaret Miller’s statement, however, is how her views will serve to maintain the status quo and ensure that the official sanctioning of harmful poisons and pollutants in indigenous and African-Nova Scotian communities persist. The truth is, as long as Margaret Miller and others in her department continue to espouse a colour-blind approach by denying the racial character of environmental decision-making, environmental racism will never be addressed in this province.
Okay, so I write the Examiner at the Pizza Delight on Spring Garden because they have wifi and booths and plugs and are open until 4am (holla Pizza Delight staff!) and I’m writing this in the middle of a storm and I’m scared I’m going to be stuck here all night, and the staff is pointedly turning up the music…so that’s it for me this week.
Make sure to read the Examiner this afternoon to catch Part 2 (Trial and Error) of DEAD WRONG by Tim Bousquet. You’ll have to subscribe to read, and it’s worth it!