I’m standing in front of the Black Lives Matter banner at the protest for Regis on Saturday when my phone starts ringing insistently. It’s the jail. I walk away from the crowd and answer. A young Black man is calling from segregation at Burnside.
Along with other prisoners, he filed a habeas application challenging their confinement and now he’s worried that the jail might retaliate. They’ve been held in solitary confinement for months. He just wants to let me know what’s happening, just in case something goes wrong, just in case I can help. I tell him I’ll do what I can. I talk to him as long as I am able, before I tell him I’m almost speaking, I have to go, call me back.
On Monday, I talk to one of the guys again. He tells me that he has a hearing Tuesday morning. He says he wishes he could be out in the streets protesting and standing up for Black people. I tell him: writing that habeas, going to court to challenge your conditions, that is the work of Black justice. It’s the same issues.
“Hey,” he says, “that’s true. There’s three guys down here in segregation, and we’re all Black. Why is that?”
I tell him that when people are out there protesting, those people are also out there for their lives and the lives of all Black people in the system. I tell him that he, they, are doing something bigger than protesting. They’re fighting for the rights of all prisoners. Be strong tomorrow, I say. Be confident. People are with you.
“Black Lives Matter!” he says before he hangs up.
Don’t ever tell us that “it doesn’t happen here” when every day there’s voices on my phone telling me some new horror of Black life suffering state violence.
• • •
I keep thinking about Santina Rao, and the 15-year-old boy beaten outside the mall, and all the other victims in Halifax and Nova Scotia of police violence. I wonder if it’s isolating, watching people march for justice for Black lives while trying to live in the aftermath of brutality. I wonder what it’s like to wait for your own court case, the courts closed in a pandemic, charged as a criminal even as it takes days to charge police.
I wonder how many people taking a knee wrote comments that they heard Santina is a thief. There were so many, so many, people online who shamed her and threatened her when she spoke out. It’s still going on.
I check in on Santina and when I ask how she’s doing, she tells me:
I’m just devastated. I don’t even know where to begin.
I can’t stop thinking about George Floyd, and how an officer pressed his knee into his neck, the same way they did it to me here. The exact same way. For similar reasons, too.
They lost their lives, yet here I am alive. One of the lucky ones. Even if some people wouldn’t call a broken wrist, concussion, lacerations and trauma lucky, I do. Because I’m still alive. I wasn’t suffocated to death on camera. Or thrown off a balcony. Or run over. Shot in the face. Killed in my own house.
I need people to understand that we are all just absolutely exhausted, to the point where we cannot keep our composure any longer. We cannot stay silent, and “wait” for change to come. The longer we wait, the more of us die.
We all deserve support, and protection. I wish I could just be there tonight, to hold you all in my arms. And give that love that we all so desperately need right now.
Think of Santina, giving us her love, the same love that made her fight when her child was grabbed by police in front of her. Everyone who talks about violent protests, and looting, and what’s the point anyway, it’s Santina’s love that brings us out, the same love we have for all our people, beaten down so long and still resisting, still rising up, still unbowed.
• • •
My phone rings at the Blocko after the Take a Knee protest, and it’s Renous. The guys are calling because they saw me on the news. They always call if I’m in the media, often telling me about the arguments or discussions they’re having about the issue. Sometimes the guys I know bring other people to the phone to argue with me.
I say, “We’re in the intersection right now! Spring Garden and South Park!” He yells back onto the range, “She says they’re still in the streets!” I tell them about the protests, and the numbers, and that Black people are filling the streets with presence right now, filling the air with music, and dancing out our rage and being. He keeps yelling back the updates. They ask for pictures, to make sure I get good images so I can really show them what’s happening.
These men, who ask for money to renovate the house on prison grounds so their children can visit in a safe and healthy environment. These men, who give up showers or yard time to call when someone is in trouble, to try to get help with deportation or appeals or someone being ill.
When we say all Black Lives Matter, we mean that their lives matter. We mean that some of us will not be thrown away for respectability. We mean that we are not afraid to love them too.
• • •
Yusuf Faqiri calls me. He wants to send love and check in. His brother Soleiman was killed in the jail at Lindsay. He was found with “more than 50 abrasions, ligature marks and bruises on his body and neck.”
It’s hard watching this, Yusuf says, and reliving what happened to my brother. But I know Black people go through this every day. What I face isn’t the same. Just know I stand with you.
So many families out here where this isn’t even an anomaly, officers kneeling on a neck. And no justice for any of it.
• • •
I’m reading the Facebook Event page for the Take a Knee protest. Someone asks the organizers if any of the Black organizations are involved in planning. Sharisha Benedict, one of the organizers, responds “No, just me and my cousin.”
I love this response. How many things in the Black community have happened because of “me and my cousin”?
• • •
Lynn Jones is a boss. On Saturday, when she came to the Justice for Regis rally, she wasn’t able to park downtown. So for Monday night, she is prepared. Lynn isn’t going to mess with parking spots, so she gets the police to come to her door, pick her up, and drive her right up to the event. She emerges like a queen.
Later she laughs, “I’m protesting the police!”
Towards the end of the event, OmiSoore begins a human mic. The crowd is so large — stretching all the way down Spring Garden Road — no sound system can manage. OmiSoore gets the crowd to repeat after her. “Lynn Jones!” followed by three claps. She calls Lynn to the front, and the crowd parts for her, clapping her walk towards the steps. I’m overwhelmed, almost in tears.
Our elders, our elder women, have fought for so long and with so little recognition. It was women who taught Martin Luther King Jr. to organize. Women like Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer. Say their names.
Rocky Jones learned from the women around him constantly, always consulted with the women of his family, took the final word from them. Yet our history of organizing so often erases Black women, puts them aside, submerges them.
Lynn being clapped to the steps isn’t just symbolic, it’s the heart of what these movements are about, when we talk about transforming systems, and overthrowing power, and healing. We mean ending patriarchy and honouring women. We mean holding up our elders who worked so long and continue to work for freedom. We mean their knowledge and wisdom.
Thousands of people, brought here at the call of young women, honouring an elder woman. This is what the world we want to build looks like. Whether the people clapping know it or not.
• • •
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be Regis’ mother, still living in the apartment, having to look down from the balcony where police left her daughter’s body on the ground for hours. The grief of these mothers should fill us, should make this all intolerable. For one life, nevermind all the Black lives taken and brutalized over and over again.
I think about the mother of the 15-year-old boy beaten outside the Bedford mall, running through the mall looking for him, getting him out of that police car, wrapping him in her arms.
My family and I are coping alright, but hurt and very disturbed with all we are seeing and hearing and it just set us back to what happened to my son. It hurts that I see all these stories and videos and my son has to be one of those stories and videos. But at the same time, change needs to happen.
It’s sad that we all have to deal with this and nothing seems to be done…We need to keep this protesting and talking until change is made. We need to know we are all one race, and that is the human race.
Her son adds:
Black lives matter, and all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.
• • •
Today, young Black people will wake up in cells, in shelters, without jobs, without access to education.
Today, Indigenous people fill up our prisons as girls like Eishia Hudson are gunned down by Winnipeg police.
One day in the streets doesn’t change that.
Justice looks like tenants organizing to fight their landlords. It looks like mothers taking over abandoned buildings to raise their children in. It looks like taking resources from the police and giving it to community for housing, for treatment, to live a full life. It looks like stopping spending money on prisons and jails and investing it in communities instead. It doesn’t look like bailouts and subsidies to corporations, bloated police budgets, money for surveillance, and putting money into punishment and never into healing.
We don’t get those things in one day. We aren’t getting it today. Most of the people asking “what can I do?” now will move on in the next viral moment. I don’t expect there to be 3,000 people at the next police board meeting. I know all these things.
I as much, maybe more, than anyone know this. You think I haven’t been alone in courtrooms and in front of politicians? You think I haven’t fought with people nobody notices? But I also remember fighting for Abdoul until he was national news, and a deportation was stopped. I remember the prison strike, and how dozens of organizations — religious, political, African Nova Scotian, immigrant, African, unions, white people, Mi’kmaq people — how so many people stood in support. Presence matters. Showing up does matter. It’s not the end of organization, but it is the beginning.
I also know that we must do right by our dead. We show out to send the message, if even only to ourselves, that if you come for one of us, you come for all.
Take down an intersection for a few hours — people might be staying for the music, but it’s also a message. Because police brutality thrives when we believe that power is not accountable. All that weaponry they spend the budget on is there to intimidate us, so we think we have to go quietly.
It’s good for people, especially young people, to be reminded that the people have power. Look at how the police and our politicians are so scared of an uprising here that they stand back. That should tell us something. It should tell us that we never needed them to keep us safe.
Justice also looks like Black and Indigenous people organizing together, and white people holding the line for hours in the street to protect Black and brown and Indigenous people from police.
It is young people and elders speaking together. It is communities arguing about strategy, and those who choose to use their energy to work for community in other ways. It is the people who do the work of organizing unseen: the banner makers, the crowd marshals, the people bringing water. It is the man walking the crowd for hours with hand sanitizer, tirelessly offering it to people. It is fighting and dancing. It is kneeling and protesting. This is how we practice. This is how we learn what justice feels like. This is how our lives matter.
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Thanks, El Jones, for another thought-provoking article.