Keep Your Hope Alive

first_imgI consider myself to be an optimist. I have faith and hope. Perhaps this is the preacher’s daughter in me. As the sayinggoes, the apple does not fall far from the tree. It is ironicthat on Jan. 19, 2004, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Ibegan to have doubts about my outlook for Nova Scotia. As I readaccounts of comments made by the Municipal Association of PolicePersonnel (MAPP) at a news conference responding to the NovaScotia Human Rights Commission’s board of inquiry decision in theKirk Johnson matter, my heart sank and I once again worried aboutthe future of my province. I was born and raised in Sydney, in a place called Whitney Pier. I am proud to be from Whitney Pier, and equally proud to be aNova Scotian. I can clearly remember sitting on the front porchwith my friends waiting for our favourite police officer to passby. As little girls, we all had a special officer that weadmired. We were not afraid of the police, in fact I believethere was mutual respect between the police and our diversecommunity. When Carl “Campy” Crawford became the first black municipalpolice officer to join the Sydney force, our communitycelebrated. When Campy died in November 2003, the tiny St.Philips’s African Orthodox Church in Whitney Pier overflowed withpeople who loved him and wanted to honor his accomplishments. The police honour guard, police rank and file and top brass allpaid their respects to Campy. He was the police officer everyoneloved. Campy was a people person who respected everyone regardless oftheir colour. We heard stories about Campy going out of his wayto help people and to do good. We know that Campy must have hadhis challenges. Through it all, he never stopped smiling. He wasalways positive, always full of hope. He gave policing a goodname. Fast forward to Jan. 19, 2004. When I heard, and later read, thecomments by Sgt. John Gardner, president of MAPP, I could nothelp but remember Campy and think of the black police officers onthe Halifax force. I wondered what they were feeling. Did theyagree with Sgt. Gardner? If not, would they remain silent? Whowould support them if they disagreed publicly with the union? Ifthey remained silent would the black community understand? Theseofficers are in a difficult position. They have to work withinthe union and within the culture of policing. They have tosurvive. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who fought for justice andfreedom. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., where hewent to give support to the union representing garbage workers. It is ironic that on his birthday, MAPP chose to dismiss theindependent ruling of the human rights commission inquiry’s boardchair in the Johnson matter. The actions and words of MAPP canonly be characterized as showing a lack of respect for a processthat was fair and transparent. Is this the view of the majorityof the police rank and file? If it is, I am concerned that racerelations between the black community and the police has been setback by decades. Looking at recent news coverage, it would be possible to concludethat there is something wrong with the culture of policing inCanada. Scandals have racked Ontario police departmentsconcerning their interaction with visible minorities andaboriginal people. On the prairies, a public inquiry inSaskatchewan is examining whether there is police involvement inthe death of Neil Stonechild, an aboriginal man, who was found onthe outskirts of town and who eventually froze to death. Police are entrusted with the duty to protect us and to enforcethe law. We expect to feel safe when we see a police officer. Iwant to feel the way I did when I was a child waiting for thepolice to walk by, but MAPP’s comments make that difficult forme. The union missed a golden opportunity to demonstrateleadership in policing and race relations when it chose not toembrace the Johnson decision. I somehow feel we have been down this road before. Not long ago,our province was consumed by the inquiry into the Donald MarshallJr. prosecution. Mr. Marshall, a Mi’kmaq man from Cape Breton,was wrongly accused and convicted of a murder in Sydney and spent11 years behind bars before finally having his name cleared. TheMarshall Inquiry made a number of recommendations to improve theadministration of justice in Nova Scotia and ensure that whathappened to Mr. Marshall could not happen again. In the wake ofthe Johnson decision, I wonder how much progress has been madesince the Marshall Inquiry. The Johnson case is a complex matter. The implications of thiscase go beyond the Halifax police department, Const. MichaelSanford and the black community. This case affects all citizensand all police officers regardless of their colour or gender. Ifcertain members of our population cannot trust the police andvice versa then civil society and race relations in Nova Scotiawill remain dysfunctional. We cannot move forward if healing doesnot take place. If there is no truth there cannot bereconciliation. The board chair issued a ruling based on thefacts presented to him. He found “Const. Sanford discriminatedagainst Kirk Johnson in the course of the ticketing and towing ofhis vehicle.” MAPP’s comments appear to suggest that the chair’sdecision was more arbitrary. Before making up their minds, everyNova Scotian should read Mr. Girard’s decision and decide if thatis so. My dream, fueled by my faith and hope, has been to make thisprovince a centre of excellence in human rights. I grew tiredlong ago of hearing people describe our province as one of themost racist places in Canada based on news coverage of ColeHarbour, Donald Marshall Jr., Africville and now Kirk Johnson. Ibelieved Nova Scotia and its people deserved better. But my dream has been shaken. When I left Toronto five years agoto return home to accept my position with the Human RightsCommission, many people tried to discourage me. They said: “Youare black, you know how you will be treated.” But Nova Scotia ismy home and I came back to try and make a difference. Maybe withquiet reflection, prayers and inspiration from leaders such asMartin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu,Mahatma Gandhi, John Humphries and John F. Kennedy, the cultureof policing will one day be one that civil society canunderstand, embrace, respect and trust. I commend Halifax Regional Police Chief Frank Beazley and DeputyChief Chris McNeil for their acceptance of the Johnson decisionand their willingness to move forward with the work mandated bythe board chair. However, as long as the rank and file hold theviews that were communicated by MAPP on Martin Luther King Jr.’sbirthday, I am afraid their desire and goodwill will never berealized. I wonder what Campy would have said to me these past few days? Yes, I think I hear his voice: “Girl, keep hope alive. Your hopeis only shaken, it’s not broken.” -30-last_img

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