How quickly can the COVID-19 crackdown turn into cracking the whip on Black and brown bodies?

    Apr 15, 2020

    OTTAWA—Evidently, the killing of Black men by the police is an essential service.

    Last week, Peel Regional Police in Brampton, Ont., shot and killed D’Andre Campbell, a 26-year-old Black man with a known—as in, known to the police—history of mental health issues. It was Campbell who called the police on April 6 and it was Campbell who paid the price.

    Where there are police killings of Black men, Indigenous people aren’t far behind, as police in Winnipeg shot and killed a 16-year-old Indigenous girl named Eishia Hudson on April 8. As usual, the burden of proof weighs heavily on the families of those slain, instead of officers who are backed by the state, firearms, and a powerful police union, within a system of racism and misogyny and a culture that excuses it.

    Apologies, if they’re even forthcoming, are not enough because they do not equate to justice. And to be honest, they are an insult to the numerous Black and Indigenous lives taken by the police who have an inordinate number of options before going nuclear by taking someone’s life.

    We understand. All lives matter.

    The problem with saying that all lives matter is that it is a way to distract from the fact that not all lives are threatened equally by the state—certainly not Black and Indigenous lives, which society has deemed expendable. Were Indigenous lives not expendable, the federal government wouldn’t be fighting a ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, delivered last September, that stated, “the human rights tribunal found the government wilfully and recklessly discriminated against First Nations children by underfunding child and family services on reserve, which created an incentive to remove Indigenous children from their homes and communities.”

    Well isn’t that something? The federal government knowingly and systemically underfunded Indigenous child welfare in order to create the conditions by which Indigenous children could be removed from their homes and families by the state. According to a November National Post report, government lawyers argued that the “federal government is fighting a recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on Indigenous child welfare because it takes a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and excludes many First Nations children who suffered from underfunding of child and family services.”

    What’s that smell? Oh, it’s the Liberal government burning Jordan’s Principle. And to be honest, if the government doesn’t have to abide by the Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling, why should anyone else?

    The all-lives-matter approach of the federal government ended up discriminating against the same lives they claim matter. So, in other words, not all lives matter. Some lives are expendable for a bottom line and a lifetime of imprisonment by the state. Funny how that works along racial lines.

    Many of you haven’t read Desmond Cole’s bestselling book, The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power and it shows.

    Black lives don’t matter much in Canada, either. Robyn Maynard, whose critically acclaimed book, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, highlighted the lack of evidence to support claims that disproportionate fatal police shootings of Black men are fuelled by police fearing for their lives,

    As she wrote for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “The ability to keep one’s life while in crisis is a courtesy and a privilege of whiteness, and a basic form of human dignity that Black people continue to be denied.”

    Sounds systemic from here. Policing communities of colour to ensure they comply with coronavirus-related ordinances of self-isolation and use of community spaces is another example of how that system of injustice permeates all government responses to these communities. That is, if they respond at all.

    The surveillance of Black and Indigenous bodies to reinforce the denial of right to assembly by the state is nothing new. In her book, Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society, Sherene Razack demonstrates how “the constitution of spaces reproduces racial hierarchies” and “how such spaces are organized to sustain unequal social relations and how these relations shape spaces.”

    An example Cole gives in his book is that of a bylaw in Shelburne, N.S., which restricted the movement of Black Loyalists, “forbidding Negro dances and Negro frolicks,” which could be anything from dancing to sitting and chatting with friends. Not surprisingly, white residents of Shelbourne faced no restrictions. This was in 1785, and 235 years later, Black people are still being harassed by institutional officials. Donna Blackburn, an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee, is reportedly under investigation for allegedly surveilling, interrogating, and harassing a Black teen in Ottawa for playing basketball in a park—alone—on March 27. Hell, he wasn’t even frolicking with others and was still targeted. The uptick of police surveillance under the guise of stopping COVID-19 means that these communities are under a real and present danger from increased police presence.

    Negro frolicks, indeed.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.