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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Stories from the racial-justice front

BY Lyle Stewart Feb 12, 2021

It’s 2021, but on the racial-justice front, one could be forgiven for thinking we’re back in 1921. That’s the year that white citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma, went on a rampage in the segregated city’s Black neighbourhood, looting and torching hundreds of houses, businesses, churches and schools. More than 100 people were killed. No one was brought to justice.

Sure, we’ve made progress. But a century later, jaw-dropping, forehead-slapping stories of racism are still dominating the headlines. Let’s review a few items from the first week of February, starting with the tales of two blonde politicians. 

Lynn Beyak, Canada’s proud defender of the country’s cultural genocide program, otherwise known as the residential-school system, finally resigned her seat in the Senate January 25. She did this just before she was to be expelled, and thereby lose her lifetime pension. 

Appointed by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013, Beyak took the opportunity to recant obviously forced apologies for racist observations on her parliamentary website. Recall the letters describing Indigenous people as “lazy” and “inept” that she refused to delete. In resigning, she now says she stands by her similarly ignorant statements about residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

South of the border, we have the freshly elected Republican congresswoman from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene. Aside from endorsing cartoon-like conspiracy theories about Jewish space lasers and how Democrats are communist pedophiles who should be shot, Greene is explicit in her racist beliefs.

In a series of videos that she made shortly before being elected last November, Greene said high Black unemployment rates are the product of “bad choices” and being “lazy.” Sound familiar?

And who are the real victims in society today? “The most mistreated group of people in the United States today are white males,” Greene exclaimed in another video.

The Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives voted February 4 to expel Greene from several important House committees – including the education committee, where she would have had the opportunity to further insist that school massacres are “false flag” operations invented to take away her guns. If only.

Closer to home, the incredible story of Mamadi Fara Camara is still unfolding here in Montreal. Camara, who is Black, was pulled over for talking on his cell phone by a city police officer, Sanjay Vig. Soon after, Officer Vig was attacked with a metal baton, had his pistol stolen, and fled for his life as his attacker fired shots at him. 

Camara called 911 to report the attack and returned to his vehicle when police responded a few minutes later. A 31-year-old father and scientific researcher at a Montreal university, he has no criminal record or history of violence. But he was the person arrested and charged with attempted murder. Not to mention beaten, his home destroyed by officers “searching” for evidence, and his children terrified. 

After six days in custody, video-surveillance footage demonstrated that what Camara told police was true: another man had attacked Officer Vig. He was released immediately, but the questions are only beginning.

We know how Montreal police, already notorious for their penchant for racial profiling, might have considered Camara to be a suspect in an attack on one of their own. A Black man in a poor neighbourhood, who had just received a $500 ticket from Officer Vig. An open-and-shut case, right?

But consider their thinking. In the space of a few minutes, the slightly built Camara would have received his ticket, beaten up a police officer, stolen his gun, and run hundreds of metres after the officer firing shots. All the while he would have to had called 911, then returned home to shower and change clothes (since he had no traces of gunpowder or blood on him), hidden the gun that has yet to be found, then make it back to the scene of the crime before police arrived.

It beggars belief. 

But Camara would still be facing decades behind bars had not one investigator reviewed video footage that apparently shows another man assaulting Officer Vig, just as Camara had said when he called 911.

All this in the same week that Montreal police officer Christian Gilbert was found not guilty of manslaughter in the death of Bony Jean-Pierre, who died running away from a marijuana arrest after a plastic bullet fired by Gilbert struck him in the head in March 2016.

And yet, according to Quebec Premier François Legault, there is no systemic or institutionalized racism in the province. How many incidents – already well-documented by the Viens Commission – will it take to convince him and others that the problem is as real and pressing as it was in 1921? 

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Lyle Stewart has been working as a journalist for over 30 years. He believes that information is the ultimate check on the abuse of power and that independent media outlets such as the Nation are crucial to democratic governance.