Nova Scotia·Video

El Jones pens poem about pain of shooting deaths in Nova Scotia

El Jones used her last days as Halifax's poet laureate to recognize recent violence in Nova Scotia. She shared her poem with CBC Nova Scotia.

'I know with every death you see us more as a threat,' writes Halifax poet

In the wake of the shooting deaths of four young black men within a month, Jones was moved to write "I Know What You See." 5:51

Poet and activist El Jones used her last days as Halifax's poet laureate to recognize recent violence in Nova Scotia.

Three young black men died in shootings in the Halifax area last week. Another young man was killed at the end of March.

"The pain that we have in our communities, you know, these are people who are friends and brothers and cousins and fathers of children and sons," Jones told the CBC. 

"It's spectacle. People are talking about it, 'Look at them shooting each other again,' and it's much more than that. You have to look at what brought people to that point."

Jones handed over her duties to Rebecca Thomas, a Mi'kmaw woman and the first Aboriginal person to hold the role, at Halifax Regional Council on Tuesday.

'Held responsible'

Jones noted black and Indigenous Canadians are over-represented in all levels of the justice system, a fact recently found by Canada's corrections ombudsman

But despite white people committing the majority of crime, she said violence in black communities is viewed differently as "more criminal, more pathological."

"Nobody expects other communities to have to stop the violence as such — and we have to — and implied in that is, what's wrong with black people?" she said.

"Marginalized communities get held responsible."

Instead of increasing prison and police budgets, more money should be spent on education and job support to increase opportunities, she said.

Jones said people should continue to speak out about the realities of racism, and even use art to do so, as she does. 

"It reaches people, it touches people, it changes minds," she said. "I do believe that." 

I Know What You See, by El Jones

I know what you see

When the media reports he was known to the police

The incident took place on that block on Gottingen Street

And not the part where we eat or the part renamed Novalea

The part where those descendants of Africville be

And the part it would be better if it just became clean

Or maybe it's how North Preston's Finest is ten times longer than North Preston

On the Wikipedia entry

So I know what you see.

Little babies in bandannas who read at Grade Three

And I know that you look at them and see just some kind of killer

And media comments stop just short of calling us gorillas

Let's be honest they say these weren't exactly pillars of society.

The same media that's only there to report on notoriety

And I know grown adults who have never seen variety

Never been in a museum or even left the block

And so we're born and the hands start ticking on a clock

Because you make us raise our kids in the school of hard knocks

And you only hit the alarm once someone gets armed

But you close down our schools then accuse us of harm

And we're so cute until we grow and then somehow we lose our charm

So that's all you see

Little kids in the principal's office before they can read

And the grade ones list me names of every dead person they know

Little boys who can't even cry at the funerals they go

And then you come to our marches like its a show

And they never catch the people who make the drugs and guns flow

To little boys without a future when the game is the recruiter

When we can't get jobs our only option is to ball or be a shooter

They put guns into our hands instead of computers

And drugs into our veins when there's no other way to end the pain

And there's never any help until we're taking aim

As if when we're born our only dreams are to get into the game

And then after all that you say the Black community should be ashamed

And we can't even go to wakes without being under siege

When to mourn your son you have to walk by 20 vans full of police

And we can't even grieve because they won't let us rest in peace

And some other little boy that's all he'll ever see

And I know that's what you see, suspects with t-shirts over faces

We sit in cells without our belts and with shoes without the laces

Little kids grow up without a father to put them through the paces

While the rest of the city says thank god the problem's been contained

And no one cares about our lives until we become the cases

We disappear into the prison and then we're just erased

We come from places where we can't get pizza delivered

Where roads don't get plowed for days after a blizzard

There ain't no grocery stores

Can't get a cab driver to drop you off at your door

And when the police raid your home the children hit the floor

And it ain't no secret that poor and powerless is how we are living

And I've mentored brilliant artists from the time that they were children

And then they grow up and I visit them in prison

As if we're the ones at fault for the conditions we've been given

Little girls kicked out of school because they're labelled bullies for a fight

While in their home their step father is touching them at night

And then they're traded in the game and their names are out of sight

And I'm tired of seeing youth with so much pain behind their eyes

And all you see is some young thug who's throwing up gang signs

While there's lines tattooed on his skin to my brother R.I.P.

But when he walks around downtown you move across the street

And when she walks into a store you call security

And when we're seen as a problem that has to somehow go away

And our elders remember Africville like it was yesterday

And now new housing regulations say can't have a business in the home

So the little that we have we can't even call our own

Make noise after 9pm and they'll throw you in the streets

I don't know how you can't see that my people can't even weep

400 years of suffering this pain until the wounding runs so deep

And I know brothers with so much trauma that they never even sleep

And I'm scared to have a son because I don't know if I can keep him alive

When it seems the only time you pay attention is when we're committing drive-bys

And then you blame the mothers and say if she only raised him right

And when we turn the violence on ourselves you won't call it suicide

And you'll never ask what happened to make this young man die

Or to make this young man kill

When trying to make it out takes almost impossible acts of will

Even when we have the talent and the skill, in the studio or court

But most of our kids get out of high school and then there's no support

I can't forget we come from people who were traded sold and bought

When we're still being valued by society and always falling short

And I know with every death you see us more as a threat

And you make all sorts of judgements about people you never met

And I don't understand how you can watch this and your eyes aren't even wet

But I know what you see.

Thugs and gangsters all we be

In newspapers and TV. All over this city.

I know what you see.

About the Author

Rachel Ward


Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at

With files from Jerry West and Robert Short