Nova Scotia·Q&A

What Nova Scotians can do to stand up to racism, injustice

Information Morning host Portia Clark was joined by Finley Tolliver, El Jones and Jackie Barkley on Monday to talk about why the fight against police brutality must involve all people speaking out.

'We just really need to be heard,' says youth worker Finley Tolliver

Protests erupted in cities across the U.S. and Canada after a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee on the neck of an unarmed black man until he stopped breathing. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

When Finley Tolliver learned about the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis last week, he thought about his grandmother.

She died 32 years ago, but Tolliver, who works with the Halifax-based youth organization, Leave Out Violence, said she'd be heartbroken to know her great-grandchildren are affected by the same racism and injustice she experienced.

Tolliver, along with activist and academic El Jones and social worker Jackie Barkley joined Information Morning host Portia Clark on Monday to talk about the impact of Floyd's death and the growing upheaval in the U.S. and Canada.

Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Martin Luther King Jr. said riots don't come out of thin air. How does that relate to the current day given that he referenced there being another way, but also the conditions that lead to rioting?

Jones: I prefer the term political uprising rather than riot because riot implies it's black people who are the source of violence, and in fact it's the police and the state who are the source of violence. So when people are saying protests turned violent, no, the violence was when cops knelt on people's necks, and that violence has been ongoing not only for decades from police, but of course for all the time when black people have been surviving slavery and colonization.

Military police faced off with protesters across from the White House over the weekend during a protest over the death of George Floyd. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

It's remarkable that you see in the United States, you know, nurses having to tape garbage bags over their faces, yet, they have the money to send the military in to tear gas people. They don't have money to pay people's rent. They don't have money to give people their jobs, but they have all this money to send out police and fund them ... So I think that this particular historical moment with the pandemic is really revealing these social gaps even further and showing that it's black bodies that die, whether that's in our nursing homes, whether that's in our cities, in factories.

And Jackie, I'm wondering why the protests in the U.S. or the political uprisings resonate with you even though they're happening in another country?

Barkley: Because I think they're happening here as well. It's really important for, particularly white Canadians, not to sit back on this trope or this idea that somehow racism doesn't exist in Canada and doesn't exist in a brutal form. And I think that's what we saw in Toronto last week. That's what we see with the Wortley Report. That's what we see with the relentless policing of black persons.

And I think the violence that I want to mention is really the violence of the silence of the white population. It's those of us who derive the privileges from what's happening in Canada and in the United States, who cannot wait another day to speak. It's the overwhelming majority of white people in this country who need to say, "You cannot do this in my name."

Do you think that George Floyd's case — because it was on video and so many people have seen it and are responding in the way they are — could be the turning point for more white people to speak up and not just say, "I'm not racist," but to become actively anti-racist?

Barkley: Whether this particular event will trigger that involvement and that passion, I don't know. But before the end of today, everyone who is white and who considers the importance of this issue has to take action, and I think that white people often wait for the leadership and the work of black people. But I don't know anybody who's waiting for white people to write a letter, to start a hashtag, #notinmyname, to go with masks on, six feet apart and protest in front of police stations.

Finley, you also want to hear from white people. Why is that important to you?

Tolliver: It's important because everyone matters on this. This is all of us. This is affecting change for all of us, and if people don't get it by now, I don't know how this can change.

The recent cases show in some ways how little progress has been made. In your view, what's standing in the way?

El Jones says using the word riot implies that it's black people who are the source of violence. (Robert Short/CBC)

Tolliver: In all honesty, I mean, we just really need to be heard. We have to be respected and it hurts to have this question thrown at me. I've had this question before. This has happened in the past with my own grandmother, listening to her stories. It's just so frustrating because as I'm trying to give you a complete answer, an educated one ... you know, the United States is burning. If we don't get it now, I just don't know what's going to be the cause and effect. I don't know how we can move forward if people don't understand this now.

El, for you, what is standing in the way of real progress or perhaps who?

Jones: I'm going to go back to when in this province, you know, white people travelling got COVID, it was all about, we can't stigmatize people and we need to respect people. And the minute people in North Preston had COVID, it was about how black people were reckless and selfish and spreading disease to everybody else. And that encapsulates the attitude that exists towards black bodies. We're seen as a contamination and a danger … and that's the logic of policing and disciplining and controlling black people, that we always need to be under surveillance. And if it requires violence to keep us down, then that has to happen.

A rally was held for Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Halifax on Saturday afternoon. The Toronto woman with Nova Scotia roots died last week after falling from a high-rise building while police were on the scene. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

I think the other thing that stands in the way of real progress is this notion of incremental process. So in this city we've been told, you know, that we just need to wait on these apologies or these reports and people have been doing this for decades.

With files from CBC's Information Morning