Getting coffee while black

On the morning of Jan. 24, 2017, Gyasi Symonds, a caseworker with the provincial Department of Community Services, did as all of us did in the run-up to the pandemic. He went to get a cup of coffee. Many of us would find what happened during and directly after his coffee break that day to be anything but routine.

If you’re among my “many of us,” you’re probably white. If you’re Black, it’ll most likely feel like every other day in Halifax.

Last week, an independent board of enquiry appointed by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission found that two white police officers discriminated against Symonds when they pursued him into his workplace searching for “a Black man in a toque” and then ticketed him for jaywalking. The department was ordered to pay Symonds $15,232 for “injury to his reputation, emotions, and self-respect,” according to the investigation. We’ll return to the topic of crime and punishment later.

Here’s another thing that happens way too much in Halifax. The summary of the investigation was released on Wednesday, May 5. As of Saturday, May 8, neither the Halifax Regional Police nor the Halifax Regional Municipality, which represented the police officers at the enquiry, have issued a public statement in response to the board’s decision. On the day the report was made public…The Examiner sought responses from the police and the municipality, including whether the officers will face further punishment, whether HRP will train all officers, and whether HRP will make the performance metrics and data public.

HRP’s Neera Ritcey said that the municipality, rather than the police, would respond “as HRM legal counsel in this case.” Maggie-Jane Spray, a municipal spokesperson, said the response would come on Thursday. Spray did send an email to the Examiner the next day, “answering none of our questions.” “The municipality is evaluating the Human Rights Commission’s decision to decide the next steps. At this time, no additional information is available.

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