Getting started on the writing of my piece this month was difficult. I couldn’t land on themes I wanted to explore, information or opinions I wanted to share or even random thoughts. It took me a while to realize that I couldn’t focus on one or two things because there is so much going on - so much noise, so much news, so much discord, too many deaths. It all feels heavy and urgent and complex.
As I write this, a media conference is being held in Ottawa by a coalition of organizations and individuals speaking out and making demands for transformative change in the relationship between police and the community. For a change in response and actions to community concerns by State institutions like the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), Office of the Independent Police Director (OPIRD), the Police Services Board and all levels of government. Honouring the memory of Abdirahman Abdi while naming why we lost him: he lived at the intersection of race, faith, immigration status and mental health. He is a racialized (Black, Somali) Muslim refugee with reported mental health challenges. He lived at the margins.
In the past couple of weeks we have witnessed the death of yet another migrant worker in an accident that has left another with severe injuries, an alarming pattern of injury and death of those who come to grow and pick the vegetables and fruits we eat and package the meat we buy. And who too often are quietly sent home to be buried with little notice or public outcry for justice for them. I am grateful for the activists at Justicia for Migrant Workers who keep their names on our lips.
We have learned that thousands of children - Canadian born and immigrant - have been detained over the years due to the precarious immigration status of their parents. In desperation for change to Canada’s regime of indefinite detention of migrants in maximum security jails without charges or trial, detainees went on a hunger strike, requesting a meeting with the Minister of Public Safety to plead their plight. More than three weeks later, while we hear from the federal government that they are working to make changes, that they have heard the concerns, the Minister has refused to sit down and hear firsthand the experiences of those who are locked up, sometimes for years. Why?
There are so many stories like the above and other acts of racism and other forms of discrimination that go unacknowledged and unreported needing our immediate attention and action that we sometimes forget to breathe; to exhale.
While we take action and call for accountability and change, we must also celebrate the light, the positive and the empowering: The formation of a broad coalition of organizations from across Ontario to respond to police violence and racism in Ottawa; the BLM-TO leadership in Toronto on similar policing and broader issues; the coming together of community groups to shape the mandate of the province’s new anti-racism directorate; and the gathering of hundreds to voice their anger, hopes and visions to the Premier and various Cabinet ministers at the community consultations on the directorate. In our work to create an equitable society we must celebrate our wins, no matter how small.
In honour of the many refugee and migrant men and women we have lost too soon because of violence, exploitation and neglect, I share this poem. It is South African. I found it written with a photograph titled Congregation of the Story-Teller Funeral of Soweto Children, in the Soweto Museum when I was in South Africa in the Fall of 2014.
We have entered the night to tell our tale, to listen to those who have not spoken.
We who have seen our children die in the morning, deserve to be listened to.
We have looked out blankly as they opened their wounds. No thing really matters except the grief of our children.
Their tears must be revered, their inner silence speaks louder than the spoken word; and all being and all life shouts in outrage.
We must not be rushed to our truths. Whatever we failed to say is stored secretly in our minds; and all those processions of embittered crowds have seen us lead them a thousand times.
We can hear the story over and over again. Our minds are numbed beyond the sadness, we have received the power to command; there is nothing more to fear.
- Mazis Kunene, The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain -