Conversations addressing racism between police and the African Nova Scotian community, were front and centre during Sunday’s service at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.
“This is always an interesting service depending on what’s happening at the time in community and we know lots of things are happening,” Pastor Rhonda Britton said to a packed house.
The annual event is held in honour of the International Day to End Racial Discrimination and provides an opportunity for frank and honest discussions around social prejudice.
“We just had a community meeting at the library the other night and Chief Blais was on the hot-seat. I know that there are members of community that are disenchanted with police,” Pastor Britton said.
Chief Jean Michel-Blais has been leading community discussions ever since street check statistics released by the department showed a disproportionate amount of black people were being stopped in comparison to white.
Since the data was made public, police have been working to address concerns brought to their attention and reestablish the value of police checks.
“As a police service and a community, we need to focus on the social deterrence of crime and justice. On poverty, on poor-housing and on broader social issues that effect crime, including racism,” Chief Blais said.
Pastor Britton reaffirmed her faith in the police service saying “it’s not fair to paint all police with the same brush.”
She also added that in order to create real change that works to shed unconscious bias, a community centre should be developed in Halifax’s North End where conversations can happen in a safe and open place.
“Suspicions and biases are broken down when people have the opportunity to gather in communal space and get to know each other on a human level,” she said.
She says with all the development happening on Halifax’s peninsula and the gentrification that’s making some residents feel uncomfortable, a community centre would connect those feeling marginalized.
“We want to be neighbours, we want to keep our neighbourhood, where people know each others names and faces. We want a community, people coming together in their own neighbourhood to share life and love and laughter.”