Anti-Black racism is here: London, Ont., councillor says we can no longer allow excuses for inaction

Coun. Mo Salih speaks on the issue of carding in November 2016.
Coun. Mo Salih speaks on the issue of carding in November 2016. City of London

As protests throughout the United States and around the world following the death of George Floyd shine a light on anti-Black racism, a London city councillor is calling for real change.

At Tuesday’s full council meeting, which he joined remotely due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, Mo Salih read a two-minute statement where he stressed that “London isn’t innocent” and that “we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

“I know Londoners have indicated that they plan to show solidarity this weekend to express their frustrations and demand actions for what’s happening around the world and kind of express the concerns that are happening here locally,” he began, referencing the Black Lives Matter London rally scheduled for Saturday.

READ MORE: Ontario health leaders call on province to declare anti-Black racism public health crisis

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“Here in London, we have an ugly history and we continue to operate in this system that needs to change and I know some people will say, ‘It’s not as bad here.’ For those that don’t have to live it, we don’t get to make that decision.

“London isn’t innocent and anti-Black racism is here and at times it’s even thrived. You all can’t see my face right now, but if I could describe it, it’s the face of a Black man who’s joining millions of Black men and women who are grieving. It’s the face of a Black man that says I’m tired, and tired of waiting, and tired of having to have the same conversations about anti-Black racism. It’s the face of a Black man that’s saying enough is enough.”

Salih said he’s thankful that current and past councils have supported motions to tackle anti-Black racism, but he also said some previous motions and conversations “have been met with resistance, excuses, delays.”

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“No longer can we allow discomfort or any other excuses that provide cover for inaction or delay to be accepted.”

Salih said he wants his colleagues to be mindful going forward when policies and motions come forward that “this is an opportunity to make an impact to help end anti-Black racism.”

He ended the statement by speaking directly to Black Londoners, saying: “I see you, I hear you, and that we owe it to you to build a city where you’re no longer afraid or anxious or upset.

“Let me be clear: we won’t fail you. This is my promise. Black Lives Matter.”

Click to play video: 'Addressing Canada’s systemic racism' Addressing Canada’s systemic racism
Addressing Canada’s systemic racism – Jun 3, 2020

While Premier Doug Ford said that in his opinion, Canada doesn’t have the same “systemic, deep roots” of racism as the United States does, there have been several high-profile incidents of racism in London.

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Just last October, a Western University student called out a professor for using the N-word during a lecture. She later became the target of racist emails.

In January 2018, London’s then-police chief issued an apology on behalf of the force after photos from 2006 of one its constables painted in blackface, wearing a tribal costume, were posted on Instagram. Const. Katrina Aarts did not attend the meeting but wrote a letter of apology read out by the chief.

In 2017, council unanimously passed a motion calling on Londoners to stand against all forms of racism, bigotry, and hatred ahead of a rally organized by an anti-Islamic group and supported by at least one white supremacist organization.

The city garnered widespread attention in 2011 when a banana was thrown on the ice while a Black player was taking part in a shootout during an NHL pre-season game. A 26-year-old London man was charged in the case.

READ MORE: Canada’s criminal code doesn’t mention ‘hate crime’ — so how do we hold people accountable?

The Criminal Code of Canada doesn’t contain the words “hate crime” anywhere, leading to inconsistencies in how the problem is dealt with when it is reported to police, while Statistics Canada explained in a 2017 report that two-thirds of individuals who said they had been the victim of a hate crime did not report it to police.

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London has also been at the forefront of change and was the first Canadian municipality to vote in a largely symbolic motion calling on police to end street checks, or carding, in 2016. Critics argue statistics show visible minorities are disproportionately targeted, and police have been accused of exploiting the fact that many people don’t realize they’re voluntary.

The motion came after Salih gave an impassioned seven-minute speech in which he described the humiliation he felt when he was carded. He also said he personally had been stopped by police 15 times — as a teen and an adult — for no reason in different municipalities across the province.

A provincial report released in January 2019 called for police forces to stop random street checks in which a person’s information is demanded, adding they disproportionately harm people from racialized communities, waste police resources, and do nothing to address crime.

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— with files from Global News’ Maham Abedi, Scott Monich, Andrew Graham, and Jaclyn Carbone and The Canadian Press.

READ MORE: Police need clearly defined reason for stopping people for questioning, Ontario judge says on carding

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