Racially charged altercation fuels ‘not this again’ feelings – The London Free Press
A racially charged video is shining a harsh spotlight on hidden prejudice.
And a city is once again forced to grapple with uncomfortable questions about why it keeps happening and what can be done to stop it.
Local leaders are speaking up after a jarring video of a heated Sobeys altercation where a man is deemed an “illegal alien” – and taking stock of what’s in place to stem what seems to be a perennial problem in the city.
“It’s kind of this feeling of ‘not this again,’” said Leroy Osborne, vice-chairperson of the city’s diversity, inclusion and anti-oppression advisory Committee.
“London is uncomfortable talking about its racism problem.”
The 30-second video, which has been viewed more than 1.9-million times on Facebook, shows an aggressive man blocking another from leaving the grocery store, while calling him an “illegal alien.”
Police were called in and the man who was blocked declined to press charges. The aggressor was given a warning, police say, and the investigation was handed over to the hate crime unit for a review.
That unit has been seeing more complaints like it in recent years.
London police investigated 64 reported hate crime incidents last year, up from 40 in 2016, according to a report presented to the police board this spring. More than half of the 2017 cases involved property damage and graffiti. Others involved alleged threats and racial slurs, the report said.
Police board chair Coun. Mo Salih said carefully monitoring hate-related data is of paramount importance and wants to see more focus on tracking and reporting.
“I wanted to call on the province to have a uniform kind of tracking system in how we monitor these things and those pieces,” he said. “It’s hard to really kind of see what’s going on in different places. . . There needs to be some sort of creative way of looking at things.”
But knowing intolerance is out there is only one part of the battle, one expert says.
People also need to think critically of their own possible prejudices and take ownership of their biases, Canadian Race Relations Foundation executive director Lilian Ma said.
“When people become aware of it,” Ma said of highly publicized, racially charged outbursts like the one at Sobeys, “then they can examine if they have a certain prejudice against people. Can I do better? It is a self-improvement process also.”
Stemming racism and intolerance should start young, Ma said, but it also needs to continue into adulthood, through community programs and informal relationship building between different cultural communities.
“It’s not a one-day job,” Ma said. “Through understanding, hopefully we can lessen that ‘me and them’ gap and become ‘we.’”
Osborne said another concern was that the video didn’t show any bystanders stepping in to de-escalate the situation.
“If folks don’t run into it often or believe they don’t see it, they aren’t going to know how to act,” Osborne said. “We need to get to a point where bystanders would know how to respond.”
As for London, a city where Osborne said he deals with micro-aggressions every day, city staff are planning to implement actions from their community diversity and inclusion strategy.
One of the five priorities is a zero tolerance for oppression, discrimination and ignorance. Osborne said London needs to speed up how that looks.
“There’s not a lot of cross integration between different races and cultures in London,” he said.
“It’s a scary notion that this is becoming more and more normalized.”
With files by Shannon Coulter