Street checks and issues of discrimination

This past Thursday my workplace, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, held their annual general meeting. Each year as part of the AGM we hold a panel discussion around some issue that we’re working on or that is of interest related to social justice and law. This year our students organized a panel discussion about street checks. Street checks are any interaction between police and citizens. This means that even observations by police officers are counted without the knowledge of the people they are observing. When street checks happen information is logged into a database held by the police. This can include names, vehicles, types of interaction and more. Rally whatever the police deem to be of interest. This past January a report came out from the Halifax Regional Municipality Polic Department that showed that the majority of street checks involved black men. This, of course, called for an examination of the practice and how much racism (conscious or subconscious) was happening in the everyday interactions of the police with citizens. 

Police checks happen more in areas of higher crime. That seems reasonable except that the areas considered to be higher crime are in part, deemed by the act of the streetcheck. So because there are more street checks happening in an area, the area is considered to have higher crime. Because it has higher crime, there are more street checks. And as you may have guessed, these are areas that have a higher population of people of colour. In the eyes of the inhabitanats of these areas, there is over-policing. And the interactions with people, especially young people, leads to a mistrust of the police. That’s in part due to the history of relationships between police and particularly black people, but it also comes from the higher incidence of arrests of blacks. Imagine there are two youth who have been involved in a similar crime. The white kid gets off with a slap on the wrist far more often that the black kid. And it could be that part the reason the black kid gets arrested more is that they have learned to mistrust police and so their defences go up very quickly and they react in ways that the police consider inappropriate. But the fact that mor black kids get arrested in similar situations to the white kids perpetuates this cycle.

As panel member and social worker, Lana MacLean, said during the AGM, this is a multi-layered issue and there are no easy answers. It’s clear that something needs to happen. Exact,y what I can’t say. Some people in the audience said that street checks should be done away with altogether. Is that the answer? I’m not sure. But the discussion sure got me thinking. At one point, a whit woman commented that white people need to get involved. My initial reaction was uncertainty. I don’t really know what I can do. I know I can speak up when I see injustice, discrimination, racism, and all the others “isms” happening, but what do I do beyond that. And more, is my help wanted. As a white person I’m never sure. I hear comments like ‘the solution has to look like me’ and I wonder if that means stay out of it because you can’t possibly know what this is like. And I can’t. I don’t have a clue what it feels like to be judged, punished, mistrusted, left out- because of the colour of the skin. I enjoy the privilege of being born white.   

The next day I asked one of my co-workers who is well versed in these issues how to get involved. She mentioned an organization here in Halifax called Solidarity Halifax. It is specifically for white people. I was taken aback by that. She said there are organizations only for black peop,e to address these issues, but this group is for whites only. I was confused because while a see the need for black only groups, I don’t feel like blacks (or other groups) need white people to fight their battles for them, rather along side them. My co-worker explained some of the reasons to me. Historically, because the black communities were so tight knit, there was a level of discomfort having someone from the community advocating for you. They didn’t want people in the community to know their business so to speak. I get that. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger about something personal than a family member or friend. There’s a level of detachment. So, I ended up joining the group. I don’t want to be e girl who sits on the sidelines claiming I care but who does nothing to help. I don’t know how impactful I can be, but as a group, along with other groups, maybe real change can take place. I know nothing happens overnight, but in this era where a racist can be voted into the White House, every little bit helps. It all starts with a voice. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these very complex issues. 

To read about the Dal Legal Aid AGM here are a couple of articles:

http://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/halifax-police-chief-takes-part-in-heated-debate-over-street-checks-1.3328938#_gus&_gucid=&_gup=Facebook&_gsc=OdnjjSh

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/street-checks-halifax-black-community-1.4029015

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Kidney Health Month

March is kidney health month. Many of my readers know that I have chronic kidney disease, so I thought I would share a few tips to keep the kidneys healthy. 
Kidney disease is known as the silent killer. There are very few symptoms until your function drops very low. And the symptoms you experience could be attributed to many other illnesses or just simple stress. Now, at 13% function, the only symptoms I experience are exhaustion and headaches. If I eat too much salt I also swell up though. I was diagnosed when I was just shy of 25 and the reason they found it so early was that I had gout. It’s highly unusual for a 25 year old female to get gout so they did some exploring to see if I had early arthritis. That wasn’t the case, for me it was due to my kidneys not filtering well enough and urich acid crystals building up in the big toe. It was shocking to hear the diagnosis and I can remember feeling so unsure of what the future would hold for me. At the time the doctor thought I would need a transplant within 10 years. I just turned 49.

A couple of things happened over the years. One is that my kidney doctor decided to take a then radical approach to the disease. He started me on blood pressure medication that opens up the arteries in the kidneys and helps them to function better. This is now a very common treatment. The other thing that happened is I got sober and ended up leading a very healthy lifestyle. The combination of these two things has meant keeping my kidneys functioning much longer than they would have. It doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods, there is no cure for kidney disease. But I’ve managed it well and when I do receive a transplant I’m in a far better position to come through the surgery ok. 

For me, they aren’t sure what caused kidney disease; it could be related to injury to the kidneys when I had an extremely high fever as an infant. It probably wasn’t helped by all the drinking I did earlier in my life either. But for many people kidney disease is a result of lifestyle. Diabetes can lead to kidney disease. So what can you do to keep your kidneys healthy? Here ar a few tips:

  1. Eat healthy- more fruit and veggies, healthy fats, good levels of protein
  2. Exercise- it helps your muscles but it also keeps your weight healthy which puts less pressure on kidneys as well as the heart
  3. Less salt- for me, my salt intake needs to be around 1500 mg a day. For the undiseased kidney the recommended amount is less than 2500 a day. This means eating less processed foods which tends to be very high in sodium. I have a theory that reducing salt intake is way more important for overall health than we think. That’s simply based on how I feel when I get too much. I get what I call a salt hangover when I have too much. I have a feeling people who eat too much salt are not even aware that they feel a little crappy all the time. The same can be said about refined sugar, but I digress.
  4. Don’t smoke- This is important for all of your organs. Smoking restricts the blood flow impairing function to all organs, including kidneys. 
  5. Hydrate- drink an appropriate amount of water. The kidneys need to keep wet! 

Keeping healthy is so important for good quality of life. That doesn’t mean that if you develop a disease life is over, but it is inconvenient. If you can, prevent disease. If that’s not in the cards for you, live life to the fullest by staying as healthy as possible – you’re worth it! 

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