So they finally nailed the old bastard...
...but so what? Ku Kluxer Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty, not of murder, but of manslaughter in the "Mississippi Burning" case. In 1964, three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerners, were murdered by a KKK death squad. Now, more than four decades after the fact, a Mississipi jury deadlocked 6-6, and finally agreed on the lesser charge. A former preacher and church-burner, the old so-and-so may even do time.
It's hard not to think of these cases as diversions. Plucking sick old racists out of history has its charms, to be sure, and I for one, in my darker moments, hope he expires on a chain gang, but what does any of this have to do with the endlessly-morphing and still virulent plague of racism today? Prominence given to such stories has an undertext: that racism is something out of the past, that only a few loose-end individuals remain to be "brought to justice," and we can all celebrate the end of a stone-cold era. Would that it were so.
Here in good ol' Canada, racism is alive and well. In Ottawa alone, the police have been involved recently in a number of unsavoury incidents, including:
- repeated raids on the restaurant of a Caribbean-Canadian health-care worker at the Perley hospital, resulting in significant damages to the place but not a single charge. She has finally bowed to the inevitable, and closed the restaurant. Too bad, the jerk chicken was superb. But the police were more interested in drugs, weapons and even, believe it or not, child molestation. Seems like any and every crank call about this struggling worker's attempt to run an eatery was taken oh-so-seriously by Ottawa's finest.
- a raid on a Somalian restaurant, precipitated by a racist neighbour who phoned in a complaint that someone on the premises had a firearm. The police were taking no chances, and descended on the place, roughing up the owner and placing every Black person there under arrest--but not the lone white person. Many were held overnight. One of those pernicious (at least from a public policy point of view) "undisclosed settlements resulted. We aren't permitted to know if the cops involved were disciplined, or anything else.
- a "driving while Black" incident a matter of weeks ago. Chad Aiken, a young man driving his Mom's Mercedes, was stopped by a police officer allegedly for not wearing a seatbelt. Indeed, he was wearing one, so the cop searched the vehicle, came up with a burned-out licence-plate light, and ticketed him for that. The officer refused to give his name or badge number, and hassled Aiken, even reportedly punching and choking him. His quick-thinking girlfriend caught much of this good-natured banter on her cellphone. Since then, both Aiken and the girlfriend have, according to their lawyer, been under plainclothes police surveillance.
Now this has all happened within a short timeframe, in one city, in Canada, not at the hands of KKK whackos, but at those of police officers sworn to uphold the law, which, when I last checked, included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Act. Perhaps, then, rather than celebrating the four-decades-late under-conviction of an ancient Mississippi nutjob, we should start thinking--and acting--locally.