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Racial Violence: Past and Present

CW: Discussion of racism, violence, and harassment

Writer: Rachel

Watch Case Files Episode 5: Racial Violence HERE

Martin Luther King Jr.

January 16 is the day millions in the United States and around the world honour Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who would have been 94, had he lived. MLK is one of the most well-known figures from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s in the United States, which sought justice and equality for African Americans and other minority groups. The extreme racism of this era was characterised by the Jim Crow laws, named after a racist minstrel caricature, which established segregation as law in the United States. Segregation helped condone police brutality, which sparked the infamous Selma to Montgomery marches. These marches, which would help fortify the protection of voter’s rights, began with an event known as Bloody Sunday, where 600 peaceful demonstrators, including MLK, were brutalised by white sheriffs and state troopers (History). Social unrest to such a degree was not seen again in the United States until the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Though Dr. King’s life was tragically short, his impact and teachings have shaped social justice on a global scale. We at BOLT Safety embrace his work to end racial discrimination and hate, which, sadly, remains all too prevalent in today’s society.

The Americas’ Racist Foundations

The Americas were built on the subjugation and suffering of slaves, indigenous populations, and immigrant labourers who were subjected to cruel treatment and systemic oppression for centuries. One of the first recorded race riots in North America were the Shelburne Riots of 1784 (CBC), where white loyalist veterans of the American War of Independence attacked Black loyalist veterans–who had been promised freedom from slavery and land if they joined the British–and destroyed their homes, effectively segregating the town of Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Centuries later in 1907, the Pacific Coast race riots (Library and Archives Canada) took place on the west coasts of Canada and the United States in the cities of San Francisco, Bellingham, and Vancouver. Spurred by anti-Asian sentiments as a result of increasing Asian migration in the 19th and 20th centuries, the white rioters targeted Japanese, Indian, and Chinese immigrants in each city.

Racism Today

As we know all too well, such sinister racist violence exists to this day. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in May 2020 set off a summer of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systemic racism. The protests also helped raise awareness about other, similar cases of murder by police, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery who were tragically murdered in March and February respectively. Discrimination is still normalised throughout Canada and the US as evidenced by the points below:

  • Police-reported hate crimes due to race or ethnicity have more than doubled since 2016 in Canada (Statistics Canada).

  • The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with a 301 percent increase in police-reported hate crimes against East and Southeast Asian Canadians compared to the previous year (Statistics Canada).

  • In the United States, race, ethnicity, ancestry remains to be the primary bias motivation of single-bias incidents, which are discriminatory acts of any kind (Department of Justice).

  • 2019-2020 saw a 77% increase of anti-Asian incidents in the U.S. (Department of Justice).

While progress has been made towards racial justice–with the current attention and activism on racial violence and systemic discrimination–hate crimes against minorities are still happening every day. BOLT Safety Society stands with survivors of racial discrimination or violence and supports the fight for equality and justice.

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