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The Black Lives Matter sign on Gottingen Street is a form of resistance

Getting a new one up so quickly after it was stolen is also a form of resistance.

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The sign, donated by a community member, was taken down in the middle of the night on September 1. In just over a week a new one had taken its place. - CAORA MCKENNA
  • Caora McKenna
  • The sign, donated by a community member, was taken down in the middle of the night on September 1. In just over a week a new one had taken its place.

On the east side of Gottingen Street, between Uniacke Street and the Halifax North Memorial Library, an eight-by-16-foot Black Lives Matter banner was hung at the beginning of August.

It was put there after a string of gatherings, protests and vigils took place in Halifax on the heels of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, part of a global movement of protests against anti-Black racism.

The banner, says Kate Macdonald—one part of the Game Changers 902 trio—was donated to the community to "honour the history of Uniacke Square and honour all the Black folks in the north end who have really contributed to the history of Halifax and Nova Scotia."

Part of that history includes the community's inception in 1966, itself a glaring example of anti-Black racism—the kind that folks are still protesting today in 2020.

Many of the people displaced by Halifax's decision to bulldoze Africville and the downtown to make room for Scotia Square and the Cogswell Interchange were set to live in a so-called utopic Uniacke Square, as Stephen Kimber wrote in The Coast in 2007: "The people whose homes, communities and histories were to be wiped out would be better off too—or so the promoters argued. They'd get the chance to live in modern, efficient, subsidized housing for a few years until they made their inevitable—if magical, mysterious—transition from former urban poverty to future suburban prosperity."

The theory, as Kimber reported, was a lie. And over half a century later the results of that decision still stand: over-policing, lack of affordable grocery stores  nearby, poverty and perhaps most damaging, stigma.

For Macdonald, the sign hung on the fence of Uniacke Square as a piece of public art was "the taking back of public space, it is a form of resistance."

And, Macdonald adds, "It doesn't feel so out-of-pocket that folks would say Black Lives Matter and assert that" in the Uniacke Square community. "African Nova Scotians have been disenfranchised and continue to be in so many ways, specifically systemically."

It mattered that Black Lives Matter was proudly hung from the walls of the community, so that "folks feel empowered and that kids feel, you know, proud that they're able to declare that and see that every day."

And, Macdonald adds, because there are still folks who feel like it's necessary to say, "Well, what about everybody else?" Even though it's clear Black people are experiencing many crises and on many levels, she says. "The fact that we still have to have these conversations and these conversations turn into arguments. It is important to still assert that Black lives matter."

So, when the sign was taken down sometime after it got dark on September 1, Macdonald posted about it to Facebook, saying: "Am I surprised? No. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I angry? I mean, who isn’t at this point. Nova Scotia doesn’t love Black people like it should. Halifax doesn’t love Black people like it should. So much of the history of this province is ours—it’s US. And we have been done so dirty in so many ways, historically and presently. But still we laugh and sing and create and pray and love. African Nova Scotian people are beautiful."

Quickly, offers of support rolled in, and a new sign, made on donated fabric with donated spray paint by rapper Darren Pyper (AKA Ghettosocks), was back up on the fence on Gottingen street—just over a week after the old one was taken down.

A new BLM sign hangs on the fence on Gottingen Street. - KATE MACDONALD
  • Kate Macdonald
  • A new BLM sign hangs on the fence on Gottingen Street.
The piece—and art in general, says Macdonald—carries a dialogue of resistance and liberation within it. At the suggestion of taking steps to make it a more permanent fixture on Gottingen Street, Macdonald highlights the distinction between culturally relevant art—prescribed by the city in its revamped public art policy and a movement towards using culturally relevant art as an act of reparation in future developments as prescribed by HRM's Centre Plan—versus community art, which doesn't seek permission from the systems which facilitate and reinforce systemic racism in the first place.

Perhaps the piece being a more permanent fixture could have prevented its theft, which Halifax Regional Police spokesperson John MacLeod says was investigated by HRP, even though no formal complaint from the owner of the sign came forward.

Macdonald says it was rumoured in the community that the person who cut the sign down then got into a police car and drove off, which may explain why no one from the community came forward to the police to report it missing.

MacLeod says the information about the person leaving in a police car hadn't been formally reported to police either, but if it did, SIRT—the independent body responsible for investigating when police are involved—wouldn't necessarily be called in. He says anyone with information can contact HRP with a tip.

Less concerned with finding a culprit and more concerned with continuing the work she and other advocates have been pushing for, Macdonald reminds us that a large part of the Black Lives Matter movement this year has been about occupying space in a way that is in opposition to needing permission (or surveillance).

"Why are we seeking permission from these structures? What does that do for us?" she asks. "Ultimately, it doesn't do anything for us to play by rules that we never created, that will never do anything for us." 

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