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Whither John Ware, Alberta?

john wareThe promise of breakfast with friends was already being met when I saw Clarence sitting at the booth nearest the kitchen. My heart sung. I’d not seen Clarence for a long time, though he’d been a Saturday morning steady, and I appreciated the opportunity to share his warmth and his wisdom once again.

I excused myself, from those I’d arranged to meet, and joined with Clarence. Steven, also a steady, joined us shortly thereafter.

Clarence had been on a tour of the US, visiting family members and working on the Obama campaign. He was retired. He was now taking care of details before moving to southeast Asia as a way to make the most out of his meager pension dollars.

Clarence is like the archetypal good grandfather. His presence is soothing. His voice is deep. He is African American.

I first met Clarence in the 90s working union construction in our trades. He’s an electrician. We hit it off immediately, though he’s many years my senior. We shared political convictions, namely the one that common decency should govern our actions towards others, unless they create circumstances that require that we act otherwise.
Thankfully, we’ve had many opportunities to share and compare experiences since that time.

Clarence served in the American military between the Korean War and Vietnam. He said the only thing they killed while he was on tour was a goat in Lebanon. His travels and travails, after his military service, lead him here.

This morning, Clarence told us about a time made his way across the border between Canada and the US. He was hitchhiking, as a way to conserve money, and he was told of a good truckstop where he would be likely to catch a ride, not far from the border. When he first arrived there weren’t many trucks so he patiently waited for them to roll in. Twice, he went into the truck stop to use the facilities. The lot was starting to fill with rigs, and he thought his prospects looked good, when he went to use the facilities a third time.

When he exitted the washroom, the police were waiting. Some staff at the truckstop were concerned that he was “casing the joint.” In his disarming way, he tried to explain the situation to the police. It did no good. They ran a check. Clarence had a warrant out for his arrest for failing to pay a traffic ticket back home, 350 miles away.

They put Clarence in jail. He would have to deal with the ticket in the place it was issued. One month in jail time, and three transfers later, he received his day in court. Because he was trying to conserve money, he was unable to expedite the process. The charges were dismissed.

Given the way that I’ve framed this story, it would be reasonable for the reader to be reminded of the sorry state of race relations in the US in the time before Vietnam. The reader would be right to do so, except this happened to Clarence as he made his way down to the US to say good-bye to his family and to work on the Obama campaign. The police were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was arrested in Lethbridge. He had his day in court in St. Albert.

Alberta should feel ashamed for treating this good and noble man as a criminal because of the color of his skin.  Whither John Ware, Alberta?

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41 Responses

  1. So much for the idea that Canada is a bigotry-free paradise.

  2. myiq,

    Southern Alberta is one of the most conservative areas in the country. It is mostly rural. Only a few small sections of interior BC, which rival Idaho, are recognizably more conservative. It is home to the first mormon temple built outside of the US.

    Typically, the native peoples bear the brunt of negative stereotyping.

    It is worth noting that Canadian neighbourhoods tend to be divided based on class, rather than ethnicity, except in cases where there are very specific waves.

    s

    • I was just snarking because sometimes you get the impression that racism is a uniquely American disease.

      • BTW – that reminds me, our old friend Mandos is Canadian. Perhaps his efforts should be directed to detecting and curing racism north of the border?

        When he has solved Canada’s problems then he can worry about ours.

      • Is loonacy is a uniquely American disease or is that a racist meme when said on a thread about Canadians?

    • This is a really charming story. Something’s need to change in many places!

  3. Sarah Palin is on the Sean Hannity show in an exclusive interview.

    She is such a ball of energy.

  4. myiq,

    Cocojin, gaijin, and gwilo come to mind.

    s

  5. Who are the people in the photo? How does Clarence know that he was arrested because of racism? You said they thought he was “casing the joint”. Did he look suspicious? For heavens sake he was hitchhiking in 2008. To be honest with you I would not have given Clarence a ride anywhere.

    • afrocity, I was just about to ask the same question. Did anyone specifically tell him that he was picked up because of his skin color or is everyone just assuming that? He wasn’t a customer and he was hanging around a commercial establishment and using the bathroom. Isn’t that loitering?

      • g,

        I responded to afrocity’s questions below.

        Clarence’s behavior was not abnormal for a truck stop. He stood out for only one reason.

        s

        • You are making an assumption. The reason that your friend was jailed was because he hadn’t paid a parking ticket. This is not uncommon and it happens to people of all races.

          • g,

            My assumption is based on years of evidence and analysis.

            Interestingly, today I relayed a brief version of the incident to my class. They are tradespeople, so it’s not as if the response is tailored by the area of study, such as if the course was in whiteness theory. My students know the social terrain of the incident. Their written responses were quick response and unanimous. He was singled out for scrutiny because he was black. Some mentioned 9/11 as a catalyst. They further thought that the reason the process was handled by the book, rather than by the sop for people who do not cause problems for the police, was because he black.

            We must agree to disagree on this issue.

            s

  6. it’s like the offense of DWB (driving while black) only this guy wasn’t even driving. it infuriates me. I have a friend who is Jamaican-American and was heading for the mall with his brother and his one year old son in his brother’s BMW. they were pulled over by the police – the brother was used to this because he’s black and drives a beemer – he gets pulled over practically every day. unreal. btw, this was in D.C., not some backwater. anyway, the little boy was in a child seat in the back and the cop said “who’s the kid?” and my friend said he was his son. incredibly, the cop asked if he could prove it. now I ask all you parents, when was the last time a cop asked you to prove the kid with you was yours? how would you do it? babies don’t have IDs. anyway, he turned around and said hi to his son who said “hi daddy!” and the cop let them proceed. this was years ago and I still find it shocking, both because it happened and because my friend was forced to accept it as a part of life. it’s just so wrong.

  7. afrocity,

    They are the Ware family. John Ware is creditted with bringing cattle ranching to Alberta (wiki link at the bottom of the post).

    It is commonplace for hitchhikers to seek rides at truckstops. Yes, hitchhiking is a much diminished activity and many people won’t stop for hitchhikers. This is why Clarence went to a place where he would be best able to get a ride.

    Walking about without head gear through a truckstop to a bathroom when you are a visible minority who is bald with a big white beard is not a good way to avoid being identified. The police quickly ascertained he was no threat. He had no weapon or ride.

    In one does not pay a parking ticket in an RCMP jurisdiction, and does not show up in court, then an arrest warrant is issued. It is standard operating procedure that the warrant is cancelled, if the ticket is paid, if they don’t catch you first.

    Much of what occurs is at the discretion of the police. If you knew Clarence, you would understand why it is obvious that he would not have done anything that would have provoked a contempt of police reaction. This is why what they did is ludicrous. He should have been able to pay the fine and go. Frankly, the moral and economic waste of the whole enterprise is staggering. It hurts my heart.

    s

    • I think there has been a loss of trust since 9/11 that makes folks more nervous about the unusual.

      • d,

        We were all told to be wary.

        k,

        I, like you, wonder how much of the perceptual shift is due to my aging and how much is due to how our society has changed.

        s

    • But you don’t know that the police reaction was based on race. It is not uncommon to be hauled into jail for an unpaid ticket.

      • g,

        Hitchhiking from truckstops might not be something you and I do, but it is not abnormal. What lead someone to perceive him as suspicious, when he was doing a rather commonplace activity? Why would someone think that his searching for a ride was cover for some other activity? “Casing the joint” does not pass muster.

        Why did the police chose to run him through an unnecessary process, which could have ended by having him pay the ticket the next day? Why did they decide to insert him into the Process, which is a far more labor intensive activity?

        They did because they wanted to send a message.
        s

        • It’s kinda hard to provide details to an event you didn’t witness, but you obviously trust your friend and find his story credible.

          Unless one of the RCMP’s involved shows up to contest that version there isn’t much point in arguing about it.

        • s,

          Why do the police run anybody through an unnecessary process? Because they can. I know plenty of people, black and white, who have been hassled by the cops. That’s why I avoid them as best I can. IMO, they’re nobody’s friend (unless you have a relative in the police department).

          That said, I think we really need to question making assumptions that anything bad that happens to a black person is because of racism. There are plenty of white people who have the same bad things happen to them and it’s not attributed to race. Perhaps the cops were racist, but there’s just as good a chance that they weren’t. Your friend wouldn’t have been hauled in if he had payed his parking ticket. Cops love any excuse to pile on and he gave it to them.

          • g,

            We don’t disagree on the issue of police behavior. I think his race played a primary role in his treatment, because he wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows, had he have been white. Having the unfortunate benefit of knowing some less than model RCMP constables, colors my interpretation of the event.

            I tend to be careful casting race-based accusations because I think the issue is too serious to unfairly brand someone. This feels like a slam dunk.

            s

  8. I do remember back in the day (and the day would be the mid 60s) I used to hitchhike. I was always worried that my parents would find out, and indeed I seemed to practically always get rides from parental types who wondered aloud if my parents knew how reckless I was being. a gentle lecture. I actually did appreciate it. late 60s I had a license and a car of my own, and would give rides to hitchhikers who didn’t look mean or scary. now they all look mean or scary – why is that? bad publicity or have people gotten scarier?

    • I think it’s bad publicity, TV movies about crazed hitchhikers and/or people being assaulted by picking up hitchhikers. And frankly, in this day in age it probably isn’t the best idea to trust random strangers.

    • I think we stopped saying hello to each other or even a mere polite greeting. Some, seem to have the ‘enema’ look rather than break a smile to another person. I think we need to be polite and caring about each other again.

      Today I picked up an Old gent’ who had been sitting in his truck, with a flat on the highway and no one had stopped. He was a funny man, he smiled and went through every religion trying to suss me, and then told me the trouble. I called and waited until his Triple A truck arrived and we sat in my car with the seat belts on and talked. It was refreshing to actually take the time to know another human being on this planet.

      The old gent’ lost his wife four months back and had been visiting her at the cemetery and told me of his six children and many grand children. He was a dear and clasped my hands and thanked me and we both said we hoped we would meet again.

      I guess we should be nicer to each other and make time to notice people, rather than driving by, and I would hope that I would have stopped if he had purple hair and a nose ring.

    • I stopped hitchhiking after two guys tried to lock me in the car. Luckily this was before automatic locks were common so I was able to jump out of the (moving) car.

      • g,

        I faced similar kinds of ugliness, though it did not stop me from hitchhiking. Very scary what if’s.

        s

  9. ugh….I’d forgotten how lonely it can be to comment on this blog. I can comment to myself, in my own head, without leaving a carbon footprint or a virtual trail, probably the best way to go. godspeed y’all

    • kiki,

      you are the “k” I was addressing above.

      s

    • Things really slow down here after 8 or 9 pm.

    • Mondays are always slow and I’m at bj’s drinking. Takes me time to respond with the katberry.

      • d,

        Have fun with your in the flesh posse. This member of the digital squad is off to dream of the thousands of dakini footprints that are said to be on a rock in nepal.

        😉

        s

    • But kiki don’t forget us, who come in at a later time, and maybe feel that the “timelyness” of responding has passed.

      And what about the lurkers who “hear” you!

      I for one love your “voice”. Please don’t let the silence intimidate you to be silent too. 🙂

  10. Nice post, Steven. 🙂

  11. Steven, the sad story untold, what a beautiful accolade of Clarence and of your friendship!

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