A Halifax family is speaking out after they say they were threatened by teens dangling a noose while swimming at a public beach in Chester Basin, N.S.
Greg Dean and Cyndi Rafuse took their two sons and extended family for a camping vacation in the Chester, N.S., area. On Saturday afternoon, they went to a municipally-owned beach on Lower Grant Road and said they were enjoying the water when a blue truck pulled into the parking lot quickly.
Dean said two male teenagers got out and stared at him. He quickly realized one of them was holding a noose.
"They were by our vehicles, and by their vehicle, and looking at me, staring at me at first, and then they started to wave it around," Dean said.
His wife asked the pair if they had a problem. Dean said they replied, "There might be."
Dean said he and his nine-year-old son were the only people of colour at the beach, as the rest of his family members are white. He is a biracial person with one white and one Black parent.
"That's a direct threat to my colour, the colour of my skin," he said. "Who I am as a person, it has nothing to do with me. That was a threat because I am a Black man, a visible Black man."
'Being racist is not a crime'
Dean and Rafuse's family were deeply upset and started to pack up to leave. Dean's brother-in-law confronted the teens and Dean and Rafuse's 13-year-old son was so upset he picked up a bottle that was on the ground and threw it at the blue truck.
The family spent the night at a nearby campground, worrying that the teens might come back and try to assault them. The next day an RCMP officer arrived and spoke to Dean.
"They told me they couldn't press charges," said Dean. "His exact words was, 'Being racist is not a crime.' But I said, waving a noose at someone is a threat, that's a hate crime. The police officer told me it wasn't, because he didn't inferably say anything to me."
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lisa Croteau told CBC News that officers were called to a disturbance at the beach on Saturday afternoon, but said no charges have been laid.
She said she could not speak about any further details as the investigation is ongoing. Croteau said she could not speak to questions about whether the incident constitutes a hate crime.
CBC tried to contact a social media user who identified himself as the owner of the blue truck, but received no response.
"It's very traumatizing for anybody in the African Nova Scotian community to know that an incident like this can happen, and the police reaction, RCMP reaction is that, 'Well, there's really not much that we can do,'" said Vanessa Fells, the director of operations for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent, a coalition of organizations that serve that community.
"It calls into question the ability of the police to not only have trust from the African Nova Scotian community, but to actually protect the African Nova Scotian community from racist incidents and threats that happen to us on a daily basis," she said.
Fells said incidents like the noose-swinging in Chester Basin happen every day.
"To me, it's harassment, this is a threat on someone's life. To me, this is a hate crime," she said.
After the incident, Cyndi Rafuse posted about it on Facebook and Greg Dean said many people from the community have contacted their family to offer support. He's been told some people are posting "Black Lives Matter" signs on the road to the beach.
"The support has been great," Dean said. "I don't feel now, through the support that I've been getting, that this is a major problem in Chester. If you had asked me that on Sunday night or on Saturday night, I might have said something different.
"But as of now, I feel the support from the community. They want this problem handled just as much as we do."
The Municipality of Chester posted a statement of support on its own Facebook page, calling the incident "blatant racism and implied violence."
"We want residents and visitors to know that we do not, in any way whatsoever, support discriminatory behaviour," the statement said.
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