Members of the Guelph Black Heritage Society say recent incidents of vandalism around their building have prompted the organization to reinstate its community patrol group.
Some incidents have involved the discovery of excrement at the entrance to the building, the cutting of telephone lines and security camera lines, needles being thrown on the property – even threats and an incident where a person brandished a knife at a member in June.
“Over the past few days and months, it’s escalated again. I would say last summer in particular,” Kween, executive director and coordinator of the social justice initiative, told CBC News.
Denise Francis, president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society, said staff have also received negative messages online.
“Earlier this year and last year we were bullied and cyberbullied,” Francis said.
The Patrol Group was formed in 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and consists of 10 volunteers who carry out regular building and property checks in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Incidents of vandalism weren’t as consistent during the COVID-19 shutdowns and during part of 2021 when the group wasn’t as active, Kween said.
But since the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, members of the organization have started to see an increase in vandalism again.
Some volunteers on the patrol are also neighbors and community members, who have been a “safety net” for the organization, Kween said.
“These things we don’t take lightly and we can’t take them lightly,” she added.
Some incidents ‘are very intentional’
Kween and Francis say the problem is twofold. Like many cities, Guelph is facing a housing and mental health crisis, which could explain why staff are finding items such as needles on property, they say.
Kween said the organization recognizes her role in helping others in the community and has information and resources to help people find food and shelter assistance.
But Kween and Francis say other incidents appear pointed and intentional.
“Something like human feces left outside our door or someone cutting our phone lines, it’s very intentional,” Kween said.
“The thing is, there are so many places in our backyard, but [the feces] was right where we couldn’t miss it,” Francis added.
The organization has not contacted police about the incidents, Kween said, noting that black communities don’t always feel safe reporting incidents to police.
Guelph police told CBC News they have not received reports of recent incidents from the organization, but encourage staff to contact police when such incidents occur.
“We have been called to do this work”
Although it’s not always easy, Francis said the organization will continue to do its advocacy and education work in the community.
“Is it because we’re more successful and people know us that we get this kind of negative attention? We don’t really know, but we keep going because we feel called to do this work,” says- she.
Kween agrees. She said people need to act with more compassion towards each other, acknowledging that it has been a difficult time for many people.
“We have to protect each other and that comes with compassion and that comes with love for each other,” she said.
“It’s not just the Guelph Black Heritage [Society]downtown businesses are also suffering because of the socio-economic situation in Guelph. »
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.