Let me begin with this. I don’t believe Lyle Howe was convicted of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman because he was black, or that “those that represent the white power structure” conspired to put down an uppity black lawyer.
David Sparks does. Sparks is spokesperson for a group planning a rally outside the law courts Wednesday to protest Howe’s conviction. The group claims 4,000 Facebook supporters.
“I don’t think lawyer Howe would be going through this if he were not a black person,” Sparks told News 95.7 Thursday.
But Howe is not the first prominent Nova Scotia lawyer convicted of sexual assault. Paddy Fitzgerald, a lawyer, Tory MLA and Speaker of the Legislature — and member-in-good-standing of that white power structure — was sentenced to five years in jail for raping a client in his office in 1980.
Howe was charged in connection with a 2011 incident. He acknowledged having had consensual sex with the woman. But the Crown, which also charged Howe with administering a stupefying drug — a charge the jury dismissed — claimed the woman was too impaired to have consented.
The legal case turned on “consent,” an inevitably fraught issue.
Like race. “Race is always a factor,” Sparks argues.
As if to bolster Sparks claim, the same day he appeared on the radio the New York Times reported details of a $40 million settlement of a wrongful conviction case involving five black and Latino teenagers accused of the brutal 1989 rape of a white jogger in Central Park. They were easy targets. The media portrayed the boys, who had confessed, as “wilding youth.” But in 2002, DNA evidence exonerated them. Their confessions had been coerced.
What does that have to do with Lyle Howe’s case?
Probably nothing. But consider: Howe’s jury pool included few blacks. And some potential jurors were excused because they didn’t believe they could get past Howe’s race. Then too there is that troubling, unrelated 2011 case in which authorities charged Howe with threatening a former client. The case was dismissed the day it was to be heard because the crown concluded there was no “reasonable prospect of a conviction.”
Does any of that raise flags? Perhaps. This is Nova Scotia. And we should never be too smug when it comes to race.