SHAWN WADE HYNES SMILED AS HE PULLED THE TRIGGER. That’s the way Nhlanhla Dlamini remembers the moments just before a 3.5 inch nail ripped into his skin and punctured his lung on September 19.
Nhlanhla, a 21-year old black man believes Hynes meant to harm him. Hynes, a 43 year-old white man, says it was an accident.
Nhlanhla and Hynes were part of a crew building a home in Abercrombie NS. Nhlanhla says Hynes deliberately pulled back the safety on the air-powered nail gun, aimed it at him, and waited for him to turn and run before firing. It was the violent culmination of weeks of bullying from Hynes says Nhlanhla
The RCMP arrested Hynes on September 27 and charged him with criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
A pattern of half-hidden racist bullying
Nhlanhla say Hynes had constantly picked on him in the three weeks they worked side-by-side. Nhlanhla says Hynes threw nails at him, hammered his booted foot and stapled his jacket to a staircase.
But Nhlanhla did not immediately recognize the bullying as racist—even though he was the only person of colour on the worksite and the only person bullied by Hynes.
The racist intent only became obvious when Hynes tagged Nhlanhla with his own special nickname: “Squigger.”
Nhlanhla says he first introduced himself as Nh—a shortened version of his South African name. Nhlanhla did not understand the nickname Squigger had obvious racist intent until a friend ponted it out to him.
“I’d been letting them literally call me the N-word, just without the N being the first thing. I was repelled by that. I was taken aback.”
“I didn’t want to rush into pulling the racist card. But in this incident, knowing that Squigger was the N-word, I can say that it was a racist act and a racist situation.”
Smiling before firing
On the day of the incident, Nhlanhla, says Hynes got on him for not working fast enough, before threatening him with the nail gun.
“He turned around and pulled the safety on the gun, and points at me and says, ‘I’ll show you how to speed up,’” Nhlanhla said in an interview with CBC News.
“I just looked at him and I was just like, ‘What are you doing that for?’ And he just smiled.
“And when he smiled about it, I just turned around and started running. And that’s when he shot the nail and it hit me in the back.”
Nhlanhla said he was screaming and yelling, trying to make sense of what happened. He says Hynes came over to him, snatched the nail out and threw it away, as a small crowd gathered to see what was going on.
Nhlanhla says Hynes told the three other people on the crew and their boss, Paul Quinn, that a smaller finishing nail had accidentally ricocheted and nicked Nhlanhla.
Who to believe
Nhlanhla says he was in shock, struggling to breathe. He was in no shape to tell his side of the story. No one else had seen what happened.
“It was just me and him, and that was the scariest part, and he used that as an opportunity to tell them whatever he wanted,” Nhlanhla said. “I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it.”
One of the workers put a Band-Aid on Nhlanhla's wound. Nhlanhla says his boss, Paul Quinn, drove him home—but did not offer any medical attention.
His mother, Stacey Dlamini, told CBC News she called Quinn and informed him her son was undergoing emergency surgery and asked why he hadn’t been taken to hospital. She then called the RCMP.
Stacey said the nature of the racism her son experienced discouraged him from reporting it.
“(His coworkers) would say things like ... ‘We don’t like how Black people pull the race card on things, and not everything is about race.’ So they kind of made it difficult for him to stand up against that behaviour because they created an environment in which they discouraged reporting of racial incidents,” she said.
That said, she doesn’t want to push for police to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
“You don’t change people with racist attitudes by charging them; you change it by society having conversations about this ... What we want is for people in our community … to just raise their voices and say no, we’re not going to tolerate this behaviour here.”
She says all her son wants to do now is find another job and get back of working for a living.
Employers required to report injuries
The Department of Labour said they were notified of the incident by the RCMP, but they are not involved while the criminal investigation is ongoing.
Employers in Nova Scotia are required to report serious injuries to the Department of Labour within 24 hours.
A department spokesperson initially said there is no requirement that employers seek medical care for injured workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The department later corrected that statement to say employers in Nova Scoyia are required to ensure that employees needing medical attention are able to obtain that care, which often involves calling 911.
The department said it has not placed a stop-work order or any conditions on the worksite.
People show their outrage
People rallied in New Glasgow, on October 8 to express their outrage over the nail-gun incident and anti-black racism in Nova Scotia. A similar event is planned to take place in Halifax on Oct. 19.
Organizers said in a news release that they want the accused shooter to be charged with attempted murder and a hate crime.
“If an allegation of racism was made after the fact we would definitely follow up on that, obviously that’s a serious allegation,’’ said Nova Scotia RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Clarke.
This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.
Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.