A White Rock city councillor is speaking out about a racially charged attack against him at his business last month that he said left him “absolutely shocked.”
Coun. Bill Lawrence briefly addressed the incident at the end of Monday’s city council meeting, stating that he had been the victim of racism and that it was in the hands of the RCMP.
The attack took place in the early-morning hours of March 20 at the Sandpiper Pub – of which Lawrence is a co-owner – where he was working as a host at the front door, greeting patrons.
Lawrence told Peace Arch News Wednesday that two men waiting in line were becoming increasingly “agitated and aggressive”; when Lawrence told them they would not be permitted in the pub because of their behaviour, one man put him in a headlock while the other punched him in the back on his left ribcage.
“It happened in a split second,” Lawrence recalled. “I wasn’t even considering it a possibility that it would happen, it caught me off guard.”
After other patrons helped to separate the men from Lawrence, he said, “the racial slurs were just flying out of their mouths.”
“That’s when I said, OK, this is a 911 call,” he said.
The men – who he believes are in their mid-30s – fled before White Rock RCMP arrived, however two suspects were arrested within half an hour, Lawrence said.
The accused are facing assault charges and have a court appearance scheduled for June, Lawrence said. Details about the charges were not confirmed by police by PAN press time Thursday.
While Lawrence said the physical assault left him in a great deal of pain – his ribs are still “pretty tender” nearly four weeks after – it was the racial attack, including repeated use of the “N-word”, that had a greater impact on him.
“At the time, I wasn’t even thinking about what happened with the punch… But the racial slurs, that really stung and stuck in my mind. It was not a good feeling.”
While Lawrence is adamant the incident was a “one-off situation” and not reflective of White Rock, he said it has been a challenge to come to terms with how the scenario took such an ugly turn.
“You have two individuals who weren’t happy with the circumstances, and they resort to racist remarks to an individual (who) has been in the community for quite an extended period of time,” Lawrence said, noting he’s been a White Rock resident for 28 years. “For that to have happened, it was a slap in the face.”
In reflecting upon the root cause of the offending remarks, Lawrence – who said he has never encountered racism in the 19 years he’s owned the pub – pointed to the racial elements that have surfaced in the U.S. presidential election campaign.
“I’m hoping it’s not a case where the anti-tolerance message that’s being thrown around south of the border is filtering up across the 49th parallel,” he said.
Late sister celebrated
Prior to addressing the incident at council, Lawrence thanked city staff for helping him pay tribute to African-Canadian RCMP members to mark Black History Month in February.
A poster recognizing a handful of officers who have served on the RCMP was hung at Lawrence’s request in the lobby of city hall throughout February, and he is hoping it can become a permanent fixture in the adjacent White Rock RCMP detachment.
One of the officers honoured on the poster is Lawrence’s late sister, Const. Andrea Lawrence, who was the first African-Canadian female officer to serve on the force in the late 1980s. She served for 14 years in Burnaby before she passed away at age 39 from complications stemming from an injury while training for the RCMP Musical Ride.
He described Andrea as a “contagiously positive” person who knew at a young age she wanted to become an RCMP officer, and – despite her warm, welcoming demeanor – took her job very seriously.
Lawrence said bringing up last month’s incident at council along with the recognition of Black History Month made sense, despite his initial hesitations to go public about the attack.
“If this is an issue that other people are seeing or experiencing, they have to take the steps to make it right and bring those individuals to justice,” he said. “If it gets passed over or you turn the other cheek, those individuals do not learn. They have to be responsible for their actions.”