Thousands attended a peace rally for Black lives across Vancouver Island over the weekend.
Sparked by the death of George Floyd, massive protests have erupted across North America and worldwide. In downtown Victoria, the crowd filled Centennial Square to the brim on Sunday afternoon.
— Aaron Guillen (@iaaronguillen) June 8, 2020
“We as a society, especially in Canada, feel that we aren’t racist,” said Vanessa Simon, co-organizer of the Peace Rally for Black Lives.
“Just because you don’t see it in the news doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. There are many examples of micro-aggressions and police brutality.”
More than 4,000 people were expected to show at the event and peaceful protesters were seen atop parking lots, in stairwells and any open patch of grass. Dozens of black speakers shared their experiences with racism and led the crowds in chants and calls to action.
“People who still have the perspective that ‘All Lives Matter’ aren’t unifying us,” said Simon.
“There’s always going to be people that aren’t happy with our approach, some think we aren’t being aggressive enough. The goal here is to unify first and then begin our calls to action. We’ve got a long way to go and it’s more powerful than having angry black people saying ‘this is what needs to happen’ or ‘we hate police.’”
— Katherine Engqvist (@kengqvist) June 8, 2020
As an adopted child, Simon grew up in a white home.
She says she not only faced racism within her family, but in school and as a black woman currently. She’s learned to care less about what others think about her and now she’s more concerned about being heard.
Victoria wasn’t alone in joining other communities across Canada, the U.S. and beyond to hold rallies for Black Lives Matter.
The Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck did so for almost nine minutes.
At Simms Park in Courtenay at noon on Saturday, about 250 people gathering to support the Black Lives Matter movement quietly knelt for the same length of time in honour of Floyd’s memory.
Saturday’s midday event was one of two in the Comox Valley.
On Friday, also at Simms Park, there was another protest with speakers, both to support Black Lives Matter as well as draw attention to similar issues with police for Indigenous people in Canada. The organizers were also collecting donations to help the Black Lives Matter Vancouver chapter.
Hundreds turned out Friday at 5 p.m., covering most of the area between the dais and the parking lot, to listen to the speakers. Early on, in a call-and-response with organizers asking the names of recent victims, the crowd chanted “George Floyd” and “Breonna Taylor,” referring to the woman shot by Louisville, Ky., police in March and who would have turned 27 on Friday.
After, people were invited to come up to the dais with a candle for a shrine in honour of Floyd and other recent victims. Several people took to the stage to share their own stories about experiences with racism. Chai Sullivan, one of the organizers, also had a message of solidarity for white people facing challenges such as poverty.
“Our oppressors are your oppressors too,” she said.
Indigenous elders recounted their own stories of racism and abuse, particularly through the residential school system, and announced the names of several people who had died in police custody in 2020.
Daruna Nikii, another organizer of Friday’s event, talked about how she’d been in a local restaurant that week, planning the event, when a man yelled a racial slur at her.
“Racism has been around for way too long, and it needs to stop now,” she told the crowd.
When Simon organized Victoria’s Black Lives Matter protest on Monday, June 1, she expected to be walking on her own. But word spread quick and many attended to march from Centennial Square to Parliament. Now, she’s added two more co-organizers.
“We’re not trying to take this entire movement on by ourselves,” said 23-year-old Asiyah Robinson.
“When the onus is on one person, the dream can die. We’re here as a transparent collective to show that it’s OK to burnout and run out of energy. We will carry this and when you’re ready, we will bring you back in to join the movement.”
Nikii said the movement was not about pitting white people against black people but about demanding justice, freedom, equality and respect.
“All lives will matter when black lives matter,” she added.
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“I wear the maple leaf every day but the first thing I wear is my skin,” says Pam Buisa, one of the organizers of this rally and a Canadian rugby player. #yyjnews #yyjforBlacklives pic.twitter.com/gMuP214AJ4
— Shalu Mehta (@ShaluMehta32) June 7, 2020