PHOTOS: Thousands attend Vancouver Island rallies for Black Lives Matter

Pam Buisa, one of the oragnziers behind Sunday’s event, lifts her first in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps was among the thousands in Centennail Square on Sunday afternoon for the peace rally for Black lives. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Some people filled the stairs of the Centennial Square Parkade in hopes of getting a better view. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Asiyah Robinson, one of the organizers of Sunday’s peace rally, speaks to the thousands of people who attended. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
People could be seen on the roof of Centennial Square Parkade, trying to get a better view of the rally down below. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square, some even in surrounding buildings, for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
Pam Buisa (left), Asiyah Robinson and Vanessa Simon organized a peace rally for the Black Lives Matter movement that drew thousands to Victoria’s Centennial Square on Sunday afternoon. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Pam Buisa (left), Asiyah Robinson and Vanessa Simon organized a peace rally for the Black Lives Matter movement that drew thousands to Victoria’s Centennial Square on Sunday afternoon. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
A large percentage of attendees arrived in masks, and those that forgot were greeted with volunteers handing out masks and gloves. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
A peaceful protestor at Centennial Square holds up a sign that reads: “Some jobs everybody gotta be good.”(Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
One woman holds up a sign that reads: “Time to listen.” (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the US. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
One woman holds up a sign illustrated like a comic book, with its characters voicing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Thousands filled Centennial Square for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the US. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

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.

“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.’”

READ MORE: Murder charge upgraded in George Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

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.

RELATED: Black Lives solidarity demonstration fills Nanaimo park

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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ALSO READ: PHOTOS: Thousands gather at Vancouver Art Gallery to protest racism


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aaron.guillen@goldstreamgazette.com

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