Thousands honor lives lost to police violence and racism during Calgary vigil

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On Saturday afternoon, the names of those killed by police violence echoed at the Olympic Plaza in Calgary, where thousands of people gathered for a candlelight vigil to mourn and honor the victims of racist injustice and of police violence.Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile.

It wasn’t just American names on the list.

Olando Brown. Abdirahman Abdi. Pierre Coriolan.

The crowd chanted the long list of names while raising their fists, placards and cell phone lights in the air.

“I hope people will be mobilized and start applying anti-racism in their daily lives,” said Adora Nwofor, one of the organizers.

Adora Nwofor is one of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter vigil. (Colin Hall / CBC)

The Black Lives Matter event was the fourth in Calgary this week, and one of hundreds across the United States and Canada was sparked by the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed when a white policeman knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes as he lay unarmed and handcuffed, telling the officer that he could not breathe.

The charge against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who dug his knee into Floyd’s neck, has recently been turned into second degree murder, and the other three officers involved – Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao – were charged with complicity in murder. .

It’s not new. What is new is that we all have cameras in our pockets and can document what is going on.– Tanesha Cromwell

Although the organizers mourned the death of Floyd, they also wanted to share an important message – racism and police violence are also Canadian problems.

They called for police reform and for the police to collect data on measures taken against people of color.

“This is not something new. What is new is that we all have cameras in our pockets and are able to document what is going on, “said Tanesha Cromwell, who is Black and Miꞌkmaq. Cromwell read a field reconnaissance at the start of the demonstration.

“You can log into virtually any social media platform and you can see the messages from the public. They show police officers running destructive … they incite violence, they spray pepper on children, they destroy medical supplies where the doctors have set up tents to help the injured. These kinds of things just keep us quiet because we demand equity in society. ”

“The racism of the system has gone on forever,” said Philip Neilson, owner of a medical spa in Calgary. “My business partner is white … just finding a location for my spa alone, I had to send it to each location because each location refused me.

“They obviously didn’t come and say,” Hey, it’s because you’re black. But as soon as I sent it alone, we got our location. ”

Organizers also reminded crowd members to take precautions to avoid spreading COVID-19. Most of those present wore masks, hand sanitizer was distributed, and Xs were marked on the floor to remind people to stand two meters apart.

“It is unfortunate that COVID-19 is killing people, it is disproportionately killing marginalized people … we want people to be safe, hear our message, go home and implement it,” said Nwofor.

Police estimated that more than 4,000 people were present.

Organizers provided masks, hand sanitizer and water bottles for protesters, and marked X on the floor to remind people to keep their distance from each other to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Terri Trembath / CBC)

Earlier in the week, the Calgary Police Service posted a statement on its Facebook page on the relationship between the police force and the communities it serves.

“While we are proud of the relationships that CPS has built in our city, we do not think for a moment that we are perfect. This world is big, but we know that what’s going on in the United States is felt far beyond their borders, “the post said.

“We are still an incident, a moment of broken confidence, a tragedy far away, after undergoing a change in the foundations we have built with those we serve. Each interaction that an agent has with a citizen must be anchored in our values. respect, compassion, honesty, integrity, fairness, courage and responsibility. ”

Many social media outlets noted that the statement did not specifically condemn the actions of the police in the United States, nor did it specifically address the issues of racism or police brutality.

As many as 2,000 Calgarians took to the streets on Wednesday afternoon as part of the YYC Justice for All Victims of Police Brutality demonstration. 2:59

The organizers asked the members of the PSC not to participate in the vigil on Saturday.

“A participating policeman, kneeling and chanting photos, will not create the change we need,” said Nwofor, to the cheers and hisses of the crowd. “Especially when you are silent participants in an otherwise corrupt system. ”

Protests have escalated over the past 10 days following what videos of many US protests have shown to be increasingly aggressive tactics by police, including deployments of tear gas and rubber bullets.

There was only a small disturbance during Saturday’s event in Calgary when a counter-protester was taken away by the police.

Participants called for police reform and paid tribute to those of color killed by the police. (Terri Trembath / CBC)

Hundreds of people also attended vigils in Banff and Lethbridge on Saturday.

In Banff, a protester accidentally spilled erosion into his pocket, but police said no one was injured or charged.

“A path for the next generation”

Kay L, a local hip-hop artist and activist, said the protests in Calgary seemed historic.

“We have never seen movements like this, or protests like this or rallies like this in the history of our city, I think,” he said. “It will really pave the way for the next generation. ”

Nwofor said she was encouraged by the size of the crowd, but said there was still a lot of work to be done.

“It says that people are ready to have the conversation. They are ready to see what is going on. But if I have to be honest, Bill 1 shows us that they don’t really want to apply things because they shut up with the law, with the law, without giving the opportunity, “she said.

Bill 1 is ongoing legislation targeting Alberta protesters, who could see people arrested, fined up to $ 25,000, or imprisoned if they are found to have blocked , damaged or entered “essential infrastructure”, such as people demonstrating on a highway.

“We are going to create a fever. There’s going to be some emotion. But what we really need is for all of these people to hear us, “said Nwofor, adding that she wanted to see people speak out and be actively anti-racist. until it’s the norm.

Thousands gathered on Saturday at the Olympic Plaza in Calgary for a vigil in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in honor of the victims of police violence. (Terri Trembath / CBC)

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