Thousands gathered on Sunday’s Centennial Square to add their voices to those across North America who called for an end to racism and police violence. The rally officially started at 4 p.m., but the crowd had already gathered more than an hour in advance.
Many protesters came to wear face masks, and organizers said they would distribute masks to those who did not have them, while encouraging protesters to maintain an appropriate physical distance from each other due to the pandemic of COVID-19.
Vanessa Simon, one of the main organizers of the rally, told reporters that she understood the concerns about the mass rallies, but the cause – sharing the message that the lives of black people is important – is too important for people to don’t come together.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic,” said Simon. “But racism is a pandemic, and it has been happening for centuries. ”
Police closed Pandora Avenue as the rally started, and Simon said organizers plan to use physical distance recommendations to their advantage.
“We want people to be distributed,” she said. “We want people to be on the street. We want to take up space and we want our voices to be heard. ”
Protests have taken place in North America in the past two weeks, since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police late last month.
A rally in Vancouver on Friday drew between 5,000 and 10,000 people to the city’s downtown core, police estimated. While two “instigators” who were trying to join the protest were arrested, police said the rally was peaceful.
Simon said Sunday’s protest could have up to 8,000 or more participants, depending on the number of people online saying they plan to attend.
Most rallies across Canada have remained peaceful, while police in the United States have used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, as well as looting and arson in certain cities.
Simon said that it is important to organize demonstrations like Sunday’s in Victoria so that people realize that the city has a black population and that this population faces the same problems of systemic racism as those observed elsewhere in North America.
“I think Canadians believe racism is not happening here, and it is,” said Simon. “The thing is, it’s more secret than open. People don’t die on the streets, but people die behind closed doors. ”
Organizing colleague Pamphinette Buisa echoed this feeling. A rugby player for Team Canada, she said she never thought she would lead a protest movement, but after the cancellation of this year’s Olympics, she felt it was important to use her platform to express yourself.
“Enough is enough,” said Buisa. “We cannot agree with complacency. We cannot agree with what is going on because it is not. “