Peaceful all-day event grew from dozens throughout the day
As a crowd of 300 gathered in front of the legislature, Vanessa Simone grasped a megaphone and spoke to the crowd.
Simone said she has had enough. Enough of the name calling, stereotyping, and innocent Black lives turning into hashtags.
“I dealt with a lot of adversity and struggles, no one quite understands me,” she says, as the crowd of hundreds — some also wearing white to represent peace — stand on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature and momentarily stop chanting to listen.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of racism, prejudice, stereotyping. Teachers thought I would amount to nothing and that I would be a statistic,” Simone adds — before the crowd yells back “Shame! Shame!”
Following similar Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the United States and Canada in recent days, after the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto last week, hundreds of people gathered in the streets of downtown Victoria for a Black Lives Matter march on June 1.
Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, was arrested on May 25 outside a Minneapolis store and later died after an officer was seen kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The three other Minnesota officers on the scene have yet to be charged.
Similar demonstrations occurred in Canada over the weekend with rallies in both Montreal and Vancouver on Sunday.
The Victoria march began around 11 in the morning when dozens of activists met at Centennial Square.
Simone, a university student in Victoria, says the idea behind the event started after she saw the death of Ahmaud Arbery last month and experienced her own bout of racism at a bus stop in the last couple of weeks. Arbery was shot and killed after running in a Georgia neighborhood in February.
“I was like, ok, you get beat down but it’s like ‘whatever’,’” she said about the incident at a Victoria bus stop. “But then this whole George Floyd thing, it’s just too much.”
While CTV News Vancouver Island reported dozens of protesters meeting at Centennial Square in the morning, the online Facebook page grew — over 500 people RSVP’d — and approximately 300 locals joined the march at 5:00.
As demonstrators marched towards the B.C. Legislature, shouting phrases like “Black Lives Matter,” Simone admitted she was shocked to see how many people they picked up along the way.
“When we started the walk we did not have that many people, and then I looked back and there was like 50 or 100 people,” she says.
Photos by Josh Kozelj
Upon reaching the Legislature, the crowd fanned along the lawn, while activists took turns using the megaphone to share some of their individual stories of battling racism and advocating for change.
Atop the steps, Simone passionately described how she never felt like she had a support system to confide in growing up after being bullied or picked on because of the colour of her skin.
“I’ve never had that support that some of my Black friends have with their family,” she said. “Getting picked on in school, then coming home and saying, ‘Hey, this is what happened, this is what people said to me’ and having a mom or dad saying, ‘that’s ok, you are black, you are beautiful…'”
“I just turned to my pillow and cried myself to sleep my entire childhood.”
After other speakers took turns to address the crowd and lead chants, demonstrators took part in a moment of silence before placing candles on the steps of the Legislature in memory of the Black people who have lost their lives in recent days, months, and years.
On June 2, University of Victoria President Jamie Cassels released a statement denouncing racism, and offered solidarity with the students and staff fighting intolerance and violence.
“As a university, and as individuals, we must continue the necessary work to confront racism, recognizing that many current assumptions, attitudes and habits stand in the way of change,” said Cassels. “We are deeply committed to being an inclusive, supportive and welcoming community. Racism and discrimination have no place here, and we stand in solidarity as students, faculty and staff against racism, intolerance and violence.”
Many of the members in the crowd were wearing masks. Before the march, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised those demonstrating to take other safety measures during the rally, like physical distancing, to help prevent outbreaks of COVID-19. Dr. Henry added that demonstrators should monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus, like a fever or cough, and self-isolate for 14 days if they experience any of those signs.
Earlier on June 1, B.C. reported 24 new cases of COVID-19 and 6 active cases in the Island Health region.
As members of the crowd started to dissipate, with many gathering together in circles on the lawn, Simone — who is expecting to graduate this year — reiterated that it doesn’t take much to educate yourself and have your voice heard on issues like racism.
“You don’t need to be an activist to speak up for what matters, you don’t need to be a protester to speak up for what matters, to speak up all you need is a voice and the will to be heard.”