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Altogether to fight racism

Valerie Lannon

May 13, 2015

The first week of May included anti-racist events from Toronto to Winnipeg—challenging anti-Black racism, colonialism and Islamophobia.

Within days of the appointment of Mark Saunders as Toronto’s first black chief of police, several hundred, mainly young activists, Black and non-Black, rallied in front of Toronto’s police headquarters demanding justice. Organized by Black Lives Matter-Toronto Coalition, the rally on May 2 featured rousing speakers, who then led the participants on a spirited march to the American Consulate, to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter activists in the US in the aftermath of the Baltimore police killing of Freddie Gray.

As well as solidarity with the fight against racism in the US, the Toronto protest challenged anti-Black racism in Toronto including police murders and carding. The cousin of Jermaine Carby spoke about his murder at the hands of Peel police in September 2014. The family is still calling for justice. As they explain in, "He was pulled over at 10:00pm about ten minutes down the street from where he lived. Jermaine was in the passenger seat of a Black Volkswagen Jetta and his friend was driving. Video from the incident shows Jermaine exiting the vehicle and walking towards two officers with his hands outstretched. Officers are heard saying 'Drop the Knife!" No knife is visible in the video and every witness who has come forward so far reported they saw no weapon in his hand. Jermaine was heard saying "What?" to the officers and was more than a car length away from them when he was shot several times. The medical report shows three bullet wounds in the chest and one in his left inner forearm. More officers arrived at the scene and were seen cuffing Jermaine's lifeless body."

Well-known journalist Desmond Cole denounced “carding” (euphemism for racial profiling), having gone through this demeaning experience several times. Cole led the rally in a chant of “If I’m free to go, just tell me so.” New Chief Saunders is committed to continuing the practice of carding, but as one protest sign said, "A Black face doesn't make it less racist. #stopcarding."

Divided no more

Just a week after the Toronto rally, a fantastic coming together of oppressed groups took place at a meeting in Winnipeg. The Spur Festival (a regular festival of arts and social justice) included a discussion entitled “Divided No More: Bridging the Gap Between Racialized Communities.” The meeting featured the keynote speakers Cornel West (well-known and respected American black scholar), Clayton Thomas-Muller (renowned Indigenous environmental rights activist based in Ottawa) and Shahina Siddiqui, the highly-regarded spokeswoman for Winnipeg’s Muslim community. 

Each spoke about the injustices facing their respective group. West focused on the ongoing murder by police of young Black men, and the resistance movement building in the US. Thomas-Muller pointed out how it is no coincidence that the worst environmental degradation takes place on or right beside traditional indigenous territory, something that Idle No More and other groups are successfully challenging. Siddiqui criticized the characterization of Muslims as terrorists and the scant attention paid to Muslim victims of imperialism. She said “When President Obama has to go on national TV and apologize for two white men who were killed as part of a drone attack and says not a word about 200 Pakistani children that have died in the drone attacks, and called collateral damage, we know we live in a world that is divided.”

The speakers and crowd agreed that only a united movement for change will bring justice, a movement that does not rely on elected officials. Thomas-Muller said, “It’s our young people and especially our young women, who are going to show us the way.  But a whole lot of you non-native folks are going to have to be willing to get arrested.”

With the imminent passage of Bill C-51 and Tory talk of making Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns (in solidarity with Palestine) hate crimes, those arrests—and the need for solidarity—might not be too far away.

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