Demonstrators honour George Floyd, denounce racism

More than one hundred demonstrators took to the streets in Fort St. John Friday afternoon, marching from city hall to Centennial Park to denounce racism and violence against visible minorities and people of colour.

At the end of the march, they kneeled in the grass with their fists in the air; eight minutes and 46 seconds of uncomfortable silence to illustrate just how long a white Minneapolis police officer spent kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was detained after being accused of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.

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"I'm here to raise awareness in a smaller community. It's good to see as many people here as there are," said Kiera Rowe, carrying a placard reading "Black Lives Matter."

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Demonstrators gather in Centennial Park, June 5, 2020. - Matt Preprost

That was the thrust of the demonstration, all of it peaceful and welcomed by honks and cheers from passing motorists. It was the culmination of gatherings that have been held weeklong at 100 and 100 downtown, which began with one man who was then joined by a dozen, and then by a hundred more.

"We need to stay together. It's hard," said Bing Chipesia, who sat on the steps of the CIBC bank watching the march go past with his friend Jack Achla. They held a placard that read "Indigenous Lives Matter."

"It's hard living in this town now. It used to be good but now it's racist," Chipesia said.

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Demonstrators gather in Centennial Park, June 5, 2020. - Matt Preprost

Floyd's unjust death, and calls for police accountability and an end to brutality, was the flashpoint and the focus. But it was a chance too for people of colour and visible minorities to share their experiences of discrimination and racism.

"I’ve been called different names, told to go back where I come from," said Tony Myers, a black man from the Grenadines in the Caribbean who moved to Fort St. John in 2015.

Myers works security at a local hotel, where he says his East Indian coworkers have faced the same, often from people who are drunk or angry, but that's no excuse, he said.

"There's not been too many other things, in terms of being stopped by police or anything like that," Myers said. "Apart from what goes on at work, I haven't really experienced it in the streets so far."

Myers reflected on the death of Floyd, and pointed to America's long troubled history with the legacy of racism since slavery was abolished.

“The death of George Floyd, the world saw what went on for nine minutes… four officers just doing that. You couldn’t really stand by and really think nothing of it," Myers said.

"People need to understand, in terms of why these things are happening ... they have to look at black history," Myers added. "Persons came to the U.S. involuntary. They didn't volunteer to come. The country was built up on the backs of the blacks. After slavery was abolished, you give lands for the people, the blacks have nothing."

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Demonstrators gather in Centennial Park, June 5, 2020. - Matt Preprost

Myers noted the killings of Emmett Till, lynched at the young age of 14 in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman in a store, and of Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated in 1968 for advancing the civil rights of African Americans.

"It became a time when people need to rise up," Myers said. "It is encouraging ... you see the protests and there are a ton of whites and other nationalities that are involved. Somewhere along the line, even they are saying enough is enough."

Alan Yu, from the Philippines, says he's been the target of racism for voicing his political opinions about federal equalization payments on social media.

"It attacked me as a new immigrant and a Filipino," said Yu, now a Canadian citizen with voting rights.

"He said as a Filipino I have no right to voice my opinion in Canada, and that immigration should not have admitted me here. I am an opinionated person."

Yu, who founded the Fort St. John Multicultural Society, said told the crowd at Centennial Park that "human lives matter."

"Regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation," Yu said. "We should end racism and intolerance."

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Demonstrators gather at city hall, June 5, 2020. - Tom Summer

The demonstrators were joined by Mayor Lori Ackerman and Coun. Becky Grimsrud, who met with protestors at city hall before the march. 

Ackerman quoted philosopher Edmund Burke and futurist Buckminster Fuller, shared a story about how her father was bullied as a child because of his European heritage, and asked those who gathered to consider what kind of future they wanted.

“Race and racism is a reality that too many grow up with,” said Ackerman, her voice shaking. “If we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on the shoulders of coloured people.”

“No one is born hating. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can learn to love,” Ackerman said.

“It’s up to us ... to do the work that is uncomfortable. We need to stretch our comfort zone … self examination, and listening to the lives of those who are different than us.”

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Demonstrators leave city hall to march through downtown Fort St. John, June 5, 2020. - Dillon Giancola
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Demonstrators outside CIBC, June 5, 2020. - Tom Summer
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Demonstrators gather in Centennial Park, June 5, 2020. - Matt Preprost
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Demonstrators gather in Centennial Park, June 5, 2020. - Tom Summer
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Demonstrators gather in Centennial Park, June 5, 2020. - Tom Summer
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Demonstrators gather at city hall, June 5, 2020. - Tom Summer
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Demonstrators gather in Centennial Park, June 5, 2020. - Tom Summer

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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