A group of Black and people of colour (POC) youth have set up a people-less protest in Centennial Square, where everyone is invited to come and learn the names and stories of lives lost due to systemic racism.
With the permission of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and city staff, organizers are holding space in Centennial Square to remember the victims of police brutality in the U.S. and Canada.
“We set this up hoping that those who are immuno-compromised, those that are not able to come out due to high risk of COVID, those in any other compromisable situation are still able to come out and show some support,” said 20-year-old Aminah Ibrahim, one of the organizers.
The display consists of names of Black and Indigenous victims in both the U.S. and Canada on signs around the fountain in Centennial Square. There are also statistics and blank pages that people passing by can fill.
People are also asked to continue adding names of unnamed victims, contribute artwork and post on social media. Organizers say it was set up yesterday morning.
“Our aim was to make the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement as accessible as possible,” said organizer Zara Chaudhry.
This is the second protest in Victoria. On Monday, hundreds showed up to peacefully protest police violence and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who was seen on video pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck, is charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were with Chauvin are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
“When I saw the video, I saw his face and the police officer’s knee on his neck, and I thought of my brothers in that moment,” said display organizer Agartu Ali, who is in Grade 12. “And I thought of how easily my brothers can become George Floyd and Trayvon Martin and all the unnamed people we don’t know because their deaths weren’t violent enough for us to pay attention to.”
Ibrahim added the racism fueling protests in the U.S. also exists here in Canada.
“It is very prevalent. We see it day to day,” she explained. “I have thousands of stories. I have little siblings who come home with thousands of stories.”
Racism just looks different here than it does in the U.S., said Ali.
“A lot of that racism that comes and festers in Canada is not necessarily that overt racism that we see in America but it is the covert racism,” she explained. “It is the misinformation. It is the ignorance. It is the unwillingness to accept that we have racism here in our nation. When we ignore people’s background and ignore people’s issues, we allow that issue to persist.”
To combat this, Ali said we need to educate ourselves on what the black experience is like in Canada.
That’s why Victoria Councillor Sharmarke Dubow co-organized a black community virtual town hall meeting on Monday.
I have co-organized with Boma Brown, @sniwwoc a Black Community Virtual Town Hall Meeting on #covid19 to bring community members together to share their experiences on Vancouver Island & discuss the impact of COVID-19, resources needed, & strategies for repair and renewal. #yyj pic.twitter.com/ZaIOrpSkkF
— Sharmarke Dubow (@deardubow) June 2, 2020
“It was a space for the black community to share their experience,” Dubow said, adding nearly 100 people joined the Zoom call, including allies.
They discussed topics like racism, mental health and culture during the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps can be taken to address these things.
Dubow said he hopes the black community will continue these virtual town hall meetings. The rest of the community, he added, has a part to play in this conversation.
“I encourage the community to really support the population, the black businesses,” Dubow said. “I encourage the business and decision makers to hire black people. I encourage [people] to mentor a black young girl or a boy and lift them up and see what you can do. We as a community could lift each other up.”
I often hear all lives matter or I don’t see color. I want to emphasize that black lives matter is not a term of confrontation but rather an opportunity to reflect on the historical and contemporary realities of black people in this country. 1/ https://t.co/5jUdETOmqb
— Sharmarke Dubow (@deardubow) June 2, 2020
Part of the reason they set up the display in Centennial Square, Ali added, is to get the community involved. When people are walking by, they may stop and read the signs out of curiosity, and hopefully, Ali said, some of the messages stay with them.
Youth and community members will be making sure the names are still in place with daily check-ins, and volunteers will continue to check to make sure no racist remarks are left in the space.
Chaudhry hopes this project will show not only the region but the world that there are people-less protest initiatives and it can be a safe alternative to large groups of people.
The 21-year-old says this non-gathering approach can be used for all protesting causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement and says the closest project to this one in Victoria are activists in D.C asking for PPE for healthcare workers in a similar way.
The contactless protest initiative will be going on for the next few days in Centennial Square.