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Organizer, Victoria councillor, VicPD talk about upcoming rally for Black lives

‘It’s a simple ask’: Peace rally for Black lives organizer asks people to listen
A protester holds a Black Lives Matter sign on Sunday, May 31, in Federal Way, WA. (Black Press Media file photo)

A rally to elevate Black voices in Victoria is planned for Sunday, and thousands are anticipated to show up.

The demonstration – organized by the same people who put together the first one that took place on Monday – is a rally for peace according to organizer Vanessa Simon.

“It’s a simple ask,” Simon said. “We want to be able to live and have our voices heard.”

Simon, who is originally from White Rock, moved to Victoria in 2016 to attend UVic as part of the track team. She said that while she was immersed in the track community, she didn’t really feel she could find a Black community in Victoria.

Seeing anti-Black racism rallies and protests unfold in the U.S. made her feel helpless, sad, angry and alone particularly as she realized nothing was being organized in Victoria prior to Monday, she said.

“I honestly felt I was one of the very few Black people in Victoria, I just felt alone,” Simon said.

Lying in bed in the early hours of Monday morning, Simon decided to put together a last-minute event for that evening and with the help of her friend and co-organizer of the upcoming rally, Pam Buisa, support from allies and Black community members appeared. Those who attended the rally walked through the streets of Victoria and gathered at the B.C. Parliament Buildings to hold a vigil and call for peace.

“It was just so beautiful and amazing to see the community come together so quickly,” Simon said.

On Sunday, the rally will be held in a different location – Centennial Square. While the crowd is expected to be even larger, Simon said she hopes that means they’ll be able to spill into the streets and have a presence in downtown Victoria.

“I think City Hall is an important space for the movement,” Simon said. “There’s been a lot of rallies at Parliament. We want to take up space and let people know that we are here.”

Considerations in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic will be in place including tables for sanitation with people handing out masks and gloves and volunteers who will be there to reinforce social distancing.

READ ALSO: More than 1,500 people expected at Victoria peace rally for Black lives

Working with the City

Simon said the organizers have been working with the City of Victoria and particularly with Coun. Sharmarke Dubow who has been supporting them.

“The reality is that the under-representation in politics and too many professional fields impacts how Black people see themselves in the spaces they exist and move through,” Dubow said. “We need broader racial, social and systematic change. More than ever, I believe that it is important we discuss the inequalities and injustice that exists.”

In Victoria, Dubow said one of the many things that could change is hiring practices amongst businesses and all levels of government so that a more diverse workforce is created. He said looking at the school curriculum is important as well so Black and Indigenous students are able to see themselves reflected in it.

“We need transformative solidarity and transformative change,” Dubow said. “People should be having these conversations at their kitchen tables, with their colleagues at work, with friends and family.”

In a Twitter thread, Dubow said violence against Black people has to be called for what it is and that Black lives need to be seen as fully human. He said historical and generational inequalities and injustices cannot be ignored.

READ ALSO: PHOTOS: Thousands gather at Vancouver Art Gallery to protest racism

Dubow will be at the rally on Sunday, speaking up and supporting others.

Simon said people at the rally will talk about their own experiences with racism, some who have lived in Victoria for over 30 years. She said they hope to share their struggles and highlight that while racism in the City may not be as overt as what is seen in the U.S., it still exists here.

“It’s very covert here and it’s definitely present,” Simon said. “I experienced racism even in the past week. A lot of people are stunned and we can’t be blind to it. We have to acknowledge it and move forward as a community.”

Working with the police

Organizers have also been in contact with the Victoria Police Department in regards to the last rally and this upcoming one. Simon said on Monday, officers were peaceful and escorted demonstrators down Government Street to the B.C. Parliament Buildings.

Victoria Police chief Del Manak said he will be at Sunday’s rally as a citizen – not in uniform – to stand in solidarity with a message he believes in.

“I think that this rally is all about bringing awareness and a call to action for all of us to recognize we all have a responsibility to stand up and speak out when we see discrimination and racism in front of us,” Manak said.

In regards to the death of George Floyd in the U.S. and the subsequent protests that have ensued across American cities, Manak said, “It was disturbing to look at the callousness and disregard shown to [Floyd].”

“I think everyone stands united that it was criminal and absolutely unacceptable in meeting any standard of care that police owe all citizens,” Manak said.

He also said the protests show the challenges police in the U.S. are dealing with and that he is thankful police relationships in Canada are more supportive, noting the independent civilian oversight committee that holds VicPD to account.

“It’s critical that VicPD maintain the public’s trust and confidence,” Manak said. “We cannot do our job unless our community gives us that social licence to carry on our duties and do it effectively.”

Many calls to defund the police have been highlighted as the protests in the U.S. continue. Manak said he does not believe defunding the police will increase community safety. Instead, he said the role of police – starting with who is hired as an officer – needs to be examined followed by providing officers with the right tools, equipment and training on how to engage with the community.

“Who am I bringing in the door that I’m going to trust to be on the police department? I can tell you many people don’t make it through the process,” Manak said. “We hire people who lead with dignity and respect.”

Manak noted that the police department has various training models for officers including a program where vulnerable and marginalized individuals who have had real experiences with VicPD can talk about their story with officers and describe how they felt and what needs to change. All officers have also gone through bias-free police training.

“They’re very powerful discussions and interactions in a classroom setting rather than on the street where there’s that power imbalance,” Manak said.

Manak also said he has been going to every section, unit and division of VicPD to talk about the death of Floyd and what it means locally to the police department.

“I think what we need to do is stop and listen to the unified voice of many about what the injustices are and where we are as a community when it comes to hate, racism and discrimination,” Manak said.

The Peace Rally for Black Lives takes place on Sunday, June 7 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Centennial Square. Organizers ask that attendees bring signs, wear masks, bring candles for a vigil and wear black or white.

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