Anti-racism demonstrators rally in downtown Victoria

Dozens of people gathered in downtown Victoria on Monday for an anti-racism march and vigil for George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last week.

The event followed days of protests and violence in many U.S. cities, as the cellphone video showing Floyd’s killing on May 25 ignited anger over racism in the United States. A white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, then fell still. Derek Chauvin, the police officer involved, faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

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“That could be my father, that could be my uncle,” Ashley Gordon, who was attending the Victoria event, told CHEK News. “It could be anyone that I know and all those people that are dying, they do look like me.”

People, many dressed in white and carrying signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” met at Centennial Square at 11 a.m. before heading to the legislature in the evening for a vigil for Floyd and “other black lives lost due to police brutality.”

“Black lives matter doesn’t mean that white people don’t matter, that brown people don’t matter, that other people don’t matter,” said event organizer Vanessa, who did not want her last name published. “We need to have this cohesiveness of all lives matter, [but] the only way to do this is to have black lives matter.”

Montell Lindgren, another demonstrator, said he did not condone the violence seen at some protests in the United States, but asked: “How do you judge someone for being violent after watching someone die so violently?”

The U.S. has been beset by angry demonstrations for the past week in some of the most widespread racial unrest in the U.S. since the 1960s. Spurred largely by Floyd’s death, protesters have taken to the streets to decry the killings of black people by police.

While many of the demonstrations have been peaceful, others have descended into violence, leaving neighbourhoods in shambles, stores ransacked, windows broken and cars burned, despite curfews around the country and the deployment of thousands of National Guard members in at least 15 states.

Several rallies were held across Canada over the weekend, including in one largely peaceful rally involving thousands of demonstrators in Montreal Sunday that later turned violent with looting and nearly a dozen arrests. A rally in Toronto on Saturday remained peaceful.

In Vancouver, an estimated 3,500 people attended a downtown event on Sunday. Police said no arrests were made.

The event prompted a warning from B.C.’s provincial health officer, who said that large public gatherings pose a health risk during the pandemic.

“Peaceful demonstration is our right, one that is important to all of us, but we cannot forget we are still in the middle of a pandemic,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday at a news conference.

Organizers of the Victoria event encouraged people to wear masks and practise social distancing.

— With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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