By Jensen, Randy on June 5, 2020.
Taking a knee for nearly nine minutes, many with a raised fist, hundreds of Lethbridge residents gathered in front of city hall on Thursday to say Black lives matter and Indigenous lives matter.
The peaceful protest was inspired by recent events in the United States surrounding the killing of African American George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.
Floyd died due to injuries sustained after a white officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while he was handcuffed and laying on his stomach on the ground begging to be released so he could properly breathe. When the video of the incident was released on social media last week, it created a firestorm of protest across North America and around the world.
By kneeling in silence for the same amount of time it took Floyd to die and coming out in such vast numbers to city hall, protesters of all races and backgrounds were making a powerful statement rejecting racism.
“As a First Nations woman myself, this whole project hits close to home,” said co-organizer Legacy McAdam. “As every person of colour, be it African American, Indigenous, Hispanic or whatever race you may be, they have been discriminated against for hundreds of years, and we now have the chance to have our voice heard. Our racism in Canada is very much alive and very much prominent, it’s just not as exposed as it is in the States.”
“There is quite a big Indigenous population in Lethbridge,” added fellow co-organizer Jordan Ledyit, who is a proud African Canadian woman. “The Black Lives Matters issues that arise because of things in the States also apply to our Indigenous population. I believe that is something we need to talk about, and it is something we need to address, and the treatment of Black people and Indigenous people is very important in Canada. We need to take a stand. We need to do something about it.”
Protester Phobe Bird said as an Indigenous woman she had experienced racism in Lethbridge all her life and continues to feel the effects of that systemic racism even today. Looking out on the diverse and unified crowd in front of city hall, she said this is what it should be like in Lethbridge all the time. Sadly, that was not her experience, but she had hope for the future.
“Look at us,” she said, motioning toward the crowd all around. “We are all here. We are all here for the same thing, equality. We are all here for justice. This is how it should be. We are all brothers and sisters here. What I hope is my kids don’t have to come out and do this. I am teaching them we are all the same. We are all people with feelings. We all have a story. We all bleed red.”
Atnafu Fikre came out with his daughter, Attalia. He said he was not one to often take part in such protests despite experiencing many moments of racism in his life, but the senseless death of George Floyd moved him to action this time.
“I am African Canadian and I want to make a protest and support what is happening in the States and around North America, and even the world now, to support all persons of colour who suffer,” he said. “How they get abused and killed. Racism happens here in Lethbridge. It has happened to me.”
Andrea Seright brought her four children to city hall on Thursday. She carried a sign which read: “All Mothers were summoned when George Floyd cried out for his Mama.” She explained why she chose that message.
“As white families we have the obligation to educate our children, and make sure our voices stand up for those who can’t anymore,” she said. “So our kids can be part of the change as well.”
Mayor Chris Spearman echoed Seright’s comments in his own speech to those gathered on Thursday.
“Racism has been part of our history,” he said, “we have to make sure it is not part of our future.”
Spearman felt is was important to be present to support the message of racial equality and to stand in solidarity with all those in our community fighting injustice and racism.
“Here in our city, our city motto is Gateway to Opportunity,” he stated, “and it is a gateway to opportunity for all who live here. Those who have come here from other countries. Those whose skin colour is different. Our First Nations. We have to say racism exists in North America, it exists in Canada, and it exists in the City of Lethbridge. And, if we are honest, it probably exists to some extent in all of us. We need to make sure we guard against that and we treat everyone with respect.”
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