Chants of “Black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” rang through the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza on Sunday night at a mostly peaceful protest organized in support of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
The protest began shortly before 5 p.m. and the crowd grew to thousands by 7:30 p.m. Organized by Jacob Callender-Prasad, the demonstration followed a string of anti-racist protests in the United States that erupted after Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody. Less destructive protests spread to major cities in Canada including Vancouver and Toronto, though a protest in Montréal allegedly turned violent.
Organizers stressed the need for peaceful protest, and the event posting encouraged protesters to stay two metres apart, though the crowd quickly became dense.
“We are not responding to the ignorance of the people who are coming here to stoke violence,” Callender-Prasad said.
The protest featured several Black and Indigenous people speaking one after another from the steps of the art gallery. Between speakers, protesters used wipes to clean megaphone mouthpieces.
Throughout the evening, speakers and organizers expressed pain caused by anti-Black racism and stressed the need for solidarity with non-Black supporters to fight racial injustice.
“Tonight is not about colour. Tonight is not about anything but justice for Black people,” one speaker said.
At around 5:30 p.m., protesters held a minute of silence for Floyd. “Our hearts ache for our Black brothers and sisters who have lost their lives,” a speaker said.
Though the protest was predominantly peaceful, event organizers took to the steps twice during the night to discourage attendees from engaging in violence. At around 6:45 p.m., Callender-Prasad announced that there had been an “incident” of violence by the Hornby Street side of the plaza.
The Vancouver Police Department said Monday in a statement to The Ubyssey that the event “for the most part was well behaved.”
“Officers were aware of the situation and our response was appropriate and proportionate to the activities observed, we continued to monitor the protest and made sure there was no concerns for public safety and the protest did not negatively affect those who live, work, and visit the area,” reads the statement.
The Black Student Union (BSU) applauded those who took part in the protest and encouraged peaceful protest in a statement to The Ubyssey Sunday afternoon.
“Here, we encourage kindness, unity, and the maintenance of safety measures. To those who send their support and love from afar, we also commend you for your allyship,” BSU Co-Presidents Maia Wallace and Tracy Odhiambo wrote.
Many of the speakers focused on dismantling the idea that Canada doesn’t have racism.
One speaker said police brutality doesn’t kill Black people in Canada, which prompted swift shouts refuting the claim from a handful of attendees standing on both sides of the gallery steps. After din from the crowd, the original speaker handed the megaphone to a woman from the side of the steps who spoke about the realities of being policed as a Black person in Canada.
“Just because they don’t kill someone every day like in the States doesn’t mean there’s not racism here,” one of the speakers shouted.
Community members shared stories of being racially profiled in Vancouver, of being pulled over by cops and of being called racist slurs at school and their teachers doing nothing about it.
Indigenous speakers shared stories of their own oppression in solidarity with the Black lives lost and impacted due to systemic racism.
At around 5:10 p.m., a group of Indigenous people walked onto the steps as a Black person was speaking, taking the megaphone after he finished. But after a few minutes, some people in the crowd began heckling, saying that what mattered was George Floyd. The Indigenous speakers gave the megaphone back to a Black speaker a few moments after.
Later in the protest, a 13-year-old Indigenous girl told stories of her 8-year-old sister being taken away by the government. She became emotional and paused several times while telling her story.
“As a Native American Indigenous youth, I hurt with you,” she said.
Nearing the end of the protest, one speaker addressed her statements directly to BC Premier John Horgan.
“We ask you to give us assurance, protection. Let us feel at home like everybody else.”
The Ubyssey urges those who attended the protest to self-isolate for 14 days and to get tested for COVID-19 if possible.
This article was updated Monday, June 1 at 12:52 p.m. to include comments from the Vancouver Police Department.
A previous version of this article contained a tweet with a video from the protest. We've chosen to remove the tweet to protect the identity of the protesters.