The Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck did so for almost nine minutes.
At Simms Park in Courtenay at noon on Saturday, about 250 people gathering to support the Black Lives Matter movement quietly knelt for the same length of time in honour of Floyd’s memory.
This weekend, the Comox Valley joined other communities across Canada, the U.S. and beyond to hold rallies for Black Lives Matter. Saturday’s midday event was more of an informal gathering with people holding signs, raising arms or simply coming out to send a message of support to passersby. Many drivers honked as they went by.
The events here and elsewhere were happening in response to recent deaths of black people in the U.S. at the hands of law enforcement – most notably Floyd, who died May 25.
Georgia Rogers, who organized the Saturday event, said on Facebook she put it together to stand jointly in solidarity and raise awareness, and she had not been aware of any other events here when she started.
”I will not be trying to speak, lead the group in discussions, start chants, or anything of that nature,” she wrote on social media. “I have not organized speakers, this event is ONLY a stand of support.”
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On Friday, also at Simms Park, there was another protest with speakers, both to support Black Lives Matter as well as draw attention to similar issues with police for indigenous people in Canada. The organizers were also collecting donations to help the Black Lives Matter Vancouver chapter.
Hundreds turned out Friday at 5 p.m., covering most of the area between the dais and the parking lot, to listen to the speakers. Early on, in a call-and-response with organizers asking the names of recent victims, the crowd chanted “George Floyd” and “Breonna Taylor,” referring to the woman shot by Louisville, Ky., police in March and who would have turned 27 on Friday.
After, people were invited to come up to the dais with a candle for a shrine in honour of Floyd and other recent victims. Several people took to the stage to share their own stories about experiences with racism. Chai Sullivan, one of the organizers, also had a message of solidarity for white people facing challenges such as poverty.
“Our oppressors are your oppressors too,” she said.
Indigenous elders recounted their own stories of racism and abuse, particularly through the residential school system, and announced the names of several people who had died in police custody in 2020.
Daruna Nikii, another organizer of Friday’s event, talked about how she’d been in a local restaurant that week, planning the event, when a man yelled a racial slur at her.
“Racism has been around for way too long, and it needs to stop now,” she told the crowd.
She went on to say the movement was not about pitting white people against black people but about demanding justice, freedom, equality and respect.
“All lives will matter when black lives matter,” she added.