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'Let this be a turning point in society': Thousands of protesters take a knee to make a stand in Halifax
HALIFAX -- A disturbing video showing Minneapolis resident George Floyd dying while in police custody has sparked outrage across North America, including in the Maritimes.
Monday night, a peaceful protest called Take a Knee to Make a Stand was held in downtown Halifax.
Thousands of protesters gathered on Spring Garden Road, calling for an end to racism and police brutality.
"We are one people, no matter what, we all have to live together. It's never going to change,” said Sharisha Benedict, who organized the protest.
“Everybody deserves equality, everybody deserves to be treated fairly and that's just not seeming to happen nowadays. Everybody thinks that, you know, it's not a big deal anymore, that racism isn't alive like it used to be, but it is, it's just more hidden."
Several roads were closed to traffic to accommodate the large crowd of peaceful demonstrators.
Those attending the protest chanted “I can’t breathe” and took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds -- the same amount of time that a Minneapolis police officer is seen on video, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground.
People who didn’t want to attend the rally due to COVID-19 concerns were encouraged by organizers to take a knee at home.
Many activists addressed the large crowd, saying they were encouraged by the show of support.
Among them was Dr. Lynn Jones, for whom the massive crowd parted so she could speak. The protesters clapped and shouted “Lynn Jones” as she made her way through the crowd.
“Sometimes we don’t even know if we can take another step and then, when we think we’re at the very end, people like all of you are there that lift us up and pick us up and help us to carry the torch,” said Jones.
“Do not let the deaths be in vain,” said community advocate DeRico Symonds. “Do not go home, do not do nothing. Let this be a turning point in society.”
Hundreds of people also gathered Monday in Moncton, N.B., to show their support for those fighting for justice, walking from Victoria Park to city hall.
The four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest have been fired and one officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Advocates say they want to see concrete changes now.
"Imagine your child left their home and when they left, you had no idea if they were going to make it home because you have to fear that somebody may attack them because of the colour of their skin,” said Benedict. “And I know you may not understand that, but just think about it. That's not a hard thing to think about.”
"I was angry, frustrated. I couldn't even finish the video because I was so disgusted and so hurt,” said Quentrel Provo, the founder of Stop the Violence and a local advocate.
Provo says the system and how black people are treated needs to change.
"I know I had a lot of people yell at me, 'All lives matter.’ All lives can't matter if the black lives don't matter currently. And that's why we yell ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I should matter. I shouldn't have to worry about where I'm going that I may get killed. Being black shouldn’t be a death sentence,” he said.
It’s been one week since George Floyd’s death. In that time, protests have been taking place in cities across the United States and Canada, with people of all ages and backgrounds calling for an end to racism and police brutality.
"What stands out in these rebellions is the multi-racial, multi-ethnic nature of those crowds taking place,” said Dr. Isaac Saney with Halifax’s Dalhousie University.
“So, while African Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, disproportionally affected by police brutality, find themselves at the bottom of the socially economic ladder, we also see this as a class dimension to this as well. There's a tremendous amount of poor whites, working class and particularly white youth themselves who have faced the horrible deprivations of this system."
Academics and advocates agree the situation in the United States isn’t that different from what’s happening in Canada.
"It's a difference of degree, not kind,” said Saney.
“We have the recent incident and demonstration in Halifax over Regis Korchinski-Paquet. There is the report for example, the Scott Wortley report that came out, demonstrating that if you're in African Nova Scotia, you're six times more likely to be stopped by the police arbitrarily."
"We're just not being killed,” said Provo. “But we're still being profiled. When you walk in a store, we're being followed, we're looked at differently. Some people don't come around us because of the colour of our skin."
Provo is a father and fears for his young son's safety.
"That's my number one priority as a father, to care for my son but also his safety," Provo said.
"I don't want to lose my son in my lifetime. That's the sad part. And these parents are losing their kids in their lifetime and it's because of the colour of their skin."