More than a thousand people marched from Calgary’s East Village to City Hall — many chanting such slogans as “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” — to show solidarity with widespread demonstrations in the United States and Canada to protest the killings of black people by police.
The angry demonstrations against police brutality and racism across the U.S. this past week were ignited by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis last Monday after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest while he lay unarmed and handcuffed, protesting that he couldn’t breathe.
“We’re tired of seeing blood being spilled and no justice being served,” said Audrey Delva, one of those in attendance at the demonstration.
Floyd’s death is one in a long line of high-profile killings of people of colour involving police.
The protesters in Calgary were accompanied by a heavy police presence as they slowly made their way toward City Hall.
Participants told CBC News they came out to speak up against police violence and show their support for the black community in the United States, but also to speak out against racism in Canada.
Daniel Kwamou, who was among the marchers, said the issue really hits home for him. He hails from Calgary but now studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and plays for the football team, the Thunderbirds.
“An ex-football player was actually [stun-gunned] in 2018 just for crossing the street cause he was black by a police office,” said Kwamou.
Kwamou thinks people are exasperated and exhausted.
“I think people are just tired — tired of having to go through all this protesting and fight for equality and nothing’s changing.”
Another marcher, Blessing Asebiode, a local nurse and church leader, said the protests that have spread around the globe have been centuries in the making.
“I love that it is kind of setting off a domino effect where people are actually checking themselves in their cities and their homes and their families and themselves and saying what’s going on here and how can I change.”
Police estimated the crowd size reached more than a thousand.
While the majority of those in the crowd wore masks, some did not. Many were unable to maintain two-metres of physical distance from other protesters as they marched through the streets, and later laid on the ground on their stomachs with hands behind their backs.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reminded protesters during her update on Monday that there is risk of spreading COVID-19 at large gatherings.
“It’s important whether people are exercising their democratic right to protest or whether people are gathering with family or attending an outdoor gathering, that as much as possible we are all protecting each other by making sure that two metres of distance is observed, and where this a challenge in maintaining that, that face masks are worn by as many people in attendance as possible,” she said.
The Calgary Police Service put a statement on its Facebook page addressing the issue of the relationship between a police force and the communities it serves.
“While we are proud of the relationships that CPS has built in our city, we don’t for a moment believe we are perfect. This world is big, but we know what is happening in the U.S. is being felt far beyond their borders,” the post said.
“We are always one incident, one moment of broken trust, one tragedy away, from experiencing a shift in the foundation that we have built with those we serve. Every single interaction that an officer has with a citizen needs to be rooted in our values of respect, compassion, honesty, integrity, fairness, courage and accountability.”
Some on social media pointed out that the statement did not specifically condemn the actions of officers in the U.S., or specifically address the issues of racism or police brutality.
During the protest some members of CPS were seen kneeling alongside protesters as the crowd chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot.” As protesters rose to their feet, another office was seen stepping into the crowd, offering people a hand to get up off the ground.
In the U.S., the National Guard has been called in to nearly a dozen cities where unrest has grown in the face of what some videos have shown to be increasing aggressive tactics by police. In some other cities, like in Flint, Michigan, where a sheriff asked his officers to lay down their batons and join protesters, demonstrations have stayed largely peaceful.
Pastor Bryan Saint Louis, who grew up in New York before moving to Indiana then Calgary, said he’s witnessed first-hand how police can respond with racism or excessive force.
“I saw the life of a man sucked out of himself and it hurt. As a black man I want to be able to say I care too,” he said, fighting back tears.
It wasn’t the first demonstration in solidarity with the BLM movement. On Sunday, about 100 protesters gathered in Fish Creek Park at 2 p.m. in a field near Bow Valley Ranche to speak out against racism.
More demonstrations are planned in Calgary this week.
On Wednesday, protesters plan to meet at 2 p.m. at the 10th Street Bridge in Kensington and will march through downtown before hosting a candlelight vigil at city hall to mourn those who have died at the hands of police.
And on Saturday, a vigil will be held in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement at 4 p.m. outside of City Hall.