August 19, 2014 6:31 pm

‘It could have been us': Haligonians show support for Ferguson

A boy finishes a poster saying "It could have been us".

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – More than 150 people gathered in downtown Halifax to support protesters in Ferguson, Missouri - the suburb that’s been embroiled in controversy  since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, 18, nearly two weeks ago.

Many protesters clutched signs Tuesday afternoon reading “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace”.

A panorama of Victoria Park, where the rally started.

Julia Wong/Global News

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Other signs reading “It could have been us” and “Halifax, Nova Scotia to Ferguson” were also prominent.

The signs and the gathering were a tribute to Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager who was killed by a police officer on August 9 in the St. Louis suburb.

Since Brown’s slaying, protesters in Ferguson have clashed with police, demonstrations have turned violent with the use of tear gas, Molotov cocktails and reported gunfire.

El Jones organized the Halifax event and says one of the goals of the gathering is to help better educate people. She says the lessons from Ferguson translate to Halifax, where historically there has been a discernible racial divide.

“To stand in solidarity and to connect in particular with the issues that have happened in Ferguson to the issues in our own community as well,” she said.

Jones said violence against the black community can present itself in different ways and that needs to be recognized.

“Things like gentrification in our community, loss of schools, the access to housing. These are issues that impact the African community and they [are] a form of violence upon us. Social violence. It’s psychological violence. We don’t actually think violence is only seen in a police shooting,” she said. “It’s seen in the removal of Africville. It’s seen in lack of access to education.”

Jones said she wants people to look at the root of the problem so changes can be made.

“To recognize that people together can advocate for themselves. Whether that’s advocating from changes in law, whether that’s advocating for changes in policy.”

Tendai Handahu, who helped organize the rally, said he hopes the black community uses the event as a jumping off point to mobilize.

“I want African Nova Scotians in this city to communicate with each other. Race has always been an issue and always will be an issue,” he said. “They need to confront the legacies of slavery, need to confront the legacies of colonization and discuss that. I think that’s what’s going to make the race issue a lot better in the future.”

Lequita Porter is an American who now works as a pastor in Preston. She is concerned about what the clashes in Ferguson will do to race relations, locally and globally.

“We’re not moving towards being one and being closer. We’re moving back into separate camps and that really concerns me,” she said.

She said the black community typically has a basic mistrust of the police but notes there is improvement.

“I’m not sure where that comes from but I know there is that. [But] Police officers are known in our community. They’re around not just when there is a problem,” Porter said.

Kayla Williams, who carried a sign saying “Black is not a problem” said she worries what happened in Ferguson could also happen in Halifax.

“I have a young son myself who is black. It frightens me, in his time when he is older, that something like this may happen to him,” she said.

“It’s sad that one person walking in the middle of the street and a police officer can come and change everything.”

Protesters like Edith Goulet said it boils down to treating all human beings with dignity and respect.

“[Michael Brown] was a young man that I don’t feel they had the just cause for shooting. How many times is that going to happen before they stop?” she said.

“People are people. What is race? The colour of skin. We should just treat humans as human beings. Colour of skin doesn’t matter.”

Protesters chanted “Who are you? Mike Brown. Who are we? Mike Brown.” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police” as they marched from Victoria Park through downtown Halifax to the U.S. Consulate.

They gathered in front of Purdy’s Wharf for more chants, songs, poems as well as a speech by Pastor Rhonda Britton.

Britton emphasized the need for the black community to come together, not only in times of crisis, but all times.

She called for people to recognize that all human life is valuable and also urged the audience to recognize their worth.

“Until we start to value ourselves and to see our own worth, I’m talking right now honestly to people of colour, until we understand our own worth and we stop doing damage to ourselves, we cannot continue to impress upon other people that they can’t do damage to us,” she said.

“When we value ourselves, we teach other people how to treat us.”

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